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Great and acclaimed music soars confidently through history like an arrow loosed by a bow, dipping and dodging gravity's limitations with the unruffled grace of an eagle in flight. Meanwhile, nu-metal music hits its limitations like a pigeon striking a freshly cleaned window, a loud and muffled thunk to greet its failure. But it keeps pushing, as hard as it possibly can, splattering off into gory shapes and colors. Constraints like ability, talent, genius, precocity— nu-metal just keeps on pushing, ugly founts of blood and guts all over the place, feathers and bone popping and cracking and squawking. It’s hideous, an affront to God, and you can’t look away.
When I published my list of The 100 Greatest Nu-Metal Songs of All Time last year I figured individual songs was the optimal way to celebrate this wonderful and gory genre of music but the more time I spent with nu-metal the more my mind changed. I've grown up around an internet's worth of rock-crit and poptimism and greatest ever lists enough to know what a true classic album is supposed to sound like but after three solid years of nu-metal immersion I've decided I prefer this. I prefer albums that don't have that mysterious godlike "x" factor in them that sets them so far apart from the rest of us mortals, I prefer albums that try and fail just as much as they succeed. Passion, to me, is the most beautiful sound of all and nu-metal is all about being so passionate it would be easier to rewrite the rulebook than follow it. Living in this modern world of office stereos, lo-fi beats to study to streams, Spotify "Chill Vibes" playlists and a neverending 80s revival that has locked us in a gated-reverb chamber of Moroder synths and Phil Collins drums knowing that the music I get to listen to at the end of the day would only make it into a car commercial if said car commercial was ridiculing it makes me happy. Nu-metal is not about making easily making good music. It is about putting incredible effort into bad music. So much so that the sheer effort starts to cut clean the restraints and takes off on its own power, soaring through the sky in bizarre scatting whoops and drop tuned clunks. Even when nu-metal albums are musically solid they're replete with solipsistic, angsty lyrics and corny white boy complaining and bad rapping and lame turntable scratching and blah blah blah blah
So much of great music is drowning in rhetoric about its brilliance but nu-metal has to swim through torrents of critical scorn and is better because of it. So to you I offer this, The 50 Greatest Nu-Metal Albums of All Time. I hope that for every fond memory this list may overturn in you, you discover something brand new as well. Nu-metal is an incredibly rich genre, filled with some of the most inspired guitar music ever created, and I've had the time of my life discovering that for myself. Now you can discover it to. Belt those JNCOs, pierce that eyebrow, and lace your Osiris D3s; it's The 50 Greatest Nu-Metal Albums of All Time.
Note: Because I love you and nu-metal too much I swear I will never run an advertisement on this website. No banners, no popups, nada. If you would like to support check out my Patreon.
[Pate Records; 2002]
Much in the same way Andrew W.K. replaced hair metal’s slavering misogyny with zen koans about partying, .sPout. axe nu-metal’s scowling misanthropy in favor of goofy grins
and… well, zen koans about partying. TULC (short for The Ultimate Love Connection) is filled with songs like “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Sicksong” leap about with tongues a-flop and positive vibes to spare as front-man Stefan Unterweger raps like your kid brother’s best Fred Durst impression recorded to a video tape that will one day humiliate him while hammering single concepts into oblivion— circling, circling again and double underlining his ideas. From; “It’s Time to Rock”; “No tick tock tick! Timeless is my tactic to rock! It makes me sick! To hear a ticking clock!” If it clicks with you, you’ll begin to achieve enlightenment; the past was yesterday, the future doesn’t exist yet, “our backpacks are full of six-packs” and right now it is time to rock. It’s all so adorable that when Unterweger drops a firm b-word on “Go Ahead” you’ll want to wash his mouth out with soap.
49. One Minute Silence
Available In All Colors
The most famous one minute silence of the 1990’s was in London following Princess Diana’s funeral. The most appropriate One Minute Silence of the 1990s was a Welsh nu-
metal band. In an era of impossible sincerity, obnoxious political posturing and hastily re-written Elton John tribute songs selling 33 million copies around the world One Minute Silence’s debut album, Available in All Colors, wanted you to know that the whole spectacle was “sponsored by Budweiser.” While their comrades in political rap-metal wore stone faced scowls, One Minute Silence bounded forth with a post-Faith No More splat of wacked and wild nu-metal unhinged enough to lend a whole three songs to combat racing video game Twisted Metal 4. Brian 'Yap' Barry raps like Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys explaining the plot of The Davinci Code to you in an elevator and when he really gets going, such as on “Stuck Between A Rock And A White Face,” you can practically see the cork boards and pinned newspapers he’s gesticulating at.
48. Project 86
Drawing Black Lines
One third of the Blindside/P.O.D. axis that had record execs briefly convinced Christian-HxC could be the next big thing, Project 86 arrived at a moment when a god-fearing rap-
metal band could land a budget big enough to hire producer Howard Benson to craft guitar tones so epic it makes accepting Jesus into your heart sound like an act of pure bravery rather than a prerequisite for the presidency. Drawing Black Lines concerns itself with the internal struggle that comes from attempting to live piously and failing with a 10,000 ton megawatt production job as testament. Songs like “Steins Theme” and “One Armed Man (Play On)” impress with cannons of sound while frontman Andrew Schwab’s clenched fist conviction is so palpable you might wonder if it’s not too late to get baptized.
Released on July 13th 2003 in New Zealand, Blindspott’s self titled debut album went platinum in a week on an island of only 4 million people. To a young Kiwi this was the
CD you were ditching 8th period to go get and Blindspott rewarded your efforts in kind. A firmly post-Hybrid Theory effort, not just in composition but in the idea that a good rock record needs to hit from front to back. If any one thing sets Blindspott apart from the million other scream/sing/scratch bands front-loading their albums like there was no tomorrow it’s here you’re never far from a ringer. Even if ballads like “Blank” or “Plastic Shadow” lose you there’s a “S.U.I.T (So Us Is This)” or “Lit Up” on deck to jolt you back to attention. That the whole record is twined up with a cohesive atmosphere and instantly hooky melodies is just icing on the pavlova.
On a literal basis, Ünloco’s Healing is factory standard nu-metal. Abounding with lyrics about the pain, lyrics about being used, and lyrics about the pain of being used it’s easy to
miss that over a tight 45 minutes the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Healing is excellently produced— thick guitar tones, a crisp drum sound, elegant touches of spring reverb and filler-free sequencing makes for a rock solid front-to-back listen. Even the lyrics reveal themselves as effective vehicles for clear, direct singing and screaming from Joey Dueñas rather than aspiring to any profundity. It’s the kind of album the genre deserved more of— a good one without any higher aspirations than being just that.
Follow the Leader
Follow the Leader is as innovative as “Got the Life” and as regressive as “Kameltosis,” as epic as “Freak on a Leash” and as putrid as “All in the Family,” as necessary as “It’s On!” and as
extraneous as “Earache My Eye.” It needs to be all of these things at once in order to fully communicate the tidal wave of Coors Light and inspiration Korn was riding into 1998. It is, in short, Peak Korn. To promote Follow the Leader Korn embarked on the Korn Kampaign. An expedition around the country, a long trek to radio stations and meet and greets culminating with a march on Toronto in a literal tank. The message was clear; rock was in its officially in its post-sellout era and Korn sell. A contemporary interview with Spin Magazine finds the band debating whether or not to cut the “Biohazard breakdown” from “Freak on a Leash” for radio. Korn unanimously votes in favor. “I want a bigger house!," chants Fieldy. It worked. Follow the Leader went straight to number one in its first week and sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone. While those numbers are easy to accept nearly two and a half decades after the fact, it’s extremely possible Follow the Leader is the most abrasive, downright unpleasant, multi-platinum album ever made. In sound and form, with a daunting hour runtime, Follow the Leader sprawls like the suburbs American teenagers wandered with it spinning in their Discmans and car stereos. Like many peak-CD blockbusters Follow the Leader would be a better record with some edits but, then again, it would lose that peak-CD time and place magic if were any shorter. It needs to be too much, too long, too everything because that’s the point. “We did more partying than we did recording,” reflects Munky in the band’s 2002 home video Deuce, sounding momentarily remorseful before concluding, “But that’s okay because not our money.”
44. Apartment 26
Apartment 26 made industrial nu metal firmly in the post-Nine Inch Nails/Ministry tradition but unlike their peers in using such machinery for gloom and doom Apartment 26 were
impish, even giddy at times. “Finished looking for the answers now I'm looking for the question,” frontman Biff entices on three minute strobe and neon rollercoaster plummet “Backwards.” Synthetic pleasures abound - “Apt. 26”’s ultra satisfying “Nice.” sample drop, the elegantly trip-hopped “The Fear,” “Basic Breakdown”s tent leveling synths - wrapped in the gleeful confidence of a band that was too young to be this depraved and too good to be this disappeared (somehow a band that toured with Ozzfest doesn’t have a single live video.) Still, when Hallucinating is on you’re the one asking to be dealt in and Apartment 26 are holding all the cards.
[Warner Bros.; 2001]
After a year on the road supporting breakout debut Wisconsin Death Trip Wayne Static had come to a conclusion; “I hate this!” That exclamation, from Machine’s “This is Not” is
the centerpiece of an album about absolutely torching your way through hell at maximum speed. Machine sounds like highway signs and white lines whizzing by day after day after day. New parking lot, new venue, new city, new state. Same VHS tapes and the same old bunk waiting for you at the end of the night. Hell, “...In a Bag” is literally about how you can’t even shit on the bus. So when Wayne Static observes with horror “This is not my home / this is not my life / this is not me” what is there to do? While Machine doesn’t innovate on the 4/4-lunk-industrial of Wisconsin Death Trip, it brings its strengths into greater focus while shearing away what didn’t. The gross sex jams have been excised in favor of a song cycle about feeling like a cog inside a larger cog inside a machine that powers an even bigger machine. Static-X’s music is so simple it helps that Wayne has specific targets of ire to obliterate here. Problems are objectives to overcome with brute force (“Structural Defect”) or de-evolution (“Machine”) The music, meanwhile, pummels forth with unceasing force and fury but occasionally breaks into something truly surprising. When “Otsego Undead” concludes with twinkling spirals of synth arpeggio it’s a moment of quiet wonder that sparkles in the air like mid-day snow. Then the song ends and it’s back to the bag.
[Wet Music; 1999]
Nu-metal is as thoroughly American as genres get. Only a country as twisted and ugly as ours could dominate a genre that does the same. Though we produced the majority of nu-metal
classics we also were the first to get burned out on it. By 1999, it was easy to feel like nu-metal was unraveling into a pile of cliches— pointlessly angsty music made by millionaires. If you lived overseas however nu-metal was still the cool foreign import. Long after it became a stateside joke nu-metal bands were logging hits and selling out tours overseas. On debut Keçkispasse? French sextet Pleymo sounds ecstatic at the prospect of making straight-up-and-down-no-denying-it nu-metal music. From happy hardcore explosion “Yallah” to the charmingly boom-bap “Soukaripa” you get a sense of community from Keçkispasse? - of friends certain that with enough effort, aplomb and zeal they can make this happen. Every bounce riff (and there are so many bounce riffs), scream, screech, and breakdown sound joyous. Angsty millionaires? In 1999 the best nu-metal on earth was being made by broke Frenchmen.
41. Seo Taiji
An impossibly young man sprints through an airport as hundreds of fans pursue him. Girls reduced to tears as he takes the stage at a massive arena. Pyrotechnics explode. The
crowd screams as he launches into… nu-metal. It’s 2000 and Seo Taiji is South Korea’s biggest pop star. Following the end of pioneering K-pop idol group Seo Taiji and Boys, Seo Taiji (the titular “boy”) immersed himself in guitar musics. Following an adept alternative rock debut he created Ultramania, an album of straight up balls to the walls nu-metal. This pivot has almost no parallel in popular music. Imagine Jordan Knight departing the New Kids on the Block to make funk metal and pulling it off. For the most part Seotaiji operates in a post-Durt style of swaggering raps with scream/sing choruses and a tight focus on hooks. Tracks like “Orange” and “Ultramania” are all mild youth rebellion anthems but jacked up on a nu-metal explosion that sounds like Ross Robinson and Max Martin being forced to work together at gunpoint. It could have been clinical but Seo Taiji’s genuine feel for nu-metal songcraft powers all. The album’s two “02 Remake''s are the clearest examples of how k-pop became k-metal. “Come Back Home” trades the original’s dusty hip-hop beats for a true Korn makeover replete with guitar squeals and clattering bass while “For You” is transformed from a drippy love ballad into an uptempo pop-punk sprint. And for helpful time-and-place illustration, Ultramania comes with two live tracks that feature an audience of young girls screaming with an intensity more akin to The Beatles at Shea Stadium than any of the hulked out grunting you’d hear on your average night of the Family Values Tour.
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