Nu metal, setting things straight

Written by: Haddonfield
Published: 23.06.2009
For many years now the term "nu metal" has somewhat annoyed me. It's not because I don't believe in its right to exist as a phrase defining a distinct genre. It's the way people tend to use it to label almost any band that doesn't fit into the extreme metal tag since the late 1990's. Being a student specialized in genre studies, albeit cinema, I have spent many a moment reflecting upon the actual definition of nu metal. This article is an attempt to define the genre whilst also trying to seek its origins and to distinguish some labeled nu metal bands from this genre.

So lets start with the foundations of nu metal. I believe it's safe to say that the genre started in 1997 with the release of two albums. First of all, Korn's Follow the Leader, which integrated a dense element of hip/hop throughout, and secondly, Deftones' Around the Fur. It is funny to note how these two bands were also at the basis of the song "Wicked" released on Korn's Life Is Peachy album in 1996, which is heavily rap inspired. Yes, there were elements pushing towards the making of the nu metal genre prior to Korn and Deftones, but these two bands are the ones who set the foundations and made it a genre per-say. On the other hand, a band named Limp Bizkit had just released its first album which would evidently seem to cement nu metal as a genre. It is also obvious that the duo between Aerosmith and Run DMC, coupled with that of Anthrax and Public Enemy, along with bands like the Beastie Boys and Faith No More were major influences on the nu metal stage. However, if one looks closely to how metal evolved, one will find a more logical approach as to why nu metal came about.

If Korn's Follow the Leader is considered nu metal, then what about Korn's first eponymous album and the follow up Life Is Peachy or Deftones' Adrenaline? I remember at school back in the day when Jonathan Davis was screaming out the lyrics to "Good God", we had a term for these bands and others alike: "Neo Thrash". Today, that term has entirely disappeared and to many metalheads will probably come as an insult. But being at school in France, this term wasn't invented by the fans, but by the media of the time. So lets try and understand how this term could have come about. If we consider three of the big thrash metal bands of the 80s, it is pretty easy to comprehend. Fist of all, lets start with Metallica. Throughout the 80s, Metallica produced fine heavy, and sometimes extremely rapid, thrash metal. In 1991, they released their "Black Album" which was far less heavy and less rhythmic than its predecessors. This was then followed up by work that seems to completely ignore the bands original work. Secondly, lets take a look at Slayer. Their 1990 album, Seasons in the Abyss, also seems to distance itself from the band's previous material with catchier and slower tracks than the usual high tempo songs. This was followed up by a weaker Divine Intervention and by Diabolus in Musica which seems to simplify the bands music at a moderate pace. The third band we will look at is Sepultura. Sepultura played a very heavy type of thrash metal in the late 1980s which sometimes even flirted with the death metal genre. In 1993, the band released Chaos A.D., a somewhat different approach to their music. Still thrashy, it is slower and comes across as less technical and brutal. This album was followed by Roots which completely distances itself from the bands early work. Some people say that these bands simply went more mainstream than their counterparts, abandoning the pure thrash metal sounds of the 80s to adopt a more easy-listening approach. However, one could also look at this as a evolution of the thrash genre led by three of its major contributors.

So what has thrash metal got to do with nu metal? If we consider the fact that thrash evolved in the early 1990s, it is safe to consider early Korn, Machine Head, Vision of Disorder and other similar bands as being the product of that evolution. These are the bands that I remember being labeled as "Neo Thrash" before nu metal was even an idea in someone's head. One must now consider two other evolutions to understand how nu metal came about as a genre in the late 1990s. The above mentioned "Neo Thrash" bands took different directions. As Korn, Deftones and Limp Bizkit edged towards the rap integrated music, bands like, ex-Sepultura Max Cavalera's, newly founded Soulfly, Vision of Disorder, Machine Head and Coal Chamber continued to create non-rap based music inspired by the thrash evolution. The difficulties to define these two distinct genres came when a large amount of bands flourished from the success of the above mentioned.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a huge amount of bands appeared all seemingly inspired by the Korn evolution or the Sepultura/Soulfly (or Roadrunner Records) one. As bands like Linkin Park, P.O.D., Adema followed in the Korn streak, other bands like Slipknot, System of a Down or Spineshank seemed to follow the more heavier route opened by Soulfly and the like. To this day, I still believe in two distinctive genres. Whether one calls it "Neo Thrash" or something else. It is wrong to classify the spawn of the thrash evolution as nu metal. Nu metal has a heavy rap influence introduced on the mainstage by Korn which probably dates back to the bands previous funk metal style when they played under the name of L.A.P.D.. The verses are usually soft and are followed by a more powerful but melodic chorus. The "Neo Thrash" bands however have less of a rap influence on their music and the structure is often the opposite with heavy verses and melo choruses. It is understandable that the distinction of the nu metal genre causes problems as artists from both the above mentioned genres seemed to borrow from one another's music. Some even crossed over from one genre to the other with Fred Durst, of Limp Bizkit, for example, singing with Soulfly on their first single "Bleed". However, if one looks closely at say Slipknot and Linkin Park, it is very hard to find anything in common between the two bands and for two elements to be part of a same genre, common points are essential.


 
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jupitreas - 23.06.2009 at 03:24  
Actually, people had a LOT of problems categorizing bands like Korn and Deftones in the early years of nu-metal. "Neo Thrash" seems to be a term only present in French press, although perhaps it made its way to some other nations as well.

Truth is that most people were aware that these bands were a kind of alternative metal but there was no consensus on what the other inspiration was. Due to the fact that both Korn and Deftones used a large amount of growled and screamed vocals, most people back in 1994-5 actually thought that they were a form of alternative DEATH metal, not thrash. Of course, Korn also borrows a riff from Morbid Angel on their debut, which further seems to imply this inspiration.

Remember that at the time most alternative metal was either inspired by hardcore/post-punk (Helmet, Life Of Agony, and actually a lot of grunge bands fall under this category as well) or by funk/rap (Faith No More, 24-7 Spyz).

The style that was later called nu metal actually introduced death metal elements to the mix, which is something few people realize now in our revisionist times. It all makes sense though - death metal's commercial peak occurred in the early 90s so it is no surprise that bands playing around with genres around the middle of the decade were influenced by the style.

So ironically, nu-metal was an attempt to be more extreme than contemporary alternative metal. Its just that later on, with Follow The Leader, the style became more influenced by hip-hop (particularly production techniques, since actual rap was rarely used) and this is also the time when the infamous nu metal moniker started being used by the press. This is why to this day most people who have not actually experienced the emergence of the style have very confused views on it.
tulkas - 23.06.2009 at 04:14  
I first start by saying that I hadn't heard until now the term "Neo-Thrash", which actually wouldn't be so wrong on some levels, musically, but I could understand why some people would be bothered by it. Now, unlike a lot of people out there, I've never really had any problems with nu-metal and all these type of bands, to the extent of, being Slipknot and SOAD considered within this genre, then I could call myself an admirer (didn't want to say fan).

The thing is, I guess the real problem with nu-metal, and people labeling it, are the people themselves not wanting to consider some of this people as "real" metalheads, because of the influences used in their music. (I have to say this is my personal opinion, so feel free to bash me, I won't care ). I know a lot of people hate rap, and seeing it mixed with metal, is just an insult, or disrespect, maybe. So, for me, nu-metal would actually be just as valid as alternative metal or thrash metal. Why not? Yes, maybe Korn is not as metal as Metallica, or Slipknot isn't as metal as... I don't know. The point is, to some extent in their music, they are metal, only they have other influences to it, and I don't see why that shouldn't be valid. Music is art, art is expression, and you're free to express.

Thus, not everyone is gonna like it, just as not everyone like metal, but that's no reason to bash it, right?
Daggon - 23.06.2009 at 08:24  
Short but you went to the point. The most important thing on this article is this part, at least IMO: "for two elements to be part of a same genre, common points are essential", so just because you don't like this or that band then your going to label it with the "nu-metal" thing on it.
Haddonfield - 23.06.2009 at 12:48  
I'm still waiting for someone to tell me what Slipknot and Linkin Park have in common? Just for the records I am a fan of several nu metal bands, Korn was the band that introduced me to metal, and although I'm not that keen on their more recent stuff, I still hold them with very high respect. I also like Limp Bizkit, Adema, Papa Roach (Infest only though)... These are bands I consider nu metal. I just can't call bands like Slipknot, SOAD, Machine Head and even St. Anger, no matter how much it sucks, nu metal. They are a different disticnt genre which evolved, in my opinion from thrash. Jupitreas, isn't death an evolution of thrash in its own rights? I agree that death had a big impact on the more mainstrem metal scene in the 1990s, as Marilyn Manson put it, his first album Portrait of an American Family was a mix of death and grunge.

I just remember being annoyed at the categorization of putting vast amounts of bands into the nu metal genre just because they gained commercial succes. I've even heard people say In Flames are nu metal since they became more melodic and that is just taking the piss.
jupitreas - 23.06.2009 at 15:03  
Written by Haddonfield on 23.06.2009 at 12:48

Jupitreas, isn't death an evolution of thrash in its own rights? I agree that death had a big impact on the more mainstrem metal scene in the 1990s, as Marilyn Manson put it, his first album Portrait of an American Family was a mix of death and grunge.


Certainly; however, the number one most important element taken from extreme metal that became a staple of nu metal is the vocals. Both Korn and Deftones had plenty of growled and screamed vocals, particularly in the early albums. The drumming and riffing really owes more to alternative metal than to thrash/death; however, the vocals are clearly inspired by death. This is why I'd say nu was more influenced by death than by thrash although of course - death itself was influenced by thrash.

But then we could say that since thrash was inspired by heavy and punk, nu is actually neo-heavy or neo-rock or whatever. See what Im getting at?
Haddonfield - 23.06.2009 at 15:34  
Written by jupitreas on 23.06.2009 at 15:03

Certainly; however, the number one most important element taken from extreme metal that became a staple of nu metal is the vocals. Both Korn and Deftones had plenty of growled and screamed vocals, particularly in the early albums. The drumming and riffing really owes more to alternative metal than to thrash/death; however, the vocals are clearly inspired by death. This is why I'd say nu was more influenced by death than by thrash although of course - death itself was influenced by thrash.

But then we could say that since thrash was inspired by heavy and punk, nu is actually neo-heavy or neo-rock or whatever. See what Im getting at?


I do, it's just I focused on the thrash element because bands like Metallica, Slayer and Sepultura evolved towards a more alternative feel in the 1990s, death metal just seemed to get heavier and heavier.
4look4rd - 19.12.2010 at 22:36  
Nu-Metal actually stands for Neo-Metal or New-Metal, so I classify bands that use non-traditional metal elements as such.

Some examples are:
Scream or rap oriented vocals- heavy metal vocals are usually compose of growls, shrikes, operatic, and clean. You will rarely find a metal band (side from nu) that is literary screaming.

DJ oriented music- many nu-metal songs have a DJ oriented sound. While some bands in the industrial metal genre use a DJ the sound is mainly focussed on the guitars and other traditional metal instruments.

Clean production- you will rarely find a nu metal band releasing something with a raw or shitty production.

Nu metal is an umbrella term, just like most metal subgenres. A melodic death metal band sounds very different than a brutal death metal band, but they both play death metal. So the same thing applies to nu metal.
ferm - 11.01.2011 at 00:33  
Written by 4look4rd on 19.12.2010 at 22:36

Nu-Metal actually stands for Neo-Metal or New-Metal, so I classify bands that use non-traditional metal elements as such.

Some examples are:
Scream or rap oriented vocals- heavy metal vocals are usually compose of growls, shrikes, operatic, and clean. You will rarely find a metal band (side from nu) that is literary screaming.

DJ oriented music- many nu-metal songs have a DJ oriented sound. While some bands in the industrial metal genre use a DJ the sound is mainly focussed on the guitars and other traditional metal instruments.

Clean production- you will rarely find a nu metal band releasing something with a raw or shitty production.

Nu metal is an umbrella term, just like most metal subgenres. A melodic death metal band sounds very different than a brutal death metal band, but they both play death metal. So the same thing applies to nu metal.


Yes, thats right. Many fans seems to be offended by the fact that it is called Nu-Metal and I can't understand why. Because it is Nu-Metal, Neo Metal, it is a new form of metal because they use more modern techniques when recording, they incorporate stuff that have never been incorporated in metal before, they get more fans amongst the people not usually into metal. This is whats make them Nu-Metal.

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