Nu-metal, also known as nu-metallics or aggro-metal, is a subgenre of heavy metal that originated in the United States in the mid-1990s. Nu-metal is characterized by a mix of musical styles, including heavy metal, hip-hop, alternative rock, and industrial.
Nu-metal emerged in the mid-1990s, with bands like Korn, Deftones, and System of a Down pioneering the genre. The subgenre gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the success of bands such as Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Papa Roach.
Nu-metal’s popularity declined in the mid-2000s, and many bands began to shift towards other subgenres or break up. However, nu-metal continues to have a dedicated fanbase and influence on modern heavy music.
This article aims to provide an overview of the nu-metal subgenre, including its characteristics, controversies, and experimental nature. By examining these aspects, we hope to provide a deeper understanding of the genre and its impact on the heavy metal scene.
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Characteristics of Nu-Metal
The musical style of nu-metal is characterized by its fusion of various genres. Heavy guitar riffs and basslines are a staple of the genre, often with a down-tuned guitar and heavily distorted sound. Nu-metal also incorporates hip-hop-inspired beats and rhythms, typically utilizing a drum machine or electronic drums.
Electronic instrumentation such as turntables, samplers, and synthesizers are also common in nu-metal, providing a unique sound.
Nu-metal’s vocal style is characterized by its use of rap-style vocals, aggressive shouting, and melodic singing. The rapping style of vocals is influenced by hip-hop and can often be heard in the verses of nu-metal songs.
The aggressive shouting style of vocals is used to convey intense emotions such as anger, frustration, and pain. Melodic singing is also common in nu-metal, often used in the chorus or bridge of a song.
Themes and Lyrics
Nu-metal lyrics often focus on themes of alienation, angst, personal struggle, and social and political commentary. The lyrics frequently explore feelings of anger, frustration, and isolation, reflecting the experiences of young people in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Nu-metal’s lyrics are also known for tackling taboo topics such as drug addiction, depression, and suicide.
The Controversy Surrounding Nu-Metal
Criticism of Nu-Metal
Nu-metal has faced criticism from some quarters for being derivative and unoriginal. Critics argue that the genre’s fusion of different genres is not a unique innovation and that it relies too heavily on clichéd themes and lyrics.
Others have criticized the lack of musicianship in nu-metal, claiming that the genre is simplistic and lacks the technical proficiency of other subgenres of heavy metal.
Defence of Nu-Metal
Despite the criticism, there are those who defend nu-metal and argue that it has contributed to the evolution of heavy metal music. Supporters of the subgenre highlight the innovations in sound and genre fusion that nu-metal has introduced, as well as its authenticity in expressing emotions and experiences.
Additionally, nu-metal’s influence on subsequent subgenres and bands is often cited as evidence of its importance and impact on the heavy metal scene.
The Experimental Nature of Nu-Metal
Pushing the Boundaries of Genre Conventions
Nu-metal has been an experimental subgenre, constantly pushing the boundaries of genre conventions. The fusion of musical elements from diverse genres has resulted in a sound that is unique and distinct from other subgenres of heavy metal.
Nu-metal bands also incorporate non-musical sounds and samples into their music, creating a soundscape that is unconventional and experimental.
Expanding the Range of Emotional Expression
Nu-metal has expanded the range of emotional expression within heavy metal. The genre’s lyrics often tackle taboo and personal topics, providing an outlet for artists and listeners to explore their emotions and experiences.
Additionally, nu-metal’s use of unconventional vocal styles and techniques has allowed for a wider range of emotional expression.
Engaging with Social and Political Issues
Nu-metal has also engaged with social and political issues, challenging mainstream norms and values. The genre’s lyrics often address issues of inequality and injustice, providing a voice for those who feel marginalized and oppressed.
Nu-metal bands have also challenged the status quo in their music videos and live performances, promoting social and political messages that are often controversial and provocative.
Notable Bands in Nu-Metal
Korn is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of the nu-metal genre. Formed in Bakersfield, California in 1993, Korn quickly made a name for themselves with their distinctive sound, which combined heavy, down-tuned guitars with hip-hop-influenced rhythms and emotional, often dark lyrics.
Their self-titled debut album, released in 1994, was a critical and commercial success and helped to establish the band as one of the leading forces in the genre.
Over the course of their career, Korn has released a string of successful albums, including Life Is Peachy, Follow the Leader, and Issues. Their unique sound and intense live shows have earned them a dedicated fanbase and cemented their place in the annals of heavy music.
Along the way, they have also influenced countless other bands, from Slipknot to System of a Down.
Limp Bizkit played a significant role in popularizing nu-metal in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1994, Limp Bizkit blended elements of metal, punk, and hip hop to create a sound that was both heavy and catchy.
Their breakthrough album, Significant Other, was released in 1999 and spawned several hit singles, including “Nookie” and “Break Stuff.”
Despite their commercial success, Limp Bizkit has been a controversial band, with critics accusing them of promoting misogyny and other forms of negative behaviour. However, there is no denying their impact on the nu-metal genre, and their legacy continues to be felt today.
Linkin Park brought a unique sound and sensibility to the nu metal genre. Formed in Agoura Hills, California in 1996, Linkin Park blended heavy guitars and aggressive vocals with electronic and hip-hop elements, creating a sound that was both accessible and innovative.
Their debut album, Hybrid Theory, was released in 2000 and became a massive commercial success, thanks in part to hit singles like “One Step Closer” and “Crawling.”
Over the course of their career, Linkin Park continued to evolve and experiment, incorporating more electronic and experimental elements into their music. Despite the tragic death of their lead singer, Chester Bennington, in 2017, their legacy continues to be felt in the world of heavy music.
Slipknot took the nu-metal genre to new heights with their intense live shows and unique visual aesthetic. Formed in Des Moines, Iowa in 1995, Slipknot combined elements of heavy metal, industrial, and punk rock to create a sound that was both punishing and exhilarating.
Their live shows, which featured the band members wearing distinctive masks and jumpsuits, were a spectacle of energy and aggression, and helped to define the nu metal aesthetic.
Slipknot’s breakthrough album, Iowa, was released in 2001 and was a critical and commercial success, thanks in part to the hit single “Wait and Bleed.” Since then, the band has continued to push boundaries and evolve their sound, incorporating more experimental and atmospheric elements into their music.
Deftones fused heavy and atmospheric elements to create a sound that was both intense and ethereal. Formed in Sacramento, California in 1988, Deftones released their debut album, Adrenaline, in 1995, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the most innovative and dynamic bands in the heavy music scene.
Over the course of their career, Deftones have continued to evolve and experiment, incorporating more melodic and experimental elements into their music. Key albums such as Around the Fur, White Pony, and Diamond Eyes showcase the band’s versatility and ability to push boundaries, while still remaining true to their signature sound.
System of a Down
System of a Down brought a political and socially conscious edge to the nu metal genre. Formed in Los Angeles, California in 1994, the band blended heavy metal, punk rock, and Armenian folk music to create a sound that was both unique and thought-provoking.
Their breakthrough album, Toxicity, was released in 2001 and was a critical and commercial success, thanks in part to hit singles like “Chop Suey!” and “Aerials.”
Over the course of their career, System of a Down continued to explore political and social themes in their music, while also incorporating more experimental and avant-garde elements into their sound. Despite going on hiatus in 2006, the band remains a beloved and influential force in the world of heavy music.
In conclusion, nu-metal is a controversial and experimental subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The genre’s fusion of musical elements from diverse genres, rap-style vocals, and focus on themes of alienation, angst, and personal struggle have made it both praised and criticized.
Nu-metal has expanded the range of emotional expression within heavy metal, challenged mainstream norms and values, and influenced subsequent subgenres and bands. While the popularity of nu-metal has declined in recent years, it continues to have a dedicated fanbase and influence on modern heavy music.
What is considered nu-metal?
Nu metal, also known as “new metal,” is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It combines elements of heavy metal, alternative rock, hip hop, and other genres to create a unique sound characterized by down-tuned guitars, heavy bass lines, and aggressive vocals. The genre is often associated with a particular fashion style that includes baggy clothing, dreadlocks, and tattoos.
Who are the big 4 of nu-metal?
The term “big four” is typically used to refer to the four most influential bands in a particular genre. In nu metal, the big four are usually considered to be Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Slipknot. These bands were among the most commercially successful and popular acts in the genre during their peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Why is Slipknot called nu-metal?
Slipknot is often considered a nu-metal band due to their use of elements from a variety of genres, including heavy metal, alternative rock, and hip hop. Their sound is characterized by down-tuned guitars, aggressive vocals, and complex percussion. The band also incorporates visual elements into their live performances, such as their trademark masks and jumpsuits. Slipknot’s unique blend of styles and visual flair helped to define the nu-metal sound and aesthetic.
Is Linkin Park nu-metal?
Yes, Linkin Park is considered a nu-metal band. They were one of the most commercially successful and influential acts in the genre during its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Their sound combines heavy guitars and aggressive vocals with electronic and hip-hop elements, creating a unique style that helped to define the nu-metal sound.
What killed nu-metal?
There is no single factor that led to the decline of nu-metal as a genre. Some argue that the popularity of the genre led to oversaturation and a lack of innovation, while others point to the rise of other genres, such as metalcore and emo, that drew influence from nu-metal but added their own unique twists. Additionally, changes in the music industry, such as the shift towards digital music and the decline of physical album sales, may have contributed to the decline of nu-metal and other rock genres.
About the Author
Mark Nye is a writer and guitar teacher with a passion for heavy metal and hard rock. With years of experience playing and teaching guitar, Mark has developed a deep appreciation for the music and culture of the genre. In addition to teaching guitar, he enjoys writing about heavy metal and hard rock music and sharing his knowledge and insights with others. When he’s not teaching or writing, you can find Mark listening to his favourite bands and discovering new music to add to his collection.