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|An Exploration Into Nu Metal: Part 1|
(Originally written on my RYM)
Nu metal, possibly one of the most infamous subgenres of metal, rock and possibly even music overall. Capturing the hearts of many an angsty teen in the late 90s, early-to-mid 2000s and to a lesser extent, even the present day. Even now, nu metal has a negative stigma attached to its name, with a hefty number of detractors yet also a seemingly growing number of defenders. As time marches on and both the hype and anti-hype die down, the more music listeners can look back at what the genre had to offer and make their own assertions on the overall quality (or be blinded by nostalgia).
So I have taken it upon myself, as someone who could probably just barely speak at the height of the nu metal's relevance, to take a chronological trip through all the notable releases of one of the most divisive subgenres of all time. Now I'm not completely new to the genre, far from it, I have heard the majority of the big hits, your Crawlings, your Last Resorts, your Down With the Sicknesseses, however I was at most a toddler when these were being forced down the earholes of the mainstream radio listeners so for the most part I hold no bias towards the genre and have heard no more than 10 albums if even (and most of them by the same mask-wearing band, which we will get to eventually). With that being said, let's get into it.
The album that kicked it all off. What is widely considered the first or at least the first important album of the genre, Korn's debut self-titled album hit the scene in late 1994, kickstarting nu metal and setting the bar pretty fuckin' high while doing so. This is one of the few albums I'll be listening to for this list that I've already heard and this album has been one of my favourites for quite some time now. This album is iconic, so iconic I made the opening line of the album the title for this list, at the time nothing sounded liked this. The guitars are used expertly (and unconventionally for the time) as sharp rhythmic stabs like rusty-ass knives slicing through the chunky bodies of these tracks, with Korn's signature clicky yet beefy bass tone and the relatively simplistic yet complimentary drumming laying down the dirtily groovy foundations. And who could forget Jonathan Davis?
The man sounds raw, emotionally agitated and downright animalistic, it's no surprise many would go on to try and emulate what he had done on this album. An album like this was destined to hit big and connect with teens and regardless of what is to come after I'm glad it did. I'll leave it at this: the song Daddy captures a genuine disturbance and sickness (wink, wink) that I'm sure the nu metal bands of the next decade all wished they could achieve.
My first full listen to a Deftones album (I have heard some songs from the album after this and they were killer) and I have to say I'm very impressed. This is very obviously inspired in a lot of ways by the Korn debut released the previous year yet differentiates itself in a lot of ways. For one the production on this is very crisp, clean and radio-ready compared to the gritty and raw production of the Korn album, also even though Chino Moreno is clearly trying to mimic a lot of the idiosyncrasies of Jonathan Davis, his vocals are far more smooth and controlled. To say this album is any more or less chaotic than Korn might be a bit unfair, it's just a far more controlled and contained chaos. The riffs are punchy as all hell, the bass lines are well-formed and sticky and the overall production makes this feel like a roaring ball of fire just encased in a glass jar (yes, it makes sense, shush).
The only problem I really have with this at all is that the album is very consistent, which sounds like a plus, but it's consistent in that it almost never breaks away from the sound it's carved out or let's up, leaving the last quarter of this album a bit tiring. However overall, an extremely solid effort.
So apparently before this album this band made some pretty highly acclaimed thrash metal albums, however I have heard none of that, this is my very first Sepultura experience. And to be honest, I did not enjoy this at all. So much so I pretty much tuned out roughly half way through. In my opinion, the vocals on this thing were quite poor, they're extremely rough, not in an appealing way, more in a "this man needs a lozenge" way. The production just sounds gross, the guitar tones are soooo muddy, most of the riffs just mush together. I guess the Brazilian music influence sounds interesting at points but overall this was uninteresting and overlong.
Life Is Peachy
Going into this album I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the average score was far lower than that of the debut, but I went in cautiously optimistic. Then starts the first track, Twist, less than a minute of manic scatting from Jonathan Davis that sounds like he's literally having a demon exorcised out of him over a harsh nu metal instrumental. And that kinda set the tone for the album. It's not too far off the sound of the debut, the production is pretty much exactly the same but composition wise it's a bit more abrasive, hell, this album even has a 'Noise Rock' secondary and while I'm not sure I agree with that I definitely see where people are coming from. I was very pleased with the quality of these tracks, it felt like more of the self-titled album, even if just a little peg below it, these tracks were interesting and hard-hitting. Given all this I was very confused by the average rating, then I heard the second half...
Life Is Peachy
From K@#o%! onwards, most of the tracks either do absolutely nothing for me or are just plain stupid. K@#o%! seems to be the start of Korn causing their own image of immaturity, the point of the song is literally just to fit as much GUTTER LANGUAGE into its 3 minute run time. There's a cover of the Ice Cube track, Wicked, featuring Chino Moreno which is kinda just embarassing. Ass Itch is a very lazily-written song all about Jonathan Davis' growing disdain for writing lyrics (well, at least I guess that one makes sense). Lowrider is completely pointless and Kill You does absolutely nothing for me. The only tracks in the second half I liked were No Place to Hide and A.D.I.D.A.S. (if only for how stupid it is, I mean the chorus is literally "All day I dream about sex"). So yeah, the song writing really takes quite a nosedive in the second half. But overall, damn, does that first half hold this entire album up, it really is THAT great.
Life Is Peachy
I'd say check this album out just for those first 7 tracks (and maybe the dumber tracks in the second half you'll at least get a laugh out of).
From the little I knew about this album, that a lot of people don't exactly have the kindest words to say about it and that the album cover is fucking atrocious, I wasn't expecting gold going into it. However nothing could've prepared me for what I was getting into. Only 5 albums into this with nu metal just starting to really carve out a niche and audience for itself and we're already getting the most basic, mediocre and watered-down version of all the genre's elements. For one, the guitar tones here sound like complete garbage, they're EQ'd in a way where they sound extremely flimsy despite the mass amount of distortion put on them. Then the guitar playing itself is like the most run-of-the-mill you can get for nu metal, a lot of it just going back and forth between two chords. The drumming and bass playing are completely fine I guess, if completely disposable, but the one element that pretty much makes this album one of the worst listening experiences I've ever endured is the vocals
Wowwww, they are awful, just absolutely hideous to the ears. Dez Fafara's harsh vocals throughout this entire thing sound like he's suffering from a very severe nicotine addiction. And the lyrics are mind-numbingly dumb and repetitive, especially repetitive, half the time it sounds like they're just tryna make it to the end of the track with as little thought as possible. Some ridiculously stupid moments that really stood out to me were the repeated screaming of the title in the song Big Truck, the start of Sway which starts with Fafara whispering the chorus to The Roof Is on Fire and then repeating that for quite some time, the god awful pig squealing in the final track, Pig, and pretty much the entirety of the opening track, Loco. Yeah, just pretty much the worst album so far by a wide margin.
Okay, so out of all the albums I've listened to so far this one is definitely the most stereotypically "90's radio rock" sounding, that being said it is quite good. This band is definitely more grunge and hard rock-influenced than the other bands on the list up to this point and I think they are able to write some pretty solid tunes with crunchy production, intense chugging riffs, gritty vocals (usually this sort of low gravelly 90s vocal style would turn me off but I don't mind it here) and occasionally a pretty solid guitar solo. This does have a similar issue to Adrenaline though as it pretty much stays the exact same throughout the entire record, also the lyrics really are nothing special. But overall, pretty good display. (Seriously though, why do nu metal bands suck at choosing artwork so much.)
Juicy Planet Earth
So far into the list and this is definitely one of the more technically respectable albums. This band takes a far more psychedelic and experimental (for the genre) approach to nu metal. You still have the crunchy riffs and the vocalist sounds a LOT like Jonathan Davis sometimes but the guitars are also used in more interesting and atmospheric ways than you would find on most nu metal albums. The production is top notch, adding to the psychedelic yet very grounded tone, with multiple manipulated vocal sections throughout and random samples. Overall this is a much more palatable experience than some of what I've heard so far.
It's nice to have a band at this point in the list that doesn't take themselves so seriously. This album is a lot of fun and definitely the most light-hearted album so far. It's mostly hardcore punk-influenced nu metal however this album does seem to have a bit of an identity crisis. There are tracks that are straight up punk rock, then it gets all atmospheric at parts and then even there's a cowpunk-ish track. That's really one of my only issues with this album, the band clearly has their own distinct personality but they take so many left turns and while they are good at most of the styles they try their hand in it just feels weird all on the same album. Also sometimes the frat-bro humour gets a bit too dumb (see the last track, My Balls). But overall very enjoyable album.
Three Dollar Bill Y'all
I have a bit of history with Limp Bizkit. When I was first getting into rock/alternative music I was told by everyone how bad they were and to stay away from them, scared to lose credibility for my taste I blindly shat on Limp Bizkit without ever really listening to them aside from hearing a few of the hits now and then. As I've grown older and more confident with my taste I no longer really care about a band's reputation or how others will perceive me for enjoying any artist, I've even grown an ironic appreciation for Limp Bizkit's biggest hits (when Rollin' comes on I can't help but enjoy myself even if for the wrong reasons). So I was completely open to the idea of this album being good and went in with no expectations. And at first I was pleased. The album starts with two BANGIN' tracks (ignoring the intro), Pollution and Counterfeit. These tracks showcased an undeniable energy, chaotic and tight instrumentation and kinda rough but appealing production.
Three Dollar Bill Y'all
The hooks on both of these tracks sucked me in, Fred Durst is a powerful screamer (even if he fails in other vocal departments, more on that later) and even if the lyrics weren't great they were fine. However as the album went on the more my patience waned. Now I will say this, Wes Borland is a fantastic guitarist, extremely talented and creative and the rhythm section of the band is pretty great too. Overall, instrumentally this band does a great job at blending metal and hip hop together, incorporating hip hop elements far more than any other nu metal band at this point. But this album is held back by one thing, and I'm sure most people already know what that thing is: Fred Durst. This dude should not have been a front man, his rapping across the album is weak and at times very, very, very stupid. Lyrically he's immature, flow-wise he's basic as fuck and his vocals throughout are so grating, obnoxious and whiny.
Three Dollar Bill Y'all
Very few tracks aside from those two I mentioned won me over mostly due to the Durst, I will say the George Michael cover I at least grew to appreciate for how ridiculous it is. So yeah, very disappointed with this one overall. (Also, most pointlessly long closer ever?)
This is the least nu metal album on the list so far and wouldn't y'know it's easily one of the best. This thing is god damn incredible, Incubus at this period in their career were something else. The energy on this album is insane, feeling downright schizophrenic at times, this is by far the most eclectic album on this list so far too and I mean by FAR. This is more funk metal than it is nu metal with its crazy, wonky basslines but it also includes everything from d'n'b-style drumming, jazz instrumentation, 90s electronic-influenced production (trip hop, jungle, etc.) and heavily incorporates what would be a nu metal staple for a while: turntables. The Limp Bizkit album had turntables too but not to this extent. Brandon Boyd is one hell of a vocalist, like Anthony Kiedis on steroids and with more sing-rapping. My literal only real issue with this album at all is that the lyrics at times seem like they think they're way smarter than they actually are.
But aside from that I can't sing this album's praises enough. Do yourself a favour and check this out.
|19||Carly Rae Jepsen|
ALBUMS ON THIS LIST RANKED:
1. Korn - Korn (10/10)
2. Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (9/10)
3. Flapjack - Juicy Planet Earth (9/10)
4. Deftones - Adrenaline (8/10)
5. Snot - Get Some (8/10)
6. Korn - Life Is Peachy (7/10)
7. Sevendust - Sevendust (7/10)
8. Limp Bizkit - Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$ (5/10)
9. Sepultura - Roots (4/10)
10. Coal Chamber - Coal Chamber (1/10)
4 is pretty legit though. \m/
|feature coming in 3... 2... 1...|
|My favorite genre|
|my favorite genre when I was 14. still listen to soad and snot on occasion. shortly after that I found metallic hardcore, which basically had everything I loved about nu-metal but way faster, heavier, and angrier.|
|No L.D. 50? I am disappoint. |
|I could write a dissertation on nu-metal and why its fucking bullshit that so many great bands were lumped into it and reviled unfairly, but that's for another time. |
"Nu-metal" typically makes people think of POD / Korn / Limp Bizkit, so if that is the kind of music you're searching for redeeming factors in, have fun. But I highly encourage you to enjoy some much better bands of the era that I tend to call "Alt Metal" as well, just to see that the foundation Korn and RATM and Deftones laid actually led to some amazing releases:
Pulse Ultra - Headspace
Mudvayne - LD50
Nonpoint - Statement
36 Crazyfists - A Snow-Capped Romance
Apex Theory - Topsy Turvy
Boy Hits Car - Boy Hits Car
30 Seconds to Mars - 30 Seconds to Mars
|This is in chronological order and I'm only doing 10 releases per list, which is why LD 50 isn't here|
|My bad. Didn’t realize this was part I :p|
|"feature coming in 3... 2... 1..."|
|Dude, this is well written...have a pos, thumbs up or +1|
|missing the first slipknot and mudvayne albums and thats pretty fucked if you ask me|
|@oltnabrick READ |
|Great reviews!! Truly enjoyed this list, as it’s interesting to hear one’s perspective who wasn’t into this genre at the time. To me, Incubus’ S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Is one of my favs of all time.|
|"So apparently before this album this band made some pretty highly acclaimed thrash metal albums, however I have heard none of that"|
|I may, hopefully I enjoy them far more than Roots|