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"Deeper Into You"
Linkin Park's megaselling Hybrid Theory marked the end of one kind of nu-metal and the beginning of a new one; specifically, it was the end of
look-how-crazy-and-tortured-we-are bands who played in drop A, and the beginning of mildly depressed drop C# bands who just needed a little Prozac and therapy. One of those was TRUSTCompany, who broke through with a catchy little diddy called "Downfall," portending a whole batch of catchy little ditties on their debut album The Lonely Position of Neutral. The best of the bunch is "Deeper Into You," with its soaring guitar hooks and Kevin Palmer's breathy ruminations on his two favorite topics: falling and fear. "There's someone else in me that I fear," gasps Palmer, "now I'm falling out 'cause of you!" Simple words, but when married to riffs and hooks this big, they slam like the door of a grounded teen.
Chevelle aren't a nu-metal band. They're a straight-ahead alternative metal band that, like Breaking Benjamin or Seether, simply benefited
from their proximity to the heat of nu-metal, only occasionally dipping into the genre. One of those dips, "The Clincher," finds Chevelle at their aboslute strongest, stripping the pretensions out of A Perfect Circle while retaining the weight, and punching in an absurdly catchy chorus.
When Steve Vai resurrected the seven-string guitar as an electric in 1990 for mass production, he was presumably counting on it to be used for the kind
of intricate, classical, laser-light-show soloing that defined his Passion and Warfare album, released that same year. On the cover, he beholds his new seven-string like the Virgin Mary beholding the newborn Jesus of Nazareth, illustrated fairies dancing around him. Four years later, Korn would use those guitars to make squawking noises. Indeed, that is really the only way to properly describe whatever is happening during "Ball Tongue"-- those guitars are emitting the squawks of a kicked chicken. It's a twitchy, awkward noise, rendered flat like a stomped worm by Ross Robinson's "what does this knob do?" production style. But it's an evocative sound, as dry and desperate as Jonathan Davis' frustration, which seethes during the verses and explodes into tantrum on the chorus. The use of an instrument designed for players of only the highest skill levels, recontextualized into guitar work this simple and avant, is emblematic of the working-class movement that is nu-metal.
57. 40 Below Summer
40 Below Summer's Max Illidge is a nu-metal vocalist in the Jonathan Davis mold: a wild, snarling, wounded puppy looking to bite his way back to
love. On "Rope" he's communicating all kinds of madness in wild screams, howls, and grunts but during the song's astoundingly layered chorus, he's just pleading for a little compassion. "If I could fly away from all this pain [...] I'd crumble once again," he cries, his voice dropping into pockets of air opened by the band as they hatchet the song into pieces. "Rope"'s builds and releases are impeccably timed, pushing the song up to its breaking point before tumbling into the chorus once again. The effect is harrowing-- like being suspended over a deep, dark canyon, watching your hoist fray away.
"My Own Summer (Shove It)"
Chino Moreno doesn't write lyrics so much as he conjures them out of thin air. "The shade is a tool, a device, a savior," pines Moreno. "See, I try and
look up to the sky, but my eyes burn." He's not attempting to convey concrete ideas as much as big, seductive feelings that swirl in the spaces between Stephen Carpenter's lumbering guitar riff. A million other nu-metal bands would have used "My Own Summer"'s most immediate hook ("SHOVE IT! SHOVE IT! SHOVE IT!") to write about bullies or overbearing parents. Deftones made God move its tongue.
launches the song into heavy open-B riffing that slices into flamenco guitars and g-funk synths for the verses. It shouldn't work, but The GazettE were simply too flamboyant to set it up any other way. Plus those J-pop female vocals never go away, providing sweet interjections and coos that bind the song's disparate parts together perfectly. It's a flashy balance that distinguishes the band from their American peers and fully justifies the synchronized headbanging the audience dutifully performs at their shows.
55. The GazzettE
"Filth in the Beauty"
In what may be nu metal's ultimate pump fake "Filth in the Beauty" opens with 20 seconds of squeaky-clean J-pop before a devastating grunt
could have sang anything and been successful-- he was poached from an R&B group after all-- so we're truly blessed he was recruited into such a tight band. Seriously, could anyone in the genre palm mute an open chord as well as Clint Lowrey? Was anyone holding down the beat as sharply as Morgan Rose? "Waffle" hits hard because of the control Sevendust has over their instruments, stopping and starting on a dime. Take the chorus: where any number of lesser bands would have buttressed Lajon's clenched soulful melody with plain riffing, Sevendust bring their guitars to heel so Morgan Rose's laser-accurate fills can pop. These gaps provided practical uses as well, as during their raucous live shows Sevendust would take advantage of the space to perform huge double legged leaps into the air, landing right on beat (these leaps were so integral to the show they would actually perform with trampolines on stage for extra lift). "Where's the space I fill?" Lajon pleads; on "Waffle," the band opens it up for him.
If any one thing seperates Sevendust from their peers it's that Lajon Witherspoon can sing. Not carry a tune, but truly, actually, sing. He
necessary. This guy was gonna succeed in any era; if Fred Durst had been born into the 30s, he would have been America's most successful ear-tonic huckster, but this was the 90s, and America needed dumbass raps over loud guitars as badly as the dust bowl once needed a miracle cure for polio. That drive is what comes through clearest on the first proper song from their debut album Three Dollar Bill Y'all, "Pollution". Wes Borland's gutbucket riff gives way to a vicous "EEEYUP" and the song keeps the energy vibrating between 9 and 10 for the rest of the time. Never the most adept rapper, Durst understood how to alternate flows and emphasis ("Now you're stuck with the flow running through your mind") to keep listeners engaged. His pinging chorus is impossibly catchy and that insatiable demand to "Bring that beat back" sets the breakdown off with firecracker energy. Limp Bizkit would hit higher highs after "Pollution" but they'd never quite capture this off-the-rails energy again.
53. Limp Bizkit
Before he was a worldwide media brand, Fred Durst was just another hungry kid trying to scrape his way out of Florida by any means
a constant driving beat, like Ministry did with their earlier recordings," frontman Wayne Static told Tommy Udo for his essential 2002 book Brave Nu World. "We wanted to extend that sound and make it even more accessible". They made unapologetically stupid music over 4/4 beats, coining the term "evil disco" to describe their sound. So it stands to reason that their best song, the title track from the 1999 industrial nu-metal staple Wisconsin Death Trip, is also their stupidest. "What's wrong? Don't you sing song ding dong," grunts the late Wayne Static. "Push it out a phony. Close your eyes and fly away!" The words exist as percussive accompaniment, like a cowbell you can sing along to, but they also helpfully give your brain permission to stop looking for a deeper meaning that isn't there and just mosh.
"Wisconsin Death Trip"
[Warner Bros.; 1999]
Static-X was built entirely around the idea that Ministry's "Burning Inside" was too intellectual. "The whole theory behind this band is we wanted
selling record (1997's Follow the Leader), all without watering down or changing their one of a kind sound. Even 20 years later, "Freak on a Leash" is iconoclastic enough to surprise. Two decades on, most 90s popular music has been absorbed into the cultural firmament, but "Freak on a Leash" continues to disturb the very air it travels through. Munky's g-funk inspired whistle sets the disquieting atmosphere and tension perfectly. That tension that doesn't dissipate even during the choruses, which crank up the energy but settle somewhere around a seven on the Richter scale. Then, of course, there's that bridge. Jonathan Davis puts it all on the line with the endlessly parodied "Da buum da da UUM da da EEMA," ratcheting up all that tension to nine before letting everything explode with a commanding "GO!" It's funny, yet hear it once and you'll never forget it. Try to imitate it and you'll sound like an idiot. Decades of rockism have pulled the teeth from "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Welcome to the Jungle," "Anarchy in the UK"" and so many other game changing rock anthems but "Freak on a Leash" still bites
"Freak On A Leash"
"Freak on a Leash" is Korn standing astride the mountaintop, eating the culture alive with an inescapable, iconic music video and a bazillion-.
know as K-Pop, Seo Taiji & Boys exploded the fringes of South Korean pop music with American-imported hip-hop and New Jack Swing sounds. But before redudancy could claim his career, Seo Taiji, sans Boys, jumped ship for.... nu-metal? And not a boardroom's idea of what nu-metal was, but genuine Coal Chambered drop tuned nu-metal. It should have been a hilarious failure, yet he pulled it off spectacularly on 2000's Ultramania. Songs like "Tank" and "Feel the Soul" do not sound like a desperate pop star casting about for relevancy, but the creations of someone who had been waiting his whole life to make this music. Placed near the end of Ultramania is "To You ('02 Remake)", an update of a Seo Taiji & Boys ballad from 1992. The original is a gloopy Boys II Men-style hand-on-heart ballad, awash in syrupy keyboards and finger snaps. The LL Cool J "I Need Love" flow makes a cameo during the chorus. It's extremely of its time and impossibly slow, lumbering forward with the energy of a suede jacket laid atop a rain puddle. The '02 remake, on the other hand, packs 100 pounds of TNT into its ass and jumps on the plunger. The remake cuts the run time of the original by more than half, transforming the slow bore of the original verses into an instantly infectious melody and flipping the choruses from 80s loverman raps into Jonathan Davis-esque screaming. It's heavy as shit but tons of fun. Everyone sounds like they're having a blast giving this 10-year-old slow dance ballad a nice kick in the pants. K-pop and nu-metal feel like two things that should never and would never meet, but with "To You (02 Remake)," Seo Taiji effortlessly draws a straight line between and folds them together.
50. Seo Taiji
"To You ('02 Remake)"
[Bando Eumban; 2000]
The career arc of Seo Taiji is one of those pop music miracles you can't believe you hadn't heard about before. One of the originators of what we now
keep rewriting "One Step Closer" until it was ready for radio. Bennington finally found the fire that Don Gilmore had been searching for in his own hatred for... Don Gilmore. "The ‘shut up’ riff was literally Chester screaming at Don," Shinoda recounted to Billboard in 2020. "We were losing our minds." Fittingly, all this pressure turned "One Step Closer" into a diamond of pop songwriting. An intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, and chorus-- all in 2 minutes and 30 seconds, without any of it feeling rushed in the slightest. And that aforementioned "shut up" riff remains the acerbic battle cry of anyone who simply cannot take this anymore.
49. Linkin Park
"One Step Closer"
[Warner Bros; 2000]
Chester Bennington was fed up. Producer Don Gilmore had been pushing Bennington, along with principal songwriter Mike Shinoda, to
trigger a negative emotion. Of the albums that came out that same day, only P.O.D.'s Satellite was in the right place at the right time. Formed in 1993, P.O.D. was a proudly Christian nu-metal band being pushed hard for a breakthrough by their record label Atlantic. Lead single "Alive" was that breakthrough, its carpe diem message standing so far outside of nu-metal fatalism that it still beams like a shaft of sunlight through dense cloud cover. Over a massive tidal wave of distortion, singer Sonny Sandoval proclaims "Every day is a new day/I'm grateful for every breath I take", a goosebump-inducing moment of conviction. So strong is this conviction (and so effective is Chris Lorde Alge's brickwalled-to-shit mix), it can't help but connect. Marcos Curiel's guitar rings off into the atmosphere with a tone and technique that's as much Edge as Iommi. By the time Sandoval is crying out his love for Jesus "no matter what they say" on the bridge, the whole grand contraption has become so big it manages to make traditional Christian martyrdom ("Tell the world how I feel inside even though it might cost me everything") actually sound urgent and exciting for a couple minutes.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks sent nu-metal scrambling, as the nation immediately seemed to lose its appetite for any kind of art that might
poppier than their contemporaries, while simultaneously making the seams nearly invisible. On Slipknot's breakout single "Wait and Bleed," Corey Taylor flips between rabid-dog barking and sweet melody incredibly effectively; Slipknot probably would have been successful no matter what, but the reason they're a household name is because they were damn good at writing choruses. You could rewrite this one to be about almost anything, and it still probably would have been a hit.
"Wait and Bleed"
Slipknot weren't the first metal band to marry vicious, brutal verses to a soaring pop chorus, but they may have been the first to be heavier and
weak would-be suitors and chuvanistic music journalists. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Sevendust were a nu-metal band with a Black lead singer-- another anomaly. Who knows what label trickery brought these two acts together? TVT definately had their hopes on a European breakthrough, but it's one of those wonderful little happenings that you absolutely love to see. Skin lays into the track, deploying a high keening wail that slices through the speaker cone and soars above the mix. Sevendust, to their eternal credit, recognize who the star is now and buttress her performance with a sharp attack that thrusts when appropriate and falls back to give her wail the spotlight. Witherspoon, a powerful belter when he wants, takes a restrained tack that favors the low harmony to Skin's fiery highs. The result is incredible: two Black lead singers operating as the paragons of their respective genres, straddling continents to create something that sounds like nothing else.
In the 1990s, Skunk Anasie were an anomaly: a Britpop band with a Black lead singer. That singer, Skin, wielded her voice like a sabre cutting down
years. A lot of bands had been taking their swings at commentary on then-president Bush and the war, some more successful than others, but now, as that war comes to an end, none of them sound as bottomlessly sad as lead single of Skeletons, "Ether." "We came to take control/We came to sell you freedom/We came to burn you down/We came to brainwash children" growls the late Matt Holt as the band summon a vengeful storm around him. Two decades on we've succeeded at everything listed and lost. What makes Holt so convincing in his anger towards America's war on terror is his unflinching bluntness and accuracy. "Ether", and Skeletons at large, takes the cinematic violence fetish that Nothingface used to cloak themselves on their debut album and ascribes it to America at large as our national pastime (observed elsewhere on Skeletons: "We invented the way to terrify en masse and we all wonder why when someone wants to kill us"). But "Ether" devastates because it considers this and comes up with a solution: America cannot be torn down or dismantled or even rebuilt. In order to prevent more suffering it must simply be magically warped into nonexistence. "Where we belong/It's darker than space/A feeling that we all push down/So it can't be found."
When TVT Records released Nothingface's sophmore album, Skeletons, in 2003, the war in Afghanistan had been on for two
Down's debut album such an instant classic. Serj Tankian opera-singer-ducking-bullets delivery switching between rapid bark, spoken word and tremulous croon. Daron Malakian's drop chords break down into telegram wire signal staccatos and searching guitar solos finally crescendoing into an acapella cry of "WHY DID YOU TAKE HIM AWAY FROM US YOU MOTHER FUCKER???" The "him" in question a friend of Serj's that committed suicide. "Friends for years, images in red / Blew off his own motherfucking head," he puts bluntly during the chorus. It's a direct moment from a more typically veiled lyricasist, couched in presentation just glib enough to mask an extremely personal pain. "Sugar" may have been bigger, "Spiders" may more melodic, but nothing captures the searching urgency of System of a Down better than "Soil."
44. System of a Down
"Soil" packs an album's worth of ideas into one three minute and 26 second sprint. It cycles through just about everything that made System of a
reconnect with their heritage. When they returned to record Roots, they brought back with them a clearheaded appreciation of what they had been gifted by their South American hosts and a sense of purpose representing them to the eager metalheads of the world, who were waiting for a follow-up to their totemic Chaos A.D. That follow-up, 1997's Roots, would bring thundering tribal drumming, honed over uncountable hours of jamming, into their sound. On the album's most raucous tribute to their time in Brazil, "Ratamahatta," Max Cavalera and Brazilian singer Carlinhos Brown trade off lines in Portuguese that proudly represent their favela's more unsavory, gritty districts, while waving hello to uptown in the process. They're not bringing the "world music" to you; they're bringing you into their musical world.
In 1995, uninspired by the North American thrash metal scene, Sepultura decamped to Brazil to record with the Xavante tribe and
hollowed-out caves to wander through by torchlight. “Just Got Wicked”’s unconventional song structure-- one verse followed by a rough amalgamation of bridges, choruses, middle-8s and breakdowns-- feels like falling through a twisting series of trapdoors, crawlspaces, and skylights. Scooter Ward-- who sings like Michael Stipe crawling out of a Jacksonville, Florida marsh-- sounds by turns menacing (“I can taste your innocence”), lost (“Everyone got twisted up”), confused (“I can’t explain the way that I feel”) and confident ( “1, 2, 3 here I come with the wicked). Sam McCandless, one of nu-metal’s all-time underrated drummers, is deep in the pocket here with a straightforward groove dotted with the occasional open hi-hat and thundering fill. The music video, directed brilliantly by Marc Webb, drops Cold in a shallow body of black water in some underground bunker. A gang of vampirically beautiful youths surrounds the band from a distance, a large moat of concrete between them. Webb shoots Ward from a series of high angles. He sings up and into the lens, eyes circled by black eyeliner, looking like he’s been locked downstairs in this cursed concert for months. It’s a perfect video for a song that feels so weird; a mutating roiling mass of inky black electronics, needle-prick guitar taps and warbling synths oozing through the dark. Something wicked this way comes.
"Just Got Wicked"
Plenty of nu-metal bands wanted to be creepy, but Cold could actually do it. The songs from their sophomore record 13 Ways to Bleed On Stage are
misogyny-- and yet the music itself is so brutal you can totally ignore all of that and just delight in the giddy exhilaration of commandeering so much power. Like Rage Against the Machine before them, gym bros are more than happy to miss the point if the riffs are powerful enough to push plates to. Thus, "A Violent Reaction" opens The War of Art with a howitzer of destructive testosterone so potent athletes should be tested for it before competition. With its dense bed of sirens, metallic clangs, wooshes, mechanical moans, and EKG beeps, "A Violent Reaction" communicates precisely why the band made sure to credit someone with "audio terrorism" in the album booklet. Its most mind boggling moment comes early on when, right around the 01:02 mark, a new mortar round of energy rockets in from the right channel before exploding in the left, sending a song that appeared to already be on 10 to a 10.1. The overall effect is what Ministry would sound like if they touched the magic basketball from Space Jam that turned the Nerdlucks into the Monstars.
41. American Head Charge
"A Violent Reaction"
American Head Charge's 2001 masterpiece The War of Art is about effort, American imperialism, the military-industrial complex, and
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