Like a lot of scruffy, displaced kids born in the early ‘90s, my middle-school pop was nu-metal. Modern music revisionism has all but erased that fledgling genre, Chuck Klosterman couldn’t even defend it in his great Hair Metal apology Fargo Rock City, but it honestly wasn’t too long ago when bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Disturbed ruled the chart landscape. To paraphrase Mr. Klosterman, anything that’s commercially relevant has to be culturally relevant on some level. That being said, within the last decade we’ve seen revivals in disco, electropop, golden age hip-hop, ‘90s R&B, California pop-punk, and, yes, even traditional hard rock – meanwhile nu-metal remains sequestered in the grand scheme of influence. Nobody has found anything in Johnathan Davis’ howls or Fred Durst’s machismo worth adapting into a modern context, this is by no means a surprising development, but I think it’s worth asking why. It was only ten years ago that Bizkit’s second full-length Significant Other was certified 14-times platinum, where did all that viability go? I think there’s a few answers.
Nu-Metal took itself way too seriously.
Outside of Durst’s silliness, the bulk of the nu-metal crop were drab, self-involved schmucks who truly did believe they were changing the world with their high-school poetry and ‘experimental’ tunings. This is why a lot of 13 year olds (read: me) latched on, because frankly, nu-metal was always stuck in a millennial preteened mindset; that semi-pubescent, post-Kidz Bop state where you had the unchecked arrogance to believe the world and all its issues were pointed directly at you. This made lines as putrid as “I'm tired of being what you want me to be /Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface” sound so good; they appealed directly to a general, indirect rage that brews under the skulls of many a privileged kid who wants something to be angry about. Bands like Linkin Park, Slipknot, and Staind carried a self-imposed mythology with them, they operated under the delusion that they were somehow creating ‘real’ music in the face of pop; all gussied up in bleak music videos and baggy jeans. That attitude has completely died out, while the goofy memes of outfits likes ICP and GWAR have stayed in an extended renaissance. Playing shitty music for fun is a lot more forgivable than playing shitty music out of artsy tunnel vision, and that’s made nu-metal tremendously easy to hate, because hey, they kinda deserve it.
There’s a near universal critical blacklist on anything even remotely associated with the genre.
This sort of ties back to my first point of self-seriousness; because of the way nu-metal positioned itself in regards to flaunting, faux-creativity and a general pretension in relation to the media, it’s hard to talk about these bands with any joy, or even any humor. You’ll never catch someone wearing an Evanescence shirt for a joke, but you’ll sure as hell see an ironic Bieber hoodie. Because of that stark unfashionable perception, critics have a hard time making it okay to like a few nu-metal songs. Contrary to popular belief, not every Aaliyah tune was a masterpiece, but because of Timbaland’s involvement (and an early death, and the fact that “Are You That Somebody” is absolutely unfuckwithable) the guilty pleasure for ‘90s R&B has been legitimized into a historical fact. This hasn’t happened with Korn because Korn are the exact opposite of what critics are after right now. They’re droopy, grungy and dressed like shit when the 2011 critic favorites include the pristine likes of James Blake, Shabazz Palaces, and Bon Iver. Nu-metal has found itself far outside of modern critical dialog.
They just won’t fucking go away.
The number one reason bands are starting to sound like Blink-182 right now is because Blink-182 hasn’t put out a new record in eight years. Sure there’s another one coming next month that might destroy the fantasy but bear with me – rosy nostalgic revisionism needs a few years to develop without getting constantly reminded of the unflattering truths of the source genre. I bet “Feeling This” sounds really good in your head right now, but that’s because it’s not as much of a known quantity as it was in 2003, when songs become memories they become infinitely more important to us. And for my money, there are more great songs on King of the Beach than Blink has in an entire career. The same cannot be said for the former-gods of nu-metal. The last Korn album came out in 2010, same with Linkin Park, Staind and Evanescence both have new records scheduled for this year, while an utterly unnecessary Limp Bizkit rehash arrived a few months ago. All of this new music is coming long after these bands had anything even remotely resembling a creative apex, and it’s certainly not doing their reputations any favors. It has to be working, they’re selling copies, but if there’s one reason people aren’t willing to talk or listen critically to “Freak on a Leash” it’s because nu-metal’s worst moments are constantly being updated within earshot.
This is ‘metal’ we’re talking about.
In retrospect, a crossover metal/hip-hop subgenre probably should’ve never caught on in the first place. Metal has never been one for the charts, and I think despite all the shit to be talked, it’s hard to call the discordant, almost aggressively atonal textures of late-‘90s nu-metal thoroughbred pop. Sure the appeal is obvious, but the mult-million sales and the household ubiquity seems awfully strange. The more you think about it, the more the explosion of those mumbly, sour-note bands feel like a weird anomaly. Maybe they’ve been pushed to the outside just because pop itself has moved on, it’s easy to see how disco could be adapted to fill 2011’s needs, it’s a lot less apparent with nu-metal.
Are we really missing anything from a potential nu-metal resurgence?
Well, it may already be happening in a limited way. I mean, we’ve all spent a far amount of time guffawing at the Brokencyde epidemic, but that’s more of a Lil Jon-Simple Plan bastardization than anything begat from the nu-metal crowd (I mean, at least they sound like they’re having fun.) But have you heard of Death Grips? They’re a combination of Hella drummer Zach Hill, producers Flatlander and Info Warrior, and MC Ride – they put out a free mixtape called Exmilitary this year, and it might be the greatest nu-metal record of all time. It has the bite, the unchecked noise, the ridiculously intimate intensity, and it comes together what the genre should’ve sounded like in a perfect world. If it was influenced, either consciously or subconsciously, by bands like Korn, then I think nu-metal’s existence is justified. I’m not saying I want the white-guy dreds and eyebrow-piercings back, I just think a time should come when we can acknowledge the few good things the genre did without any embarrassment.