The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
To the great shock of millions, Nu Metal is back in 2021. Surprisingly, the most derided music sub-genre in rock history, whose performers and fans were constantly ridiculed as angry white trash scum by music gatekeepers, has started to find a second life with a new generation.
And though new Nu Metal bands started cropping up around 2017 or so, the new generation’s watershed moment came when Blind Channel won Finland’s UMK national selection by a landslide, and then landed in 6th at Eurovision 2021 (3rd in the televote).
Blind Channel didn’t merely ape the Nu Metal of old, but put a more pop twist on the music and a more inclusive, upbeat spin on the outsider themes.
That last point is important, as Blind Channel brought along a truckload of fans who were not metalheads. There were a couple metal gatekeepers – if you thought Eurovision stan gatekeepers were obnoxious and/or toxic, wait until you see technical death metal online commentators – who made a few comments about Blind Channel being “not real metal,” but they were by and large ignored.
So if you’re new to Nu Metal, welcome! As someone who survived dozens of Nu Metal shows during the first wave (1996 to 2003, approximately) and wrote about metal as the editor of an American university’s Arts & Entertainment magazine, I thought I’d present a brief review of “essential” bands in the genre you can check out. Personally, I felt it necessary as most overviews of Nu Metal bands and songs are disrespectful and classist, written by sons of rich white urbanites who ramble on about vinyl and indie rock bands whose guitarists are not fit to sniff Wes Borland’s feet while swilling IPAs.
So let that be a signal this article will be biased. Middle fingers up in the air, corny as that can sound to the “normies,” I love Nu Metal and lay out 15 songs that I think are essential listening. If you’re into the genre and feel I’m missing out on some, comment down below and we can politely discuss.
But first off, what is Nu Metal?
In a general sense, Nu Metal is a fusion of metal and rap, particularly the more aggressive sub-genres within each (e.g. thrash and gangster).
More specifically, and despite the variety within the genre, Nu Metal bands combine several of the following characteristics:
- Two vocal styles, with clean singing clashing with either rap, guttural death metal growls, or thrash. Sometimes a single vocalist, but usually two.
- Use of seven string guitars vs. traditional rock and metal’s use of six string guitars.
- Instead of standard E tuning used by traditional rock and metal acts, Nu Metal use Drop B tuning to achieve a “heavier” sound.
- Nu Metal often features hip hop and funk grooves and rhythms.
- Bands often employ DJs to provide samples and turntable scratches.
- Lyrics are aggressive, dealing with personal issues, and often being anti-authoritarian and stressing outsider status.
- No guitar solos. No blast beats. Nu Metal focuses heavily on simpler riffing and no individual showboating.
- Hip hop also influenced the genre’s fashion, with ADIDAS, wallet chains, athleisure wear, baggy pants (JNCO Jeans), baseball caps, heavy tattoos and piercings. To be honest, the less said of the genre’s fashion, the better.
As for this list, here’s a few rules:
- This is considered an “essential” list, not a favorites list. Some songs on this list I personally dislike and that even a large percentage of the public dislikes (no prizes for guessing which infamous Nu Metal band I am referring to). I will try keep the bias to a minimum, but this article is largely about the influence of a band or a song had on Nu Metal.
- It’s a song list, but as with artist selection I try to stick to the song of theirs that had a lasting impact rather than the band’s “best song.” Bear in mind that in the long term, some songs that were popular in 2000 may have become more obscure and overtaken by another song in the band’s catalog that was less of a hit at the time but over the long run had more impact.
- 15 because, well, we got to stop somewhere. But I tacked on a couple honorable mentions.
- This list is “classic” nu metal, so if you don’t see your favorite current generation nu metal band here, let us know in the comments about this current generation band and why old timer nu metal fans should check them out.
Anyway, that being established, here’s a list of 15 “essential listening” Nu Metal tracks from the first generation to help you understand and appreciate future Nu Metal legends like Blind Channel.
1.) Fear Factory – “Replica”
This is a controversial pick for a Nu Metal list due to these Industrial metal legends being heavier than most, but there is no denying the influence Los Angeles natives Fear Factory had early on in Nu Metal’s formation.
This is especially true of Fear Factory’s masterpiece and second album “Demanufacture” from 1995. Guitarist and sole remaining member Dino Cazares was an early adopter of the seven string guitar and Drop B tuning, while vocalist Burton C. Bell could switch from screaming to clean vocals on a dime. For their second album, with the lead single being “Replica,” they blended in more industrial elements (metallic percussion and synthesizers).
Personally, I prefer “Martyr,” a more death metal oriented single off their first album, 1992’s “Soul of the New Machine,” but “Demanufacture” got them noticed, many big Nu Metal bands got their start opening for them, and though their own star has dimmed over the years, they helped ignite the star of others and their DNA is found in many bands in Nu Metal and even other follow-up subgenres to Nu Metal.
2.) Korn – “Freak on a Leash”
This is the song that took Nu Metal from an up-and-coming genre to the dominant genre within rock and metal from 1999 to 2003.
February 1999 was when it all came together for Korn with the release of “Freak on a Leash” from their third album “Follow the Leader.” It only hit number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 6 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts (many US radio stations refused to play it due to the song’s unorthodox build and release structure being too different from the rest of the verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs on rotation). However, it was on MTV where the song took off, with a memorable music video with opening animation by renowned comic book artist Todd McFarlane and a CGI bullet that rips through the animation into the real world, causing property damage while narrowly avoiding bystanders.
Suddenly, the boy bands that held court on shows like MTV’s Total Request Live were being pushed off by ugly guys from ugly cities who were not afraid to express their insecurities in as angry a manner as possible. Though Nu Metal had been bubbling up the past two years, it was with “Freak on a Leash” where the scene took off, with large arena concert tours (Korn’s own Family Values Tour and OzzFest, in particular) being massive events. It was a remarkable achievement, especially considering how unusual the composition of the song was relative to not just pop but its genre mates (a slow, intricate build, Jonathan Davis’s “scatting” at the bridge and that part’s ending in “Go!” resulting in an explosion of Munky Shaffer and Brian “Head” Welch’s down-tuned guitars).
3.) Limp Bizkit – “Nookie”
They may be a laughing stock now (and the less said of frontman Fred Durst’s politics, including support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the better), but back in 1999 Limp Bizkit’s second album “Significant Other” went seven times Platinum, largely off the back of that album’s first single.
The rap-metal group from Jacksonville, Florida had mostly been known for guest appearances on other group’s work (we’ll run across one further down this list) and a crap cover of George Michael’s “Faith,” but “Nookie” took them into the top tier, with Durst having been rumored to have dated Britney Spears and a frequent guest on MTV’s teen music show, Total Request Live. That was an admittedly weird time.
Limp Bizkit had a third album with a title so stupid you can’t say it out loud, but in 2003 and after the departure of guitarist Wes Borland, they imploded quickly. This past weekend, Fred Durst was all over social media for wearing a grey wig and ‘stache to promote Limp Bizkit’s appearance at Lollapalooza and a new song called “Dad Vibes.” Say what you will, at least Durst is aware of his current standing in music circles and can still market the Limp Bizkit brand well.
4.) Papa Roach – “Last Resort”
Want a song with simple, bouncy riffs that is about suicide? Then Central California’s Papa Roach have a song for you. Their 2000 hit “Last Resort” was unusual at the time as emo had rarely collided with heavy music, and certainly not the type you could headbang and fistpump to.
Screamo and post-hardcore would later take over the fans who like this stripe of angry yet depressed music. But what sets “Last Report” from other Nu Metal of this vein is the authenticity of it, vocalist Jacoby Shaddix his singing his way through his problems and facing the issues that haunt him head on. Thankfully, it seems to have worked out for Shaddix who had childhood trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, and has been clean and sober for more than a decade now.
One of the song’s lasting impacts will be the awareness it brought to teen suicide in a relatable manner. These sort of topics were usually addressed in a patronizing manner (such as the horrible “Your brain on drugs” campaigns of the ’80s), but here was a guy who looked like them and expressed the same feelings as them, and one of the first instances of a pop star expressing today’s sentiment of “It’s okay to not be okay.” Regardless of your opinion of the song itself, you can’t fault it for its impact.
5.) Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”
Though Deftones established themselves early in the Nu Metal cycle with their breakout hit “My Own Summer” from their sophomore album “Around the Fur,” their third album “White Pony” is what you’d call “The Nu Metal Critics’ Choice.” Though Deftones’s first two albums are important Nu Metal works themselves, it is “White Pony” that demonstrated how versatile the genre is and that it is not reserved for energy drink chugging neanderthals.
The perfect example of this is the deft blending of Nu Metal and shoegaze in “Change (In the House of Flies).” There’s no way Nu Metal and shoegaze should work, but Deftones pulled it off majestically. Entire subgenres of metal in the 2010s and bands like Deafheaven would not exist without “White Pony.”
Of all my picks, this is the one that seems less dated. It sounds as revolutionary now as it did when first released, and though they lost a few fans because of the influence of “softer” genres, the ones who remained became fanatical devotees, myself included. As a lyricist, frontman Chino Moreno does not get nearly enough plaudits, and Stephen Carpenter, though being mad as badgers, nails the combination of ethereal and aggressive with his guitarwork. They’re still active, and though I have been to about a dozen of their shows, I will still line up to seem them a dozen times more.
6.) Soufly – “Bleed”
Soulfly’s “Bleed” is a perfect song to illustrate how the master influences the pupil and the pupil in turn influences the master.
Legendary Brazilian thrash band Sepultura influenced Korn, and after taking Korn on tour with them, Sepultura learned a few tricks, including down-tuned guitars and deemphasizing solos, as well as lyrically going from political lyrics to outsiders forming “tribes” that unite to save the world. Contrast 1993’s “Refuse / Resist” with 1996’s “Roots Bloody Roots” (from the album “Roots,” which features guest vocals from Jonathan Davis and Chino Moreno).
Frontman Max Cavalera left Sepultura shortly after “Roots” came out, but didn’t leave much time before putting together his new band, which he called Soulfly. “Soulfly” is also the pre-chorus chant in Deftones’s song “Head Up,” in which Cavalera performs as a guest vocalist.
“Bleed” was the lead single off of Soulfly’s self-titled 1998 debut album and features Fred Durst on guest vocals. Cavalera had lost his stepson Dana a couple years before, and this album and the creation thereof was a shaky moment for him. As with Durst, many other Nu Metal icons such as Burton C. Bell and Chino Moreno stepped in to help. “Roots” and “Soulfly” inspired other Nu Metal artists who blended their traditional sounds with metal, particularly Puya (and their spin-off band Ankla) and Skindred.
Soulfly is still active, and another shaky moment for Cavalera happened with a later album, but we’ll cover that in a future editorial when he dips into the well of Eurovision musicians.
7.) Slipknot – “Spit it Out”
The masks and jumpsuits were a turnoff for many metal fans, even if some were fascinated by the aggression and better musicianship than what their look suggested. But Slipknot defied early labels, evolved their sound, and now are still an arena act in metal, 22 years after their strong debut album.
“Spit it Out” was how Slipknot announced themselves to the world, and though they have had better, more mature, better composed songs over the years, “Spit it Out” is the quintessential angry outsider anthem.
The song works as the band’s own anthem, too – keep fighting back until you’ve run out of enemies. Now, as elder statesmen in metal, it appears Corey Taylor and company have indeed run out of enemies, and converted legions of doubters over the years into their army of “maggots.”
Last week, Slipknot’s former drummer Joey Jordison passed away at age 46 from acute traverse myelitis. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.
8.) Linkin Park – “In the End”
Of course Blind Channel’s most obvious influence would be on this list. Linkin Park’s “In the End” was a commercial juggernaut, hitting Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2002 and it currently sits at 1.2 billion views on YouTube. Linkin Park, contrary to what some rival Eurovision commentators infamously claimed before Eurovision 2021, had songs enter the Billboard Hot 100 as late as February 2017, only five months before vocalist Chester Bennington’s death by suicide in July of 2017.
Linkin Park’s knack for gradual evolution kept them in the game and the charts for almost two decades, and they kept most of their older fans on board as well as gradually attracting newer fans. Bennington frequently collaborated both within and outside metal, and one of his last ones, “Cross Off” with Lamb of God’s guitarist Mark Morton, was also one of his best. The lyrics of “Cross Off” stress the demons he was dealing with, and it is a huge loss to music that he was ultimately unable to defeat them.
9.) Kittie – “Brackish”
I am going to show my metal hipster card on this one: I was at Kittie’s set at the Milwaukee Metal Fest in the Summer of 1999. On a weekend with 150+ bands across four stages, and thousands of white meatheads over 6 foot tall such as myself, they defied expectations. At first, when these at-the-time 16 year old girls got on stage, the crowd was standing still, arms crossed. By the end of the 20 minutes, those guys in the Nile and Suffocation T-shirts were moshing.
Chalk that up to the leadership and excellent crowd management of lead singer and guitarist Morgan Lander, who even then knew how to get a crowd involved and offered great clapback.
Though still raw and in a very early stage of development as a band, it was clear then they were going to be stars. Their combination of charisma and confidence and gutsiness is not something you can manufacture, and so it was Kittie were signed and within six months released their debut album “Spit,” with “Brackish” as the lead single.
It seemed clear from 2000 to 2003 that their record label wanted them to continue more on a “nu metal girls with guitars” group focused more on image rather than Kittie’s desire to learn and improve their craft and go toe-to-toe with the thrash and groove metal titans they grew up with and were peers of such as Slayer, Pantera, and Lamb of God.
Kittie got heavier instead of “girlier,” and though that lost them more lucrative record deals, it gained them a lot of credibility with a smaller, yet more devout fanbase. Had they gone with the record label’s idea, they’d be a minor footnote in the genre and, overall, an irrelevance. They stuck to their guns, and they’re fondly remembered as the Canadian female outfit who could rage harder than anyone else.
Though Kittie hasn’t put out a record since 2011 (“I’ve Failed You,” containing the excellent lead single “We Are the Lamb“), they put out two video albums in 2018 and 2019 in “Kittie: Origins / Evolutions” and “Kittie: Live at the London Music Hall.” Both are well worth watching for the music, the evolution of their music and how much better they’d become at songcraft and everything they had to overcome just because they were women in an overwhelmingly male genre.
Vocalist and guitarist Morgan Lander is currently the vocalist for melodic death metal band Karkaos and also co-hosts The Witch Finger Horror Podcast, where three metalhead women offer snarky and incisive commentary on horror movies from the VHS era. Her sister and Kittie drummer Mercedes Lander is now vocalist and guitarist for doom band White Swan, and original guitarist Fallon Bowman, while acting in Canadian TV movies, just released the new album for her synthpop project Amphibious Assault. All three post-Kittie bands are worth checking out while we await Kittie’s return.
10.) Drowning Pool – “Bodies”
From a whisper to a scream, everyone in 2001 knew what would happen right after Dave Williams whispered “Let the bodies hit the floor…”
“Bodies” is an anthem to releasing your anger in the moshpit, and at Ozzfest 2001, those words were a signal to attract every metalhead within listening distance to run like thundering wildebeest towards each other, slam into each other, then rage in unison in a giant circular pit. Though metalheads are criticized for being individualistic and libertarian, you’ll be hard pressed to find a group of people more likely to run, jump and pump fists in unison than at Drowning Pool performances that summer.
Sadly, frontman Dave Williams died during the touring cycle of Drowning Pool’s debut album “Sinner” from cardiomyopathy at the age of 30. The band continued, but with nowhere near the success.
11.) Static-X – “Push It”
The late, great Wayne Static once referred to Static-X’s debut album “Wisconsin Death Trip” as “evil disco,” so Blind Channel is not the only metal band to have a creative name for their sound. Combining the eerie industrial sounds of a band like Ministry and the pummeling riffs of a Pantera, but with a quirkier frontman and lyrics, Static-X blew up in 1999 with their first single “Push It.”
Static-X’s second album “Machine” was also a success in 2001, but dwindling sales continued until frontman Wayne Static (the guy with the tall, vertical hair and chin strapped beard) called a hiatus and he began a solo project in 2011. Unfortunately, Static passed away in 2014 from an accidental prescription drug overdose, though bassist Tony Campos (now also Fear Factory’s bassist) roped in former Dope frontman Edsel Dope as their new vocalist, and has taken this line-up on the road.
12.) Disturbed – “Down With The Sickness”
The “oooh wa ah ah ah!” song! C’mon, y’all know this one.
Personally, I have more of a soft spot for their debut single “Stupify,” which I first heard at a Dairy Queen in Iowa in early summer of 2000. Two kids in the kitchen were impressed as you could see them from the register slamming each other into the fridges. I heard it on the radio in my Camaro thirty minutes later and thought, “hoo boy, this one is going to be everywhere.” I was sort of wrong. The follow up single “Down with the Sickness” replaced it and was played everywhere instead.
Though Disturbed evolved over the years, their early albums were more Nu Metal influenced, with drop C guitar tuning and angsty lyrics. But their main selling point was their charismatic frontman David Draiman. The name Draiman leads you to think of him as a shaman, lulling his audiences into a trance and whipping them in a frenzy. Without his lyrics, his both underrated clean vocals and harsh screams, and his willingness to take risks, it’s doubtful Disturbed would still be a force on the American charts today. Though credit must also go to guitarist Dan Donegan, who is probably the genre’s most underrated guitarist.
13.) Godsmack – “Whatever”
Ever been in a line at a gas station waiting to pay for a can of Monster and a Slim Jim, and you just wanted to punch the cashier in the goddamn throat because he was taking too long helping the old guy in front of you select his State lotto scratcher tickets? If so, then Godsmack may be just for you.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. Godsmack took the angst of the ’90s grunge scene and turned it outwards, their riffs like fists that hammer punching bags. You can argue that Godsmack are not really Nu Metal (the band argues against it as well, as if being in Nu Metal was an affront to their mothers), but they share common enough traits, particularly being outsiders from unfancied areas and channeling rage from bad childhoods, depression, etc.
However, Godsmack are more influential as a transitory act, a band that directly connects to a genre that followed the one they started in, and that would be the sort of hard rock that Godsmack, Disturbed and Five Finger Death Punch now truck in. Derisively part of a subgenre called “butt rock” (as in the sort of rock they play on stations like 92.3 FM Amarillo, Texas with slogans like “playing nothing but rock!”) or “military mom rock” (mostly because a lot of their fans are daughters and wives of men who enlisted to fight in Iraq, and they showed up at concerts while their husbands or fathers were stationed overseas), Godsmack continues to top the Billboard Mainstream Rock and Album charts. Godsmack baffles the coastal indie rock set, not understanding the connections they make with their fans and the catharsis of going to their show and just releasing their anger and cares away in the moshpit (this includes the moms, too).
14.) P.O.D. – “Southtown”
If you want positive, inspirational Nu Metal, then head straight to San Diego for P.O.D.’s brand of rap heavy Nu Metal. Ignore the haters who lazily brand them as a Christian band and dismiss them. Yes, frontman Sonny Sandoval wears his heart on his sleeve and does indeed allude to God.
Christian or not, “Southtown” is absolutely one of the best Nu Metal songs of all time. Though more famous for 2001’s “Alive” and “Boom,” it’s “Southtown” that yanked them out of the Christian metal pigeonhole and into the top tier of Nu Metal.
“Southtown” is the band’s manifesto, and if anyone wondered why American Nu Metal had an outsized support in the Mexican-American community, it’s because of bands like this who could relate to their community and could offer more than the doom and gloom of some of their competitors. Guaranteed, you will have a much more fun time hanging out with P.O.D. fans than Imagine Dragons fans.
15.) System of a Down – “Chop Suey!”
From a Christian band to an eccentric metal band that has had quite a lot to say, and the band on this list that most Eurovision fans will be familiar with, we have ethnically Armenian Los Angeles outfit System of a Down.
Currently, most non-metal fans would categorize their genre as “WTF is this?,” but in 1998 when their debut album broke and “Chop Suey!,” from their breakout album “Toxicity,” they were still largely operating in the Nu Metal genre with their fellow Los Angeles Armenians in Spineshank.
They brought a lot from their Armenian heritage into Nu Metal, but were also known for contemporary politicizing (especially the Iraq War) and not being afraid to be unhinged. Frontman Serj Tankian was mesmerizing, especially early on. Though they have a formula that is not really reproduceable (how the hell does a copycat band reconcile a “BYOB!” blast with a proggy spoof song like “Old School Hollywood” and make it sound like both comes from the same band?), and the band members are four outspoken eccentrics who don’t seem like they get along, they remain the high water mark of just how far a metal band can take influences and incorporate them into their sound.
Honorable Mentions (links to songs embedded in song title):
- Eldrine – “One More Day”: A 9th place finish for Georgia for Eurovision 2011 (though still their joint-highest finish ever at the Contest) and only one album is not a compelling case to call Eldrine “Essential,” but prior to Blind Channel are one of the best Nu Metal that ever graced the Contest.
- maNga – “We Could be the Same“: As with Eldrine, the Eurovision 2010 runners-up entered a very good Nu Metal song, blending some of the genre’s major tropes with the Anatolian rock sound. Unfortunately, this was as big as they got outside of Turkey. So yeah, a decent song but not really “essential.”
- Evanescence – “Bring Me to Life“: The “Wake me up! I can’t up!” song is another transition out of Nu Metal song in that they had Nu Metal elements but also leaned heavily into alternative metal. If I was Europe based, I’d have gone for this over Godsmack as the transitory track on the list, mostly because it seems Europe had more of these alternative metal type songs succeed (e.g. the excellent Italian band Lacuna Coil), and I’m more familiar with the meathead butt rock of Godsmack that sold better in the United States.
- Powerman 5000 – “When Worlds Collide“: Family connections rarely work out for the best, but Powerman 5000’s 1950’s retro sci-fi themed Nu Metal “When Worlds Collide” is pretty good. The group’s frontman Spider One is Rob Zombie’s younger brother. However, their follow-up to their debut “Tonight the Stars Revolt!” went more in a punk direction, and they never hit the heights of charts or commercial radio again.
- Machine Head – “The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears“: Like Fear Factory, Machine Head is a band known primarily for ruling another sub-genre (groove metal) while still being an influence for Nu Metal. Machine Head steered a bit in looks and sound towards Nu Metal on their much maligned third album from 1999 The Burning Red. The groove metal gatekeepers hated Machine Head for this, but a rearranged version of the “The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears” is a constant on their concert setlist to this day.
- Faith No More – “We Care a Lot“: This early Faith No More cut from 1985 (the underappreciated Chuck Moseley days) was one of the creative earlier blends of rap and rock, where the norm was sticking a rap verse at the bridge and leaving it at that. Like fellow rock and funk travelers The Red Hot Chili Peppers, they were not Nu Metal at any stage but certainly were a huge influence.
- Wicked Wisdom – “Bleed All Over Me“: This band made the news recently as Willow Smith performed this as a tribute to her mother on her birthday. Willow’s mother, Jada Pinkett Smith (wife of American actor and rapper Will Smith) had some success with this Nu Metal project, even appearing at Ozzfest 2000, and it appears Willow is looking to resurrect the band to help lead the line for the second generation of Nu Metal.
- Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below“: No-one quite knew what genre to stick Chevelle in, so the powers that be at MTV stuck them in Nu Metal because Chevelle’s video for this song featured snowboarding. We can argue for days about their genre, but most who stick around to argue the point are united in the belief that they are one of the most underrated rock bands of the 2000s.
- Adema – “The Way You Like It“: Probably the best song with a video featuring a guy urinating in a woman’s restroom sink (which oddly presents the act as a flirting gesture and not the felony that it is). This band were top of the B-tier Nu Metal, despite some generic hanging with my bros videos and the frontman being Korn frontman Jonathan Davis’s cousin. A friend of mine back in 2003 put this on a mixtape he called “We’re gonna get f&*^$d up in Vegas!!!”, and if you’re in that mood, this song is perfect.
Next time, we’re going to tackle songs that show where Nu Metal can go horribly wrong, and has led to the bad reputation of Nu Metal. It shouldn’t be a problem for Blind Channel, who have already shown versatility and experimentation for a band so young. But, you know, the first generation of Nu Metal had some clangers and 20 years on, we can at least laugh about them.
Which 2nd Generation Nu Metal band do #YOU like? Which band would #YOU argue should be on the “Essential” list? Let us know in the comments below.