The Decline of Nu Metal: 10 Years On

Nu metal began to take shape in the early nineties, taking influence from more groove based metal, industrial/electronic music and most notably hip-hop. Nu metal enjoyed mainstream popularity for a five year period from 1998 to 2003, before declining, and being replaced by less abrasive rock, mainly in the forms of emo and pop-punk.

Fast forward ten years beyond 2003 and the nu metal scene is pretty much dead. If you look at all the popular nu metal acts from the turn of the millennium, they can all be placed into one of two categories; those who stuck with nu metal and those who jumped ship and adapted.

The first category includes the likes of (hed)PE, Static-X, Saliva and most notably Limp Bizkit. These bands all chose to stick with the genre (or close variations) and ultimately were hurt by it, getting pushed from MTV fame to small venues and dwindling album sales. Limp Bizkit were the headline act for the first Download Festival in 2003 (until they pulled out) alongside Iron Maiden, but ten years on they were relegated to playing the Zippo Encore Stage at the same festival. Frontman Fred Durst recently conceded that Limp Bizkit “were a moment in time and it’s over”, whilst also admitting they no longer tour America due a decline in their popularity. The same can be said for the other bands in this group; (hed)PE, Static-X and Saliva all faded from attention, maintaining only a small loyal following.

The second group of bands have fared much better. Deftones changed from their nu metal sound in 2000 with the release of their third album ‘White Pony’, drastically expanding their fan base, before rejuvenating their image once again in 2010 with the critically acclaimed ‘Diamond Eyes’. Linkin Park’s last nu metal record was in 2003; their attention changing to hard rock and then onto electronically driven rock music, resulting in the release of an ambitious concept album on nuclear war. This album, entitled ‘A Thousand Suns’, was the antithesis of nu metal; gone were the three minute radio-suited songs, replaced by experimental instrumentation, samples of speeches and an album that has to be played in order.

Naturally some of the bands that adapted their sound failed to carry forward the momentum beyond the early half of the new decade. Bands such as Papa Roach, Mudvayne and Godsmack, went down a more hard rock approach and found their popularity staying roughly constant, keeping fans happy and interested, but not really enticing a new wave of attention. The same can be said for the heavier acts like Slipknot or Disturbed. They removed the ‘nu’ and kept the metal to their sound and saw their popularity plateau, perhaps waiting for whatever incarnation is next.

This brings me nicely to Korn, who, alongside producer Ross Robinson, are arguably the fathers of nu metal. Korn’s ‘Follow The Leader’ was the first nu metal record to really capture the true essence of the genre and act as a springboard for all the other bands mentioned above. It combined hip-hop and metal perfectly, resulting in it going multi-platinum.

However, since the departure of guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch in 2005, Korn have struggled to find their post nu metal sound. Last week Korn premiered the first song ‘Never Never’ from the new album ‘Paradigm Shift’ due in October. Like 2011’s heavily dubstep influenced ‘The Path of Totality’, this carries on with the same electronic theme, but adds a few more layers of guitar into the mix.

Their drastic change into electronic music has been quite controversial with the fans; some (including me) love it, others simply hate it. The ones who hate it generally want Korn to return to their ‘traditional’ nu metal sound. However, I can’t get my mind round this. In 2010 Korn released ‘Korn III: Remember Who You Are’ which did exactly what it says on the tin; Korn rediscovering the past with songs that could have been off any of their first four albums. Yet that record didn’t feel right. On paper everything seemed perfect; bass-like guitars, Jonathan Davis’ wail, pounding grooves and dark atmospheres, but it seemed forced, almost Korn-by-numbers. The reason for this is because it was forced – it came as a result of someone saying “you know what guys, our fans want nu metal, so lets write some“.  Can you really see four guys in their forties actually organically creating an angst-filled nu metal record? I think Korn have finally found what kind of music they want to embrace and as a result it sounds believable.

The decline of nu metal just goes to show that the majority of bands have to change their sound and adapt if they want to survive. Naturally changing alone doesn’t guarantee survival; your new direction still has to produce the same quality of music so that you can receive the necessary exposure to stop you being forgotten like Limp Bizkit, but the benefits of refreshing who you are as a band far outweigh those of sticking to your sound.

Recommended ‘Post-Nu Metal’:

  1. Deftones – ‘Beauty School’ from ‘Diamond Eyes’
  2. Linkin Park – ‘Castle of Glass’ from ‘Living Things’
  3. Papa Roach – ‘I Almost Told You That I Loved You’ from ‘Metamorphosis’
  4. Mudvayne – ‘Beyond The Pale’ from ‘Mudvayne’
  5. Korn – ‘Bleeding Out’ from ‘The Path Of Totality’

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5 thoughts on “The Decline of Nu Metal: 10 Years On

  1. excellent write-up, it’s interesting to see how all of these bands have grown up (with me growing up alongside the nu-metal movement). IMO Deftones has developed into the best of the pack, they’ve retained their heaviness of their youth while consistently evolving their sound. And while Korn definitely seems to honestly enjoy playing this new electronic style, they do not have as strong of songwriting as they did in their 90s heyday

  2. The one genre that never died was thrash — I am going to show you a band that emerged during this era Empyrean Sky. When this style emerged I was looking for more underground heavy metal and pulling this out for limp shitdick fans — my friends Fashion Bomb are an Industrial metal outfit that emerged during this era and pulled a comparison to Iron Maiden. I had given them that comparison with The Vow. Thrash metal and doom metal saw a bigger re-emergence and Motogrator is an interesting outfit that they are Experimental in the vein Voivod and Tourniquet are too.

  3. Pingback: The Curse of Back-to-Basics Albums | RockAtlantic

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