Tuesday Ten: 223: Break Stuff – Reappraising Nu-Metal?

Judging on the reaction to my linking last Friday to this article on my Facebook page, it appears that a particular subset of my friends have a past that involved dancing badly to Nu-Metal. So, by popular demand, here at amodelofcontrol.com we’re going to have a look at some of the much-maligned genre, which actually had it’s moments of brilliance, as well as moments that well-deserve a metaphorical critical shoeing.

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Indeed, what constitutes Nu-Metal in the first place is – like many other genres – somewhat disputed. A number of bands came in a first wave, then as success came to them, there was a stampede of other bands who might be deemed to be “cashing in” (and some of them had significant success, too), not to mention a few bands who changed their styles to try and “fit in” – Fear Factory and Machine Head being particularly notorious for doing this at the time (interestingly, both bands have bounced back somewhat since).

So, how am I doing this? I’m going to look back at some – but not all – of the “leading lights” of the scene, and then some of the smaller bands who perhaps never quite made it through. It might invoke some memories, it might just invoke revulsion. Either way, here goes…


Korn
Blind
Korn

Nu-Metal pretty much began with this. To any metalhead, the tense, lengthy intro is instantly recognisable, the cymbal taps and teased riffs eventually uncoiling into a brutal, downtuned ball of fury that just about keeps leash on everything until about halfway through. Then Jonathan Davis finally snaps, and rips into a angry rant that was mosh-friendly from the first listen. As an opener to their debut, it was one hell of a way to introduce the band, but the thrills didn’t stop there – there was the victim of years of teasing and abuse biting back with unbelievable power in Faget, there was the bagpipes and twisted nursery rhymes of Shoots and Ladders, not to mention the deeply disturbing Daddy to close the album. Korn never topped this, no matter what others might tell you, and indeed their career has seen ever-decreasing returns at points – and a surprisingly successful flirtation with dubstep-inspired electronics that was a much greater success than it had any right to be. And to no-one’s real surprise, the band are revisiting the whole first album on tour this summer. I’m going to avoid it, though – ¬£40+ at Brixton for it? I don’t like it that much…


Deftones
My Own Summer (Shove It)
Around The Fur

The one band to come out of the Nu-Metal period with their reputation intact, though, were Deftones. I wasn’t a fan of their first album initially – the bone-dry, fuzzy production obscured the tunes somewhat – and it probably took until their second album, for which this was the lead single, before I really got it. The difference between the two is enormous, in some respects – and what’s more amazing is that Terry Date produced both. All fat was removed from Around The Fur, the whole thing streamlined down to the bare minimum, with barely a breath between songs that made for an album that flowed brilliantly – and the better production allowed Chino’s vocals to shine through. Yeah, his screaming, tortured vocals were still there, but he also relaxed into almost a croon, with some striking ballads featuring too – and all of a sudden the themes of his songs came into focus for me when I heard this. Vocals that dig into the darker sides of relationships and mental states, blurring the line between the imaginary and reality – and assuming their listeners were intelligent enough to understand where the line was.


Limp Bizkit
Break Stuff
Significant Other

Which, funnily enough, was something that was completely missed, intentionally or not, by Limp Bizkit. They started out early on as a much more abrasive band, with much of their first album Three Dollar Bill, Y’all being blisteringly heavy and dark…with the exception of their enormously fun cover of Faith, an eternal metal club staple to this day (Actually, they were one of the first to do this among their peers, something that became part of a trend within nu-metal – take on an eighties cover, something at least four bands in this list did).

Clearly the minor success of that album resulted in a few lightbulbs going on above a few heads, as Significant Other was a radio-friendly behemoth that toned down the heaviness, added in a more overt smattering of hip-hop, and some monster hits. Break Stuff, probably the simplest song here – an outpouring of imaginary rage, maybe at having to tidy the bedroom or something – is the song that has endured the most, partly helped by it’s not-taking-itself-seriously-at-all video, but also it has a darker side in being associated with the unsavoury goings-on at Woodstock ’99, notorious for violence, incidences of rape and just about anything that didn’t move being set on fire.

Limp Bizkit didn’t get any brighter or better, but have sold tens of millions of records all told, although their attempted comebacks in recent years have become more targets of mirth than anything else.


Disturbed
Stupify
The Sickness

One band who – initially at least – seemed very interesting indeed were Disturbed. This Chicago band had a vocalist with a striking voice, and with their first single, Stupify, a stonking track that really didn’t sound like anyone else for at least five minutes. Yes, it had the same damned downtuned basslines, but swirling all through the rhythms were all kinds of electronics and samples, as if they’d taken in their home city’s industrial past as well as the same metal as everyone else.

Sadly, things went downhill quickly. Down With The Sickness and it’s grating vocal hook was bad enough, but Shout 2000 – yep, another of those fucking eighties covers – was even worse. God knows how many albums since, and I’ve long since given up.


Coal Chamber
Loco
Coal Chamber

Dez Fafara’s first band Coal Chamber were treated with disdain early on, and never really shook off that tag – particularly after what was roundly a terrible second album (particularly an execrable cover of Shock The Monkey) – and Fafara found more success, critically and in terms of sales, with the much heavier Devildriver.

But back at the start of Coal Chamber’s existence, things looked a bit rosier, with this and Sway tearing up metal club dancefloors almost instantly – and with good reason. They were heavy-as-shit, anthemic and enormous fun. Another band whose promised was squandered, though, pretty fucking fast…apparently, though, they have a new album coming this year!


The Union Underground
South Texas Deathride
…An Education In Rebellion

Another band who had a vague industrial influence to their sound were these guys, who vanished all too quickly after releasing just one album. Yeah, so there was an awful lot of filler on display, but they had a handful of exceptionally strong songs, the best of which was the quasi-industrial-hip-hop bounce of this track (reputedly about a fairly unpleasant murder in Texas), which in the Facebook post that inspired this week’s Ten, was the most suggested track by far…


Sevendust
Rumble Fish
Home

Elsewhere in the outer reaches of Nu-Metal were Sevendust, who added a welcome dose of soulful longing to the often-all-to-macho sounds of the genre. Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals added an entirely new dimension to the band’s chugging, muscular metal, which for me reached their peak on Home an album I bought when it came out and still listen to now. Like a number of other bands of their time (Incubus being the other particular offender, in my eyes), though, they mellowed their sound considerably as Nu-Metal’s attraction waned, leaving a pale imitation of the band they were before.


(hed)PE
Killing Time
Broke

Hardly unusual in the genre was a band that had a prominent hip-hop influence, but (hed)PE were different in that, at least to start with, it was unclear that they had an idea how things were going to work out, never mind their listeners. Their first album was a chaotic mix of ideas, but one where brilliant songs tore out of the chaos to spectacular effect. Not unlike other peers, actually, their second album saw a laser-like focus take hold, and the results gained them success for a time – and resulted in their best songs by miles. The killer for me (and sadly underplayed nowadays, with Bartender being the go-to track for any metal DJ, it seems) was second album opener Killing Time, where Jared admitted to being a mess and a bad influence…but didn’t give a fuck, as he had a killer tune backing him. He was right, in both ways – the band splintered after this and I honestly couldn’t tell you how many of the original band were still around when I saw them live again last autumn.


Human Waste Project
One Night In Spain…
e-lux

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I’ve seen it suggested in some places that Nu-Metal had an unusual prepondrance of women in the scene – well, maybe in the audiences, there was certainly more of a mix than many other metal crowds, with noticeably more women, not to mention a wider racial mix too – but in the bands it was really still very much male-dominated. There were exceptions – the all-female band Kittie, for a start – but one of the most striking female-fronted bands of the time were Aimee Echo’s band Human Waste Project. Another band who only managed one album before splintering, but in their short time together they made quite an impact. Aimee’s snarling, screaming delivery helped to shape their sound, but among many brutally heavy tracks there were lighter moments, the most enduring of which is this surprisingly tender track, a tale of regret and loss that almost bounds along courtesy of the melodic bassline that leads the track ahead.

Aimee Echo went on to front the new-wave influenced theSTART, and this was tellingly the only HWP track they regularly played.


Kill II This
2 Tribes
Trinity

The Nu-Metal boom was very much an American thing, but there were small pockets of bands elsewhere doing something similar, especially as we approached the millenium and beyond – including here in the UK. Acutually, I’m not completely convinced that these guys were Nu-Metal, but they were one of the leading bands of the UK scene at the time, and to finish with, here’s one of those covers I was talking about.

Kill II This were actually more industrial metal, really – as were a number of the later bands dubbed Nu-Metal – owing as much to Ministry and Fear Factory’s pioneering work of a few years before as they did to the more populist sounds that followed, something best shown in their vicious (and frequent set-closer) Crucified) – but by the time of Trinity, once again they became another band to have smoothed out their sound a bit, and once again they were the beneficiaries of a fleeting glimpse of success. They are also another band to have reappeared in recent times, too, although I think Mark Mynett is the only original member this time around.

Indeed, this kinda sums up Nu-Metal. Some actually quite harsh and heavy metal, with the edges smoothed out for mainstream consumption, that as more jumped onto the bandwagon caused the wheels to fall off pretty quickly. Some found success since, others withered on the vine. Common story in music, I guess…

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