The popularity of alternative metal bands led to an even more fractured and influenced genre of heavy metal that emerged in the mid 90’s called nu metal. This genre was highly influenced by the lyrical content, drop-D tuning, and sludgy sounds of alternative metal and grunge. From here nu metal added elements from the popular groove style of metal introduced by bands like Pantera and Sepultura in the early 90’s. Like groove metal, nu metal takes the song’s biggest riff and repeats it over and over, forming the basis of the song. Nu metal simplified the guitar hooks even further than groove metal, and added turn tables, slap bass, mixing boards and seven string guitars for a lower,down tuned sound.
The term “nu metal” was used to describe the metal movement that was happening in the time between 1995-2002. Originally called the “new heavy metal,” it was shortened to nu metal by the media. Korn and Deftones were the definitive leaders of the nu metal movement, paving the way for Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Snot, Sevendust, Saliva, Staind, Adema, Coal Chamber, Cold, Slipknot, Soulfly, Methods of Mayhem, Linkin Park, and P.O.D. Other bands that are often lumped in as “nu metal” but are not stylistically congruent are System of a Down, Static-X, Disturbed, and Godsmack.
Widely accepted as the first nu metal band, Korn released their self titled debut album in 1994. This was preceded by their demo, Neidermeyer’s Mind, a hard to find demo from 1993, and the world’s very first introduction to nu metal. The first song off the album, “Blind,” was massively popular in 1995. The style of Korn was abruptly unfamiliar in a metal landscape that seemingly didn’t exist during the post-grunge era. Korn helped to usher in a new style of heavy metal. This popularity was followed by their sophomore album and MTV hit, Life is Peachy, which featured “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and “No Place to Hide.” Their most successful album to date, Follow the Leader, was released in 1998, and further explored the combination of rap and heavy metal. The album featured one track with Ice Cube, rapped verses in songs like “All in the Family,” and a more melodic approach than previous releases. Videos for “Got the Life” and “Freak on a Leash” received major backing from MTV, solidifying the band’s status as the kings of the “nu metal” movement.
Alongside Korn, The Deftones were pioneering the nu metal movement with an entirely different sound. They are often regarded as alternative metal in addition to nu metal. Their debut album, Adrenaline, was released in 1995, and blended rap, heavy metal, hardcore, progressive, grunge, atmospheric, and alternative into one innovative sound. From song to song, the sound of The Deftones is much more experimental than other nu metal artists, which is why they seemed to have overcome the negative connotations associated with “nu metal.”
As the first wave of nu metal acts experienced success, other bands were starting to imitate the success of Korn and The Deftones. Limp Bizkit was the most notable with their first single in 1997, “Counterfeit.” The album featured a cover of George Michael’s “Faith” and accompanying MTV video. The success of the video sparked album sales, catapulting the band to mainstream rock band status almost overnight. It also ushered in the third wave of nu metal acts that were clearly influenced by Korn, like Coal Chamber, Papa Roach, Sevendust, and Linkin Park.
Slipknot’s debut album, released in 1999, was one of the most successful nu metal albums that received little radio airplay. Unlike many other nu metal acts, Slipknot has retained a large audience and has grown beyond the “nu metal” labeling.
Of all nu metal bands, even though they were late-comers to the nu metal scene, Linkin Park has experienced the most commercial success. Their debut album, Hybrid Theory, was released in October 2000, when nu metal was at its commercial peak. It sold an astonishing 24 million copies worldwide, due to the success of singles “One Step Closer,” “Crawling,” “Paper Cut,” and the heavily played “In the End.” They have sold over 50 million records worldwide.
Essential Nu Metal Albums
- Korn (Korn)
- Three Dollar Bill Y’all (Limp Bizkit)
- Soulfly (Soulfly)
- Adrenaline (Deftones)
- Dysfunction (Staind)
- Hybrid Theory (Linkin Park)
- Slipknot (Slipknot)
- Iowa (Slipknot)
- Sevendust (Sevendust)
- Significant Other (Limp Bizkit)
- Follow the Leader (Korn)
- Coal Chamber (Coal Chamber)
- Infest (Papa Roach)
- Around the Fur (Deftones)
- Every Six Seconds (Saliva)
The nu metal movement saw a sharp decline due to the events of Woodstock ’99 and an oversaturated sound that was flooding rock radio. Much like glam had been oversaturated in the late 80’s, nu metal met its own demise by not reinventing the sound. The demise of nu metal was succeeded by metalcore, progressive metal, *metal, and a renewed interest in classic heavy metal bands.