Nu Metal is a form of alternative metal that emerged in the mid-90s and became popular, especially in the 2000s. It was famous for its defined aesthetic, often referred to as “metal tracksuits with dreadlocks.” Musically, it featured bands that placed greater emphasis on rhythm. The guitar was often used (or still is, as we will see) almost exclusively as a rhythmic instrument rather than a melodic one. The groups relied more on techniques like syncopation or palm muting, which create distinctive sounds in this style, with rhythm drops and rises and powerful chords from the main guitar closer to traditional Metal sounds. And, of course, the bass regained some prominence.
However, what Nu Metal is best known for is its ability to mix elements of Funk, Hip Hop, and Heavy Metal. While it often avoids using the most prevalent techniques of extreme metal, such as double bass drum pedals, in favor of a more groove-oriented sound. Some bands also employ a DJ with a turntable to emphasize these elements even further. An event that left a mark on the genre was, in its own way, Woodstock ’99, with dozens of concerts and bands that ended up in chaos.
Lyrically, Nu Metal deals with themes of anguish and hostility, and the vocals are generally aggressive, but not to the point where the lyrics become incomprehensible. Stylistically, the vocalist often raps, shouting in the chorus, turning the music more into Hardcore Punk or extreme metal, depending on the group. Many bands combine several of these styles and alternate between them within their own songs. This led, towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, to many young people and adolescents embracing rock in what seemed to be its last splendor. Because, despite having many purist critics who didn’t accept the mix of rap and rock and refused to listen to themes more oriented towards adolescence, its success was a fact.
The Top 10 Nu Metal Bands of All Time
In this regard, let’s take a look at what, for us, are the best Nu Metal bands in history. Assuming that production played a key role in creating the Nu Metal sound, favoring a clean and polished production style with liberal use of distortion and post-processing effects on melodies and vocals to enhance the music’s atmosphere.
Thus, we can assimilate various artists as part of this genre, which at first may not seem very similar or even deny being considered part of it. But we don’t really care about those revisions. We’ll hardly take into account the Post-Grunge groups that touched on some of these aspects. In the end, what matters is the experience back then, right? Let’s review the great Nu Metal groups, but not before mentioning one detail. The work of music producer Ross Robinson, well-remembered among genre followers for his involvement in the production of many essential Nu Metal releases by Korn, Deftones, Slipknot, or Limp Bizkit.
Before we start, let’s add that one of the most attractive features of Nu Metal was its ability to reinvent itself. Remixes were often better than the original versions. They managed to take the most interesting ideas from Hip Hop, as well as some less interesting ones, of course, and created a trend that still continues today. Despite the lack of hard rock in the form of big current mainstream bands.
10. Guano Apes
The German band led by Sandra Nasic gained international notoriety mainly thanks to “Open Your Eyes,” a great song. However, their version of the classic “Big In Japan,” released a year later, made them totally indispensable among fans’ shelves.
We must not forget that we were witnessing the last years of MTV as a music channel, so at that time, the aesthetics of the groups, the quality of the videos, and the charisma of the artists were essential aspects of the final package. That’s why “Lords Of The Boards” was so cool, besides being a great song itself.
9. Rob Zombie
The founder and lead vocalist of the band White Zombie dabbled in Nu Metal in the late 90s and early 2000s. Even before entering the world of filmmaking as a director, he had made his mark in music videos.
Always eerie and with a rather unique and peculiar style, the genre passed through his discography as it could have done with any other. We mention him here as we could have mentioned Marilyn Manson, not so much because they officially belonged to the genre, but because of their contribution to it. In the end, both cases would fall under Industrial Metal, really.
Here, yes, we enter fully into the musical style, without opinions distinguishing between one band and another. P.O.D. (Payable On Death) was one of the last groups to enjoy the commercial boom that Nu Metal brought. Because like any musical genre or subgenre, there are phases, and in this case, those phases are quite clear.
On one side, we have the pioneers, many of whom are now deniers, but who had the most influence on the rest of the bands that appeared. On the other side, we have those who capitalized the frenzy that attracted the public during the genre’s peak. Finally, we have the last ones, who arrived when practically everything was considered commercial, and all artists were labeled as sell-outs.
If you were a big fan of the genre back then, you could probably name each stage and pinpoint exactly when the hatred for Nu Metal began, which still persists to this day. If you’ve never seen it, watch the “Alive” music video.
Sepultura is another one of those bands that had a foot in both worlds. The Brazilians mainly played Heavy Metal, as they formed the group in Belo Horizonte in 1984. Although they maintained that style with its typical subgenres as the foundation of their sound throughout a decade, they soon started experimenting with other alternative sounds in the late 90s.
While mentioning this group, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to name several bands that had a significant influence on Nu Metal as well, such as Pantera, Testament, Sacred Reich, Dark Angel, Violence, Forbidden, and Death Angel.
6. Linkin Park
Undoubtedly, the Nu Metal band that has achieved the most commercial success from the genre. They were never considered sell-outs after their first album, which already featured “In The End,” and their fan base remained loyal until the end, which sadly seems to have come.
From Hybrid Theory to One More Light, Linkin Park went through several phases, ranging from giving a greater role to rap to making it disappear entirely as a vocal style, leaving Chester Bennington as the sole lead voice. They knew how to reinvent themselves or die, as they say. But they were almost always capable of offering quality material, at least for releasing singles.
It’s true that Linkin Park was one of the last bands to join the genre, often considered an imitation of Limp Bizkit, a group that was heavily criticized back then and started to decline dramatically due to the absence of their lead guitarist, Wes Borland.
5. Limp Bizkit
Because that’s how it was. This American band was despised by the majority of fans of the genre and other genres, but it also holds the honor of being one of the best-selling rock bands across all subgenres. Although, truth be told, they are hated worldwide with nuances. In Madrid, for example, they were much more hated because of what happened at Festimad 2001. Apparently, the band had seen how a spectator died at one of their previous concerts and considered that the festival’s security in the city was not sufficient. At least that was their official version.
Yes, “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” was a sales record. It is the rock album that reached number 1 on the charts the fastest (in the first week of release), selling more than one million copies in the United States during its first week. 400,000 of those sales happened on the first day, making it the best-selling rock album in history, breaking the 7-year record held by Pearl Jam’s “VS.”
I wonder who bought it back then and how many of them had to hide it later to hold a wine glass and speak against the band now.
4. Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down
In fourth place, although they probably wouldn’t want to be on this list, we make a combo of these two bands. For a vast majority, neither Rage Against the Machine nor System of a Down are considered Nu Metal, but for us, many of their songs undoubtedly belong to the genre.
Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello’s band has some of the most powerful songs from this brief era of rock. “Killing In The Name,” “Bulls On Parade,” or our beloved “Wake Up” (featured in the Matrix soundtrack) are some examples.
On the other hand, Serj Tankian’s band produced such powerful rock that still seems irreplaceable today. It’s not just that all the bands we’re mentioning were able to go from zero to a hundred and back to zero in a second, but System of a Down could also make you dance and then completely demolish you within a few seconds of difference. “Chop Suey!” or “B.Y.O.B.” exemplify this perfectly.
We’ve already talked about the aesthetics of most bands that coexisted during this period, but Slipknot stood out above the rest. While in most cases, we talk about Adidas tracksuits, baggy pants, caps, dreadlocks, and the unmistakable goatee in many cases, here it’s different.
Slipknot are the sinister neighbors of Kiss. Their image already attracted a lot of attention, and then we have their music. For many, the best band of the genre, but the truth is that there is competition. Other pioneering groups have managed to stay fresh over time, even when they denied being part of the genre. Well, Slipknot denies it even more. They openly state that they prefer to distance themselves musically from other bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit (who were very friendly in the 2000s). Slipknot describes their sound as “metal metal” and believes that any resemblance to Nu Metal is an accidental coincidence. Anyway, with all that said, they look like a bunch of kids, even if they’re 50 years old.
Korn is probably the band most associated with the movement, both in aesthetics and music. Yet, they recently denied for the umpteenth time, like Peter denying Jesus before becoming Pope, that they have never played Nu Metal. What a torment, my God!
So, it turns out that the genre never existed. Well then, they also never sang “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” and irony, critique, anguish, or humor, in general, never existed in their work.
The band led by Chino Moreno is, by popular acclaim, the best Nu Metal band born in the 20th century. With a trajectory that began in 1988, the Sacramento natives have gifted the greatest hits and the most accepted songs by both fans and non-fans. This is already an achievement, considering the context.
After all, we are in a club that practically no one wants to be a part of. In this sense, Deftones are no different. Moreno once said that they did not want to be considered part of the movement because “when those bands fall, we won’t be with them.”
The Top 10 Best Nu Metal Albums
10. Skeletons, by Nothingface
Considered one of the most creative efforts in Nu Metal. Within the hate that the genre generates, there are always exceptions. Nothingface’s discography was not very different from that of most bands in the genre during the ’90s, but it was more appreciated. It would take years before their vision finally focused on a more creative sound that worked within the established limits to create something somewhat more unique. Ultimately, the focus shifted towards a slight implementation of hardcore punk in their sound, making Skeletons one of the most relevant albums of the genre.
9. Hybrid Theory, by Linkin Park
Many teenagers were fans of Hybrid Theory when it came out back in 2000. An album that explores a great concept, mixing rap and rock with power in songs like One Step Closer and By Myself. Other great tracks include Papercut, With You, In The End, Forgotten, Pushing Me Away.
8. Significant Other, by Limp Bizkit
For many, it’s a generally poor album, but if you ask for their favorite songs, you’ll find that they are almost all from this album. Still, it’s Limp Bizkit.
It’s quite clever in some parts and reveals great potential. For many, what ruins the album is the type of music that would become definitive on the next album: Nookie and Break Stuff.
However, the creative side of the album for most lies in Re-Arranged. Just Like This and N 2 Gether Now also support it, leaving room for creativity. Top tracks: Just Like This, Re-Arranged, N 2 Gether Now, and Show Me What You Got.
7. L.D. 50, by Mudvayne
Although the song Dig had some impact in 2000, Mudvayne might have been one of many bands of that time. In this sense, many fans believe that the L.D. 50 album is underrated.
It is one of the most progressive albums of Nu Metal at the time. In the words of others: when all the other bands were making pop music for angry kids, these guys released this album without any fanfare.
6. Strangers Only, by My Ticket Home
We haven’t talked about Nu Metalcore, but it’s still a variant of Hardcore Punk that fits perfectly into the genre. In this universe, we find My Ticket Home, one of the latest bands to appear, as this album is from 2013, being their second in their career.
In the end, Strangers Only is an interesting, aggressive album with a lot of energy, but in a rebellious way, as if the album were made by a group of angry college students who got bad grades. It’s a bit emo, in fact. Top tracks: Hot Soap, Kick Rocks, Keep Alone, and Ayahuasca.
5. Juicy Planet Earth, by Flapjack
The Polish band Flapjack rewarded us in 1997 with one of the most powerful Nu Metal albums with almost no difference between critics and followers.
The songs on this album have strange structures in the style of Meshuggah with psychedelic effects similar to those of The Residents. The vocals are soaked in modulation effects half the time, making it feel like a bad acid trip.
And that’s without talking about the guitars. The guitars are probably the strangest thing here. Layers of dissonant riffs and clean guitars that produce a strange tremolo effect that adds to this constant feeling of disturbance and paranoia. Well, it’s a trip.
4. Adrenaline, by Deftones
One of the first Nu Metal albums that truly began popularizing the genre and pushing it into the mainstream. Defined today as a collection of great ideas without development and lacking the maturity to shine as they would later.
But of course, we’re talking about a foundational album. Later on, the band would find their sound and perfect it on their following albums, but it’s worth listening to it as a fan to know where they came from and how they started to sound. If you’re not very interested, though, it’s better to approach Deftones through their more mature works.
3. Roots, by Sepultura
We’re talking about the Brazilians for their 1996 album. For many, it’s a mistake, for others, a genius move. Sepultura’s sound was dangerously approaching that of bands like Korn. As such, Roots is hated by the band’s previous fans, who were used to Thrash Metal and now found them as a Nu Metal band.
That said, Roots has a lot of charm, and several of its songs leave you stunned and wanting more.
2. Korn, by Korn
The first album that gave birth to Nu Metal. We’re in 1994. Demos and singles to get noticed were a thing of the past.
For many, the main problem with this album was how it influenced many popular bands within its genre, although when seen on its own merits, it cannot help but evoke bands like Pearl Jam, White Zombie, or Suicidal Tendencies, as is logical when creating a new style.
1. Around the Fur, by Deftones
As we said before, Deftones proved to improve their sound with maturity over the years. Logically and coherently, that comment would lead us here. To the best Nu Metal album.
Deftones’ second album is harder but also more cheerful, centered around a soft whisper and a cold voice that gives this album a very seductive feeling.
Songs like Mascara and Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) are very cold and erotic, while others like My Own Summer (Shove It) and Head Up are pogo anthems.
The Top 20 Most Popular Nu Metal Bands, Beyond Opinions
According to statistics obtained for years by the website last.fm, the most listened to Nu Metal bands are the ones we have listed in the image in this section, as well as in the table of most listened to bands according to that website. While the infographic shows 10 bands, in the table, we decided to show the top 20, as many memorable bands from that era deserve some representation here as well. Otherwise, it would seem like there were only 10 guys playing in the 2000s.
|Position||Bands||Nº of listeners|
Rage Against the Machine
|2.||System of a Down||3.565.474|
The Guilty Pleasures of Tracksuit Metal (or Sweatpants Metal) that No One Wants to Admit Publicly
For this section, we’re going to use the words of the most critical. We believe it’s much funnier this way. In a way, we can’t deny that these songs often have silly or childish lyrics, intended for exalted teenagers.
It’s like the hatred that nu-metal fans also had for emo and the amusement they found in the subcultures that derived from it. The whole tomato in photos to show how sad they were and how they wanted to commit suicide, etc.
4. Smooth Criminal, by Alien Ant Farm
It’s not particularly catchy compared to Michael Jackson’s version. Also, changing the instrumental approach (distorted guitar playing the riff louder than the bass) doesn’t bring anything new to it.
The original had a good buildup in the great funk guitar bridge, but this version barely has dynamic changes. The song doesn’t have great lyrics, no matter who wrote them exactly, but turning it into a fraternity party rock makes it even more useless, whereas Michael’s version seemed to be trying to tell a story of some kind. The Faith (Limp Bizkit) version at least had personality.
Anyway, it’s not among the worst cover versions in history, but it’s unnecessary at best.
3. Nookie, by Limp Bizkit
A cathartic breakup song for guys who still use terms like “cojones” and “give it to the monkey.”
Fred Durst has always been the textbook example of a jerk. A despicable trash that deserves to be forgotten.
Obviously, the song is trash, but it can be fun to listen to from time to time. Like, “Oh my god, this is terrible.”
2. Bawitdaba, by Kid Rock
This song is quite aware of its class and comes from an extreme right-wing artist. It praises sex workers and “misunderstood” drug addicts. It’s still crap over the years.
The blatant commercialism of the time (1999) worked because it became a hit, but it has no redeeming value and doesn’t stand the test of time.
1. Butterfly, by Crazy Town
I’ve always wondered how these guys managed to successfully negotiate using a Red Hot Chili Peppers sample throughout their horrible song. It turns out that Crazy Town and RHCP were under the same management wing at that time (Q Prime Inc., the guys behind Metallica, Def Leppard, and others) and that both groups even toured together during the period when The Gift of Game was released, so it was probably much easier than it should have been to get approval for that sample request. The only acceptable parts of this song come from Pretty Little Ditty. Maybe Flea got another private jet out of the whole deal. If that’s the case, I guess I can forgive the existence of Butterfly.
Actually, who cares, this song still sucks big time. Such lousy lyrics. It’s so commercial that we’re talking about a shopping center, a cardboard cutout with a discount coupon in his pocket, and a hot dog in his hand. I still firmly believe that Limp Bizkit’s appearance officially marked the day commercial radio died, but Crazy Town certainly did their part in pissing on its grave.
Is There a Revival of Rap Metal Today (2023)?
While some people make distinctions between Nu Metal and Rap Metal, in essence, they are the same genre, with noticeable variations for fans of both styles. Following this line, it’s worth noting that Rap Metal has a more prominent rapper as the vocalist.
It also uses a more peculiar instrumentation, focused on riffs and somewhat more routine drum patterns. In other words, there is much less emphasis on the staccato and rapid tempos common in other alternative metal genres.
Obviously, this genre shares many similarities with Rap Rock, but in general, the music is heavier and more aggressive. One could argue that Rap Metal came first and influenced the creation of the Nu Metal genre, but they are distinguishable sonically because the latter doesn’t always incorporate rap. Unlike the latter, Rap Metal might still endure because more people accept it these days.
6 Current Rap Metal and Rap Rock Bands Worth Checking Out
6. Deez Nuts
Deez Nuts is an unapologetic celebration of macho shit. Yes: Deez Nuts is the most stereotypical Nu Metal band in modernity. But it seems like they are not taking themselves seriously, and that’s what’s strange. They seem to be playing with the most obvious clichés. In the end, it’s a band that helps release frustration.
5. Falling In Reverse
Among Falling In Reverse’s most famous songs, one can hear echoes of bands like Linkin Park in some of their best riffs. This is the case with Zombified, which starts and sounds like Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda are about to start screaming, but they don’t. Before releasing that song, they had already shown that they are one of the new bands with elements of Nu Metal to be reckoned with among fans of the subgenre. We can see it in Popular Monster, which also has some Emo touches, but what stands out are those parts where the rap gradually increases the tempo until reaching the final scream. Another big hit from their repertoire, and quite recent, is Voices Of My Head, which also has typical themes of the music discussed here.
4. Prophets of Rage
The supergroup, which didn’t last long, served to bring back rap rock. Formed by three members of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave (bassist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello, and drummer Brad Wilk), two members of Public Enemy (DJ Lord and rapper Chuck D), and rapper B-Real from Cypress Hill.
The band disbanded in 2019, after the confirmation of RATM’s reunion. During their three years of existence, Prophets of Rage released an EP and a full-length studio album.
3. Fever 333
The biggest current debtors to RATM, also the ones who seem to have the most commercial success. Fever 333 merges elements of punk rock and hip-hop, which frontman Jason Aalon Butler described as “rooted in subversion,” citing musical influences such as Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Black Flag, and ideological influences like Mahatma Gandhi, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Their lyrics address both timeless and current political and social consciousness themes such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. Their music has been categorized as rap rock, rapcore, rap metal, and hardcore punk. Some of their songs also feature elements of trap music, which has subsequently been classified as trap metal. And they say rock is dead.
DVSR (Designed Via Strength & Respect) is an Australian rap metal band from southwestern Sydney, New South Wales. They were formed in November 2013 and released their debut studio album D.V.S.R. in November 2015.
While they haven’t released many full-length albums, they have been making noise in our headphones with EPs and singles for some time now.
1. Heaven Shall Burn
Lastly, we recommend this German extreme metal band from Saalfeld, formed in 1996, but still going strong today, having released eight studio albums to date.
Heaven Shall Burn’s musical style has been described as metalcore, melodic death metal, and deathcore, in addition to the obvious inclusion in this article. Their lyrics often express strong support against racism and fascism. They also have lyrics about resistance, oppression, and animal rights. All members are vegans or vegetarians, showing that times change, and not everything is about breakups and heartache.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.