Nu metal along with glam metal is one of the most maligned forms of heavy metal ever. However the music certainly has its merits. When it first blasted onto the scene in 1994, the combination of groove metal, grunge and hardcore rap added a welcome sense of innovation and angst to the heavy metal scene. Unfortunately MTV and rock radio got a hold of it causing the music to blow up way too quickly, much like glam in the 1980’s. From there, tons of formulaic bands emerged with watered down material. Because of this, nu metal had a short shelf life and died off in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. However, because of this short time span and over abundance of horrible bands, it certainly made it easy to come up with a list of the best and essential nu metal albums. If you are feeling nostalgic or you are a relatively new fan to metal, these are the albums that you should definitely check out.
#10. Soulfy – Soulfly
When legendary thrash front man Max Cavalera left Sepultura to form Soulfly in 1997, fans had no idea what to expect. What we got was an excellent debut album that certainly leaned more to the groove metal side and had slightly less hip hop elements than some others. Soulfly featured guest appearances from Fred Durst, Chino Moreno and Christian Olde Wolbers and boasted great tracks like “Tribe’ and “Soulfly”. The album has since been certified gold and Soulfly survived the nu metal collapse by fully embracing groove metal on their later releases.
#9. Around the Fur – Deftones
Deftones were one of the pioneers of nu metal along with Korn and their second release Around the Fur is certainly a top nu metal album. Coming on the heels of their spectacular and innovative debut album, this release was going to be in the midst of a big shadow. Deftones helped differentiate things by toning down some of the hip hop elements and concentrating on more alternative metal and grunge sounds giving nu metal an album that totally stood on its own. The album reached platinum status on the success of songs like “My Own Summer (Shove It)”, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and “Lotion”. Deftones have also been able to continue their career by consistently evolving their sound over the years giving them an amazing atmospheric metal feel today.
#8. Hybrid Theory – Linkin Park
Love Linkin Park or hate them, there is no denying the extreme worth this album had in the world of nu metal. Hybrid Theory was released in 2000 at a point when nu metal was all but dead. This one had many of us scratching our heads, wondering what Warner Bros. Records was thinking. This couldn’t last long. However, what we got was a well written record that hearkened back to the early days of nu metal with excellent rap vocals, infectious grooves and tons of anger. Linkin Park also brought something to the table that had never been heard before in nu metal, Chester Bennington’s excellent vocal range. Of course after this, Linkin Park saw the writing on the wall and transformed themselves into one of the most popular hard rock/*metal acts today, but Hybrid Theory will always be considered one of the staples of nu metal.
#7. Sevendust – Sevendust
Sevendust was released in 1997 just as the popularity of nu metal began to rise and before it was infected by horrible bands. The album brought amazing tracks with excellent groove riffs and slight rap elements like “Black”, “Bitch” and “Too Close to Hate”. Unfortunately this album can be called one of the causes of the nu metal explosion because of its huge amount of radio airplay. However, because of its sheer musical quality and well done songs it can also be considered one of the best. Sevendust lives on today, but they have never been able to duplicate the success they had in the nu metal era.
#6. Slipknot – Slipknot
Slipknot virtually came out of nowhere with their debut album, Slipknot, in 1999. Once again this was an album that came at the tail end of the nu metal movement, but Slipknot was able to stay away from the formulaic sound that had come about. Slipknot had turn tables and groove riffs much like the others, but they stayed away from rap vocals in favor of extreme metal growls giving an updated nu metal sound that was unique to them. This injection of uniqueness to a stale scene has allowed Slipknot to remain one of the most popular heavy metal bands to this day. Slipknot gave us amazing tracks like “Wait and Bleed”, “Spit It Out” and “Eyeless” that reached amazing heights of popularity with very little radio and MTV airplay setting the table for what would be an even more amazing Slipknot record in 2001.
#5. Follow the Leader – Korn
If you are looking for the album that created nu metal’s mainstream popularity, this is the one. Although that boom ultimately caused the death of the subgenre, this album gave us some of the best mainstream heavy metal material of the 1990’s. Follow the Leader was Korn’s third studio album and contains the bands quintessential track and music video “Freak on a Leash”. The album also features a movement even further toward hip hop with collaborations from the likes of Ice Cube and The Pharcyde. Big rappers mixed with heavy thrash hadn’t been heard since Public Enemy and Anthrax in the late 1980’s, so in 1997 this certainly seemed new and fresh. Unfortunately, this became the formula and every big name rap artist was soon being featured on nu metal records. Still this is an important album in the history of the subcategory and one that should never be overlooked.
#4. Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$ – Limp Bizkit
Building off of the success of Korn and Deftones, Limp Bizkit released their debut album, Three Dollar Bill, Ya’ll$ in 1997. Limp Bizkit took things one step further by not only having hip hop elements, but adding rapped vocals as well. What fans got was unbelievably raw and aggressive guitar riffs mixed with turntables and both screamed and rapped vocals. At the time this brought something fully unique to heavy metal. Yes, we had Rage Against the Machine and Anthrax/Public Enemy before, but neither ever showed the pure aggression that Limp Bizkit showed on this record. Tracks like “Counterfeit” “Pollution” and “Stuck” were revolutionary at the time of their release helping to inspire their nu metal brethren to follow suit. Unfortunately, a year after the album was released MTV got a hold of their video for “Faith”, a George Michael cover, and the watering down of both Limp Bizkit and nu metal would commence shortly thereafter. Lead singer Fred Durst became an ego maniac and began turning out some of the most uninspired metal of all time. Despite this, Three Dollar Bill, Ya’ll continues to be one of the stand out nu metal releases.
#3. Adrenaline – Deftones
Adrenaline (1995) along with Korn’s debut in 1994 pioneered the nu metal movement. Deftones brought us an album with great riffs, guitar created hip hop sounds, excellent vocals and well written lyrics and songs structures. With how great this album was, it’s a wonder how nu metal got to the awful point that it did. Adrenaline certainly had nothing to do with influencing that down turn. The most amazing part of the success of this album is that it was certified platinum with no radio or MTV airplay. Songs like “Root”, “Seven Words” and “Bored” not only remain staples of nu metal, but are also songs that continue to stand the test of time. Whether you are a person that has left nu metal behind or one that still loves it, this is an album that you can always pick up and listen to.
#2. Korn – Korn
Korn’s 1994 self-titled debut has the distinction of being considered the first nu metal record ever. The riffs are undeniably aggressive groove metal, but Korn went further and added the angst filled lyrics of grunge, screamed vocals, and drumming and clicking bass lines that brought about a more hip hop induced sound giving us nu metal. No one can ever forget the opening of “Blind” with lead singer Jonathan Davis screaming ‘are you ready?” and then that ultimate fast and loud guitar kick in. It was the likes of nothing any of us had ever heard before and it influenced a generation of nu metal artists from Limp Bizkit to Soulfly. Other songs that brought about this same feeling are “Ball Tongue”, “Clown”, “Faget” and “Shoots and Ladders”. Korn was never able to duplicate the sound and raw ire of their debut, but they have been able to maintain a solid career and have released some other well done albums. Korn certainly jump started a heavy metal revolution.
#1. Iowa – Slipknot
The top spot was the only difficult pick to make when creating this list. There was Adrenaline that had excellent song writing and has stood the test of time. There was Korn that was the first nu metal album. It was really difficult not to make this number one, as it created a whole new subgenre of metal. However, Slipknot’s 2001 album Iowa is perfect from start to finish and is the most well constructed and well played of any of the records here. Once again they had an album that reached platinum status with little to no airplay. The album continued the band’s unique brand of extreme nu metal, while giving us songs like “My Plague” and “Left Behind” that had tighter writing and amazing musicianship. Literally, there have never been better musicians in the history of nu metal. They have been the only band that has been able to keep nu metal elements in their music and remain successful and this is the album that showed everyone that it was indeed possible and for that reason, Iowa takes our top spot.
What are your favorite nu metal albums? What would your #1 be? Leave a comment and let us know.