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Nu metal is a subgenre of heavy metal. It is a fusion genre which combines sounds and characteristics of heavy metal and its subgenres such as groove metal and alternative metal with other genres, including hip hop, grunge, funk and industrial. It is classed as part of alternative metal.
Rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s including Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Tool, Primus, Mr. Bungle, Rage Against the Machine, Helmet and Nine Inch Nails have been identified as laying groundwork for the development of nu metal, such as combining aggressive riffs with pop structures and drawing influence from a variety of genres within and outside of heavy metal. Metal bands of the same era such as Pantera, Sepultura and Anthrax have also been cited as influential to nu metal. Anthrax pioneered the rap metal sound by fusing hip hop with metal on their extended play I’m the Man. Some of these bands have tried to distance themselves from the genre. Regarding his band’s influence on nu metal, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton said “I feel no responsibility for that, it’s their mothers’ fault, not mine.” While Helmet frontman Page Hamilton has stated “it’s frustrating that people write [us] off because we’re affiliated with or credited with or discredited with creating nu-metal and rap metal or whatever the fuck it is, which we sound nothing like.” In response to reports that Fred Durst, lead singer of nu metal band Limp Bizkit is a big fan of his band, Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan said “If the lunch-lady in high school hits on you, you appreciate the compliment, but you’re not really gonna start dating the lunch-lady, are ya?”
Bands associated with nu metal derive influence from a variety of diverse styles, including electronic music, funk, glam metal, gothic rock, hardcore punk, hip hop, industrial metal, jazz, post-punk, symphonic rock and synthpop. Nu metal also derives influences from multiple sub-genres of heavy metal including rap metal, funk metal, alternative metal and thrash metal.
Nu metal music is mostly syncopated and based on riffs. Mid-song breakdowns and lack of solos contrasts it with other metal sub-genres. Another contrast with other metal sub-genres is its emphasis on rhythm, tending to more elements of groove metal in rhythm. Similarities with other heavy metal sub-genres include its use of common time, distorted guitars, power chords and note structures primarily revolving around Dorian, Aeolian or Phrygian modes.
Many nu metal bands use seven-string guitars over traditional six-string guitars. Seven-string guitars, which are sometimes downtuned to increase heaviness, resulted in bass guitarists using five-string and six string instruments. DJs are also sometimes used for additional rhythmic instrumentation such as music sampling, scratching and electronic backgrounds.
Nu metal vocal styles range between singing, rapping, screaming and death growling, sometimes using multiple of these styles within one song. The lyrics of many nu metal bands focus on pain and personal alienation rather than the themes of other metal subgenres. Nu metal uses the traditional pop structure of verses, choruses and bridges, contrasting it with other metal genres such as thrash and death metal.
Trevor Baker of The Guardian wrote “Bands such as Linkin Park, Korn and even the much reviled Limp Bizkit also, incidentally, did far more to break down the artificial barriers between “urban music” and rock than any of their more critically acceptable counterparts. Their concerts also drew huge numbers of women which is much more than you could say for any old-metal band.” Nu metal fashion can include baggy shirts, sports jerseys and jackets, basketball singlets and shorts, hoodies, cargo pants, sweatpants, dreadlocks, spiky hair, body piercings, tattoos, long hair, jumpsuits and sweatsuits.
The origins of the term are often attributed to the work of producer Ross Robinson, sometimes called “The Godfather of Nu Metal”. Many of the first nu metal bands came from California, like Korn, which pioneered the nu metal sound with the release of their demo album in 1993, and Deftones. Other influential bands are Staind from Massachusetts, Limp Bizkit from Florida, and Slipknot from Iowa. The aggressive riffs of Korn, the rapping of Limp Bizkit, and the acoustic ballads of Staind created the sonic template for nu metal.
In 1994 Korn’s debut single “Blind“‘s music video received airplay on MTV, exposing nu metal to a wider audience in a time when grunge dominated. Nu metal continued to achieve recognition through MTV and Ozzy Osbourne’s 1995 introduction of Ozzfest, which led the media to talk of a resurgence of heavy metal. Ozzfest was integral to launching the careers of several nu metal bands, including Limp Bizkit in 1998.
1998 is generally recognized as the year nu metal broke into the mainstream, with Korn’s third album Follow the Leader becoming a multi platinum smash hit and paving the way for other nu metal bands.
By this point most nu metal bands were playing a combination of heavy metal, hip hop, industrial, grunge and hardcore punk. Established artists such as Sepultura, Slayer, Vanilla Ice, Primus and Machine Head released albums which drew from the style. In Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, Ian Christie wrote that the genre demonstrated that “pancultural metal could pay off”.
In 1999, a nu metal act from Iowa, Slipknot emerged with a dark and heavy sound, releasing their debut album which has gone on to sell over 2 million copies in the United States alone, with Rick Anderson of Allmusic writing “You thought Limp Bizkit was hard? They’re the Osmonds. These guys are something else entirely.” Limp Bizkit’s second album Significant Other, released in 1999, reached number 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 643,874 copies in its first week of release. In its second week, the album sold 335,000 copies. In 2000, Limp Bizkit’s follow-up album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, set a record for highest week-one sales of a rock album with over one million copies sold in the U.S. in its first week of release, with 400,000 of those sales coming on its first day, making it the fastest-selling rock album ever, breaking the world record held for seven years by Pearl Jam’s Vs. That same year, Papa Roach’s major label debut Infest, and Disturbed’s The Sickness became platinum hits.
Late in 2000, Linkin Park released their debut album Hybrid Theory, which remains both the best-selling debut album by any artist in the 21st century, and the best-selling nu metal album of all time. The album was also the best-selling album in all genres in 2001, offsetting sales by prominent pop acts like Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, earning the band a Grammy Award for their second single “Crawling”, with the fourth single, “In the End”, released late in 2001, becoming one of the most recognized songs in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2001 Staind’s third album Break The Cycle debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 716,003 copies. That same year, Slipknot released their second album Iowa which peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200, going on to sell over a million copies In the United States, critic John Mulvey proclaimed the album as the “absolute triumph of nu metal”. Also that year was P.O.D’s Satellite which was also a commercial success, debuting at no. 6 on the Billboard 200.
In 2002, critics began claiming that nu metal’s mainstream popularity was declining, citing the fact that Korn’s long awaited fifth album Untouchables, and Papa Roach’s third album Lovehatetragedy, did not sell as well as their previous releases, and nu metal bands were played less frequently on radio stations and MTV began focusing on pop punk, metalcore and emo.
Evanescence’s debut album Fallen, was also released on March, 2003. Many critics noted the nu metal sound of the album, whose Grammy Award-winning lead single “Bring Me to Life” was compared favorably to Linkin Park’s style. By the end of 2003, Linkin Park’s Meteora and Evanescence’s Fallen ranked third and fourth respectively in the best-selling albums of 2003, and would go on to sell nearly 35 million copies between them as of 2012. Both bands released high-charting singles throughout 2003 to mid 2004. Also in 2003, Korn and Limp Bizkit released their new albums Take a Look in the Mirror and Results May Vary, both of which sold considerably less than their previous efforts. Korn went on to admit Take a Look in the Mirror was rushed, while readers of Guitar World magazine named Limp Bizkit, along with the post-grunge band Creed “worst band of 2003”. In 2005, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory received a diamond certification by the RIAA for shipment of ten million copies.
By the mid-2000s, metalcore and the New Wave of American Heavy Metal had become the most popular in metal, in both the mainstream and within metal audiences. Despite the massive success of Linkin Park and Evanescence, nu metal continued to decline in popularity. Regarding his band’s decline in popularity, Fred Durst said “here’s the deal: say in 2000, there were 35 million people who connected to this band. Twelve years later, lots of those people have moved on. We were a moment in time and it’s over.”
Many nu metal bands experimented with other genres and sounds. While Deftones and P.O.D retained several of their nu metal traits, they had overall moved on to a more alternative sounding metal, with their subsequent releases having eliminated rapping in almost all of their songs. Linkin Park’s third studio album Minutes to Midnight, released in 2007, was noted for its complete departure from the band’s signature nu metal sound. Other nu metal bands such as Disturbed and Slipknot moved onto a more standard heavy metal sound.
Despite the lesser radio play and popularity, some nu metal bands still gain commercial success. Korn’s 9th studio album Korn III: Remember Who You Are, sold 63,000 copies during its first week in the US, landing at number two on the Billboard 200. As of December 6, 2011, the album has sold 185,000 units in the U.S. and received positive reviews. In 2011, Limp Bizkit’s long awaited sixth studio album Gold Cobra, was a commercial success, selling 63,000 copies in the United States and peaking at number 16 on the Billboard 200 and the album has received mostly positive reviews. Also in 2011, Staind’s self-titled album debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, with first sales week of 47,000 copies, making the fifth consecutive top-five album for the band. As of November 19, 2011, it has sold over 100,000 copies and received some of the most positive reviews the band has ever got from critics.
Evanescence’s long-awaited self-titled album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 and other U.S charts and sold over 127.000 copies in the first week, and 284,000 copies to date. It also charted high globally and has received certifications in U.K, Canada and Australia as of 2012. On 2 December 2011, Korn released the Path of Totality selling 55,000 copies in its first week. Many cited this album as a new direction for nu metal, with the band taking influence from electronic music, most notably dubstep. Artists collaborating on the album included Skrillex, 12th Planet, Feed Me and Excision. The album received mostly positive reviews, winning a Golden Gods award for best album. This has led to some talk within the media of a possible nu metal revival.