20 artists who defined the sound of nü metal from past to present
From the old guard to the new revolution, nü metal has had many faces over the years.July 21, 2021
Whether or not you lived through the golden age of MTV and JNCO jeans, the discovery of the nü-metal phenomenon was an awakening for any generation. Slamming orchestrated metal intensity in the same track as raw, off-the-cuff hip-hop energy sounds like a contradiction. In many ways, the genre seemed like a musical oxymoron that would never catch the eye of the mainstream in the late ’90s and early 2000s
Even so, the genre hit, and it did so in spectacular fashion. Along the way, nü metal helped to redefine hard rock for a new era. Love it or hate it, the genre was here to stay, and metal would never be the same.
Just when you thought the age of wallet belt chains was long gone, nü metal seems to be living and breathing in a very different realm. From Korn and Slipknot dragging the genre into mainstream consciousness to Nova Twins and Tetrarch rejuvenating the scene, we’ve collected the top 20 outfits that have shaped the history of nü metal, from past to present. If you think you know the genre, think again.
The personification of a guide to nü metal for dummies, Korn set the blueprint for a new subgenre that would define the bridging between metal’s chaotic traits with the vibrant inclinations of hip-hop. Leading the charge with vocalist Jonathan Davis’ unique blend of sinister and contagious cleans, grinding industrial riffs and a relentless melody, Korn have stood by their definitive sound since their founding in 1993 and remain nü-metal titans to this day.
The Prodigy’s nü-metal challengers have entered the chat. If you take all the limitless energy of a pulsing nightclub and throw it into the pit, then you’ve got yourself a genre-busting Wargasm. This London duo may have formed a mere two years ago, but they’re already sweeping aside the competition in reviving what made nü metal so popular in the first place: anthemic content charged for the radio with enough tinges of heavy metal that the mainstream will never pick up on or truly understand. Even though they’re loud enough to raise the dead, don’t sleep on Wargasm.
While their sound has bled into the boundless heavy-metal mold over the years, there’s no mistaking the nü-metal roots of metal’s biggest sensations Slipknot. Furious percussion, gripping riffs and Corey Taylor’s inimitable clean-to-scream-by-numbers vocal presence are the trademarks of the ever-developing act that proved nü metal could become a mainstream success given the right platforms. From early hits such as “Wait And Bleed” to monumental anthems such as “Psychosocial,” every early step taken by the Iowa icons was a small step for nine men but a giant leap for nü-metal-kind.
We’ve all thought the same thing once or twice—nü metal isn’t sickeningly morbid enough. Luckily, Pennsylvania’s sadistic new export Tallah arrived just in time to satisfy that gap in the market. They supply all the filthy unclean vocals and guttural riffs that nü metal had been craving. With all the theatrical planning of an industrial outfit charged with hip-hop undertones, their debut LP, Matriphagy, demonstrates the mission statement of a band looking to share their dark vision with equally dark audiences. Watch out for former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy’s son Max on drums.
As the years have gone by, some nü-metal outfits have progressively downplayed their bracket’s hip-hop sensibilities. Even so, you can guarantee one of their primary influences were Limp Bizkit. From the great minds of Fred Durst, Wes Borland and co., the happily mismatched band from Jacksonville, Florida, established the ground rules of nü metal. Number one: Blur the lines between the two most polarizing genres in music. In finding their common ground with teeth-baring, confrontational lyrics and riffs that hit you right where it hurts, Limp Bizkit created timeless odes to teenage angst that, in time, we’ve discovered still apply right into adulthood.
Rage Against The Machine
Despite their definite genre still being a contentious subject to this day, Rage Against The Machine and their politically charged anthems were instrumental in the rise of a genre that combined hip-hop attitudes with grinding metallic backing. You can’t deny Zack de la Rocha’s furious vocal delivery and Tom Morello’s distorted riffs a place in the nü-metal Hall of Fame after the likes of “Killing In The Name” and “Bulls On Parade” laid the stirring foundations for a genre-smashing revolution.
The indisputable nü-metal upstarts Linkin Park barged onto the scene in 1996, and nothing has been the same since. Their distinctive brand of dual vocals belting unforgettable anthems to a techy-driven melody shaped what we recognize as nü metal. It also enticed an entire generation to the heavier side of music. Let’s face it: Any career that starts on the impeccable front-to-back Hybrid Theory and gives the particularly contentious branch of metal gifts such as “Numb” and “In The End” is bound to become the standard upon which we compare every other contribution.
Missed Rage Against The Machine in their golden age? Hop onto the bandwagon with rising nü-metal outfit Dropout Kings, who wield rapid-fire dual rap and clean vocals from Eddie Wellz and Adam Ramey framed by a truckload of hip-hop-drenched energy. Phenomenally transporting riffs and fist-clenching lyrics come together seamlessly at the hands of this sensational Phoenix, Arizona, outfit. Snatching the chaos of trap metal and the intensity of rapcore to complete their genre cacophony, Dropout Kings are the much-needed revision of all the years where nü metal lost its bite and played up to the mainstream. Don’t miss this.
Despite distancing from their distinctive sound in recent years, Papa Roach’s early output shaped the side of nü metal that the mainstream welcomed with open arms—riff-laden, radio-friendly (at least, after a few bleeps) singles with dark earworm lyrics to piss off parents. Jacoby Shaddix’s in-your-face tones were the introduction to many teenagers’ nü-metal awakening, backed by completely singable and seductive guitar lines that made this outfit so instrumental in the genre. So much so that a feature from Shaddix is a seal of approval for any album.
Is your nü metal not heavy enough for you? Do you need something more substantial to soundtrack your really bad day? The spirit of Korn and Slipknot is alive and kicking with Cane Hill, the New Orleans outfit carefully treading the borders with intense industrial and menacing metalcore. They create a much weightier branch of nü metal with techy infusions and boisterous metallic guitars. Nü metal has a new face, and it’s not one you’d like to meet in a dark alley, but it knows how to party when given the opportunity.
As the televised version of the revolution led audiences to believe that nü metal was a predominantly male endeavour, London, Ontario’s Kittie led the charge on behalf of all the ladies out there looking to compete with the mainstream. Thanks to the obnoxious presence of “Brackish,” the haunting “Charlotte” and the boisterous “What I Always Wanted,” Kittie shattered the narrow ideal of a nü-metal patriarchy. Along the way, they handed young women their rightful place in the scene, possessing an unapologetic approach while outright refusing to be defined by their gender.
There’s one thing for certain: You don’t often see a band as unwaveringly dedicated to their craft as Tetrarch, the hybrid creation of all the best parts from Slipknot, Korn and Linkin Park. Blending teeth-gritting vocals with compelling riffs, the Atlanta, Georgia, outcasts are the epitome of nü metal for the present day. However, they’re shaping tomorrow’s unforgettable anthems in preparation for the crowd their larger-than-life output deserves: arenas. Armed with cuts such as “I’m Not Right” and “Negative Noise,” Tetrarch know exactly where they want to be and how to bring nü metal back from the dead.
System Of A Down
As every metal subgenre battles to declare System Of A Down as their own, nü metal can comfortably stake its claim on the furious riffs and rap foundations that made the Armenian sensations such a tour de force. Their signature brand of hip-hop-tinged melodies made itself known most notably on 2001’s Toxicity and took the metal world by storm, maintaining that compelling singalong vibe from “Chop Suey!” through to 2005’s “B.Y.O.B.” and “Question!” Although by the end of that same year, Serj Tankian and co. moved onto much less heavy realms for Hypnotize, the forgiving years since have maintained SOAD as indomitable nü-metal pioneers.
With a toe in almost every metal subgenre, Deftones live to be undefinable. That said, the unmistakable nü-metal feel from their earlier works suggest otherwise. From “Engine No. 9” through “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” to “Hexagram,” a distinctive hip-hop undertone offsets the unsettling vocals and grinding riffs that we know and love from this genre-bending outfit. Reaching beyond the mainstream for a sound uniquely their own, Deftones inflected nü-metal with a unique and melodic sound as they created some of their most contagious and successful music.
The 2000s incarnation of gothic metal may have shaped itself around Evanescence, but their crushing, riff-driven sound hails from the nü-metal era in which the Little Rock, Arkansas, pioneers formed their style. The electric pulse throughout their smash hit debut LP, Fallen, swathed the MTV era in a rich gothic atmosphere. Where “Bring Me To Life” brought the rap side of the polarizing genre, “Call Me When You’re Sober” wielded the bitter bite and grinding riffs that nü metal took pride in. Either way, the mainstream soon discovered that the limits to the genre’s golden age were nonexistent.
No self-respecting chart of nü-metal icons could overlook the supremacy of Mudvayne, particularly after their announcement of a reunion in April 2021. Adding shades of industrial grind to their sound as well as the most distinctive look in the whole nü-metal spectrum, the Peoria, Illinois, crew made menace and contagion high on their list of priorities when carving out a place for themselves in the scene. Beyond the inimitable “Dig,” which welcomed many a teenager with open yet slightly terrifying arms, “Death Blooms” showcased nü metal at its relentless best. Meanwhile, “Happy?” bridged the gap into a more melodic realm. Either way, we’re hyped to see them back.
In the spirit of Kittie’s refusal of the established order, Nova Twins have dragged nü metal kicking and screaming into the present day by hurling futuristic, techy infusions at gloriously confrontational metal. In fact, the duo took the scene by storm with their debut, Who Are The Girls?, in 2020. The dual threat brought by London’s Amy Love and Georgia South has jolted the compelling side of nü metal back to life with a healthy dose of girl power, just when the genre needed a second coming.
It’s true that Soulfly broke free of their nü-metal reputation on later albums. However, that’s not enough to discount them from their place in the history books of a genre at its height when their self-titled debut rose to prominence. The snarling energy of “Bleed” and “Eye For An Eye” established Max Cavalera and co. as chaotic shape-shifters in the nü-metal bracket, driving grueling riffs into a frantic rhythm and enrapturing the metal scene in its entirety. This boisterous subgenre would have lacked its heavier pit-charging side if “Jumpdafuckup” and “Back To The Primitive” never hit the speakers. Even if they’ve stepped away from those earlier inclinations, Soulfly still belong to nü metal.
Nü metal would never have left the starting gates if it weren’t for the achievements of Coal Chamber. Established in 1993, the L.A. outfit expertly weaved frantic hip-hop-infused vocal rhythms between chugging guitars like they always belonged together. Dez Fafara’s predecessor to DevilDriver established the no-nonsense side of nü metal that bridged the gap between straight-up heavy metal and goring industrial set to an infectious tempo. “Loco” and “Fiend” paved the way for the darker side of nü metal to step into the limelight beyond the lifespan of Coal Chamber themselves.
Poppy doesn’t see nü metal in the way its seasoned fans may wish it could stay forever. That can only be a good thing. Despite experimenting with the metal and pop trends du jour, she kept a flavor of devastating guitars and techy tinges at the nucleus of her recent output, grounding her instrumental side while her vocals wander off into the stratosphere. Take the unpredictable “X” and the way it draws back to its core riff, the grunge-meets-nü-metal “Her” and the vicious hit “I Disagree.” Even though Poppy’s genre-flexing approach means she may never stick to one box, her ventures into the nü-metal realm have brought out her most contagious side.