TW: Physical violence, sexual assault, child abuse.
The 90s. After the 80s decade of synth-driven Pop-Rock, such as ABBA or a-ha, contrasted with gloomy Gothic Rock, such as The Cure or Siouxsie and the Banshees, the 90s represented a turning point in music. Hip hop music, House and club music, and Alternative Rock bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead started to take over. Grunge has its peak and death. The late 90s and early 2000s was a time of anger and anxiety in America. Whether it’s the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the twin tower attacks of 2001, or the economic crisis scares, this era saw a rise of toxic masculinity and white anger in America. Nothing demonstrates this better than the genre of Nu Metal. Nu Metal is driven by hate and angst. Although considered by some adults as dangerous for young teenagers, I personally believe that Nu Metal gives those who feel angry and excluded from the norms of society something to relate to and scream in their bedrooms. Nu Metal’s rage helps certain listeners connect on a personal level. But did the genre really die like some people claim? Or are those angry teenagers who used to listen to the genre being replaced by other angry teens in generation Z?
In order to think about the rise of Nu Metal, one must think about the situation of music in the 1990s. 1994. Korn released their self-titled debut album which is generally referred to as the birth of Nu Metal. Where was Western music in the 1990s? Hip hop and Rock were generally the two most popular genres, before House and Club music took over in the latter half of the 90s. Bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were extremely popular, along with rappers such as Snoop Dogg, 2pac, and Nas. Therefore, it is no surprise that Nu Metal became a blend of Rock and Hip-Hop sounds. For example, one of the genre’s most popular bands, Limp Bizkit, use a lot of Hip-Hop influences in their sound, and worked with rappers such as Method Man, Xzibit, and Redman. Additionally, Korn went down the same route, working with Ice Cube on their song “Children of the Korn”. Therefore, Nu Metal blended two fundamental music genres of the 1990s. Both of these genres were also controversial for their aggressive nature, especially hip-hop. Therefore, Nu Metal is a combined force of aggressive Rock and Hip-Hop music.
There is one event in 1999 that cemented Nu Metal music as the soundtrack of White American anger and misogyny. This event is the extremely infamous Woodstock ’99. It would be significantly unfair to say that the anger of the festival attendees was driven entirely by Nu Metal music. The extortionate prices of food and water, along with the extreme heat and lack of clean tap water and conditions was the driving factor for this anger. However, Woodstock ’69 was a festival that promoted peace and love at the height of the hippie movement with a rejection of mainstream American life. This festival is praised for its mesmerising musical performances and peaceful audience. Considering the context of the festival, who thought of the idea to book bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Rage Against The Machine for Woodstock ’99? Whoever it was, I hope that they were fired. A festival of peace and love turned into a festival of hate, anger, rapes, and destruction. Woodstock ’99 was a terrifying display of toxic masculinity, but why is it important in our story of Nu Metal? Simply, bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn became the punching bags to blame for the destruction. During Limp Bizkit’s performance of “Break Stuff”, Fred Durst was blamed for encouraging the audience to destroy everything around them. This tipped everything over the edge. The attendees of this festival gave Nu Metal an extremely negative and damaged reputation in American society. But what is it about this music that brought out the anger in these people?
Nu Metal music at its core is simple yet effective. Some bands have a more unique way of approaching the Nu Metal style than others, but the sub-genre is generally the soundtrack of the last gasp of white anger. I think that Nu Metal fans would be disappointed to know that the majority of Nu Metal songs follow a Pop Music-style structure. I rarely hear a Nu Metal song that strays from the typical verse-chorus structure, with the chorus intended as the main hook in order to grab mainstream attention. For example, in Korn’s song “Falling Away From Me”, the chorus is melodic but also full of anger. Nu Metal finds a way to blend catchy hooks with angst. In the verses, you can often find either rapping, or a more laid-back section which leads into the big chorus. Most Nu Metal songs follow the trend of having a bridge before the final chorus, but some have breakdown sections. This is most notably seen in songs like “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit and “Here To Stay” by Korn, when the band strips back the energy of the song to its bare essentials before slowly building into what becomes the climax of the song. Most of the popular Nu Metal songs follow this structure, but some writers in the genre venture into some of the darkest pits of their personal emotions. The best example of this is “Daddy” by Korn. Jonathan Davis, Korn’s frontman, wrote this song about the man who sexually abused him as a child. The song is explicit and does not hold back in warning the listener about what happened to Davis. The last couple of minutes is Davis screaming and crying. I believe that this song is important because it not only shows male vulnerability which has been a stigma in society for so many years, but comforts listeners in their own anger. The near-ten minute song is still considered one of the darkest songs of all time.
However, Nu Metal took the same fate as genres such as 70s Disco and Grunge, and it simply fizzled out of popularity. I believe that there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, Nu Metal resonated with young people who were angry and felt hurt for whatever reason, but after some years, these people simply grew older and no longer felt the need to cope with their anger through the release of Nu Metal. But you might be wondering, surely there will always be a number of angry teens in need of rage-fuelled music to release their anger with? This is true, but with the rise of Pop Punk and what some consider “Emo Music” in the mid-2000s, Nu Metal seemed like it was in the past, with teens screaming their hearts out to bands such as My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. The most obvious evidence for Nu Metal fizzling out was that even Nu Metal bands stopped releasing Nu Metal. These bands slowly started changing their style to a style of Alternative Metal, with more melodic material and even ballads replacing the previous anger and angst. Another reason for this, evidently, is that the band members themselves were growing up. By 2009, perhaps Slipknot had had enough with writing scream-fuelled tracks like “Eyeless” and decided that dull ballads such as “Snuff” would be better suited to their fans. However, this is not to say that nobody listens to Nu Metal anymore. Teens in the new generation are finding this genre that saw its peak twenty years ago and are finding comfort in it just like teens did twenty years before them. The main issue with the genre is that there are very few note-worthy Nu Metal bands coming out nowadays. Those who listen to Nu Metal bands are very likely to simply listen to the big bands of the genre from the turn of the millennium. Therefore, although people are finding the genre after its supposed death, the genre has not developed since it fizzled out in the mid-2000s.
Written by Ben Reidy