In a decade now best remembered for trends that suffocatingly enveloped one another, nu metal may well be the most infamous of them all. Filled with baggy-jeaned, backwards-hat-wearing types (hello, Fred Durst) who conjured the full gamut of emotions, from eternal sadness to hyper-illicit wrath, nu metal set the stage for a generation of angst-filled musical fans to groan, moan and sob along with.
Of course, 12 or 12,000 of you might be wondering aloud, “What is nu metal?” And to be honest, with all the shade that’s been thrown its way, combined with the fact that many of the bands labeled as such are so different… it’s a bit difficult to define. But if we were to try, we’d say: nu metal combines elements of heavy metal and hip-hop with syncopated layers, dense guitars and gloomy (but not really doomy) down-tuned guitars.
Oh, and there are bits of grunge, funk and just about everything else mixed in there. And, for better or worse, we should mention the general aggression and anger that seems to run rampant through nu metal. Sounds fun, right?
The guttural music of the all-too-short nu metal era will forever be trapped in a vacuum of the ’90s, with those who lived through it being the genre’s willing (or unwilling) victims. Though it’s not always taken seriously, it’s also not to be taken lightly. What follows are 10 late-’90s nu metal albums worth a second listen. Or something like that.
10. The Fundamental Elements of Southtown – P.O.D. (1999)
Before Youth of a Nation came along after Y2K, Christian-meets-nu-metal outfit P.O.D.’s finest hour was 1999’s The Fundamental Elements of Southdown. With rage-filled yet altruistic visions relayed through platinum-selling hits like Southdown, it was easy to get down with Marcos Curiel’s chugging, atmospheric licks.
Also of note: this record includes a trapped-in-time cover of U2’s Bullet the Blue Sky, which, if nothing else, is a curiosity worth hearing at least once.
9. Tonight the Stars Revolt! – Powerman 5000 (1999)
Fueled by guitar duo M.33 and Adam 12, Powerman 5000’s Tonight the Stars Revolt! was a weapon of mass destruction, yet brimming with suffocatingly sweet hooks. The group was unique if only for their apparent obsession with all things sci-fi en route to their biggest hit, When Words Collide.
8. Coal Chamber – Coal Chamber (1997)
Coal Chamber were early torchbearers for an impending nu metal scene, along with a few others. Released on the genre’s commercial peak precipice, 1997’s Coal Chamber obtained gold status, but the band has been mostly forgotten since.
Never a group to dazzle, instead, tracks such as Sway found the L.A. natives brandishing an uber-simplistic approach, as evidenced by Miguel Rascón’s rudimentary yet effective Telecaster-driven methods.
7. Soulfly – Soulfly (1998)
Soulfly have been known to genre-hop over the years, but for their 1997 debut, the group shined with a period-correct approach steeped in nu metal splendor.
Jackson Bandeira and Max Cavalera trade guitar tricks throughout Soulfly, but most interesting about this record is the array of guest stars scattered throughout. What self-respecting nu metal aficionado wouldn’t love a roster featuring Dino Cazares, Chino Moreno and Fred Durst?
6. Dysfunction – Staind (1999)
Nu metal suffers from several disorders, the most unfortunate of which is that some (OK, many) people don’t take it entirely seriously. But that was never an issue for Springfield, Massachusetts act Staind.
With Mike Mushok handling the fretwork, Staind were musically sound, but what truly set them apart was Aaron Lewis’ stark lyrics, which covered just every grizzly subject one could imagine. Pair that with semi-deranged cover art and you’ve got a recipe for a nu metal-driven nightmare.
5. Around the Fur – Deftones (1997)
The members of Deftones – notably guitarist Stephen Carpenter – are evasive when asked about their foray into nu metal. They’ve stepped away from the genre for the most part, but in the late ’90s, few did it better, a trick on full display via 1997’s platinum-selling Around the Fur.
In truth, Deftones are often thought of as a cut above the rest of the field, and it’s with good reason, considering Carpenter’s ringing open strings, dissonant voicings and deafening use of power chords in his rhythms.
4. Slipknot – Slipknot (1999)
Widely considered one of the better metal albums of the past 25 years, it’s no surprise to see Slipknot’s 1999 self-titled effort still soaking up ink in rock’s back pages. Though classified as “nu metal,” Slipknot also indulged their desires for expansiveness, injecting healthy doses of death, thrash, industrial and speed metal into the nu metal mix.
Purity and Frail Limb Nursery are remembered for issues pertaining to copyright infringement but are lasting just the same. Problems aside, Corey Taylor showed his mettle as a songsmith, and Mick Thomson, Jim Root and Josh Brainard’s attack on guitar was nothing short of seismic.
3. Devil Without a Cause – Kid Rock (1998)
You didn’t think we’d make it out of here without mentioning Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba, did you? And who could forget what would become a harbinger of country rap and cowboy metal, the indomitable Cowboy?
Say what you will about Kid Rock’s value as a songwriter, Devil Without a Cause dominated radio waves and MTV alike in the late summer of 1998, en route to fame, fortune and, yes, infamy. Far from a guitarist’s delight, Kid Rock’s backing band, Twisted Brown Trucker (featuring Jason Krause and Kenny Olson) is, at the very least, a semi-memorable duo capable of crafting tidy riffs.
2. Significant Other – Limp Bizkit (1999)
Netflix’s 2022 documentary Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 vividly reminded fans that Break Stuff was indeed the mantra for Limp Bizkit. Considering its rage-filled lyrical themes, which inspired the masses to tear plywood from the walls of outdoor concert venues and crowd surf to their destiny, yeah… you could say Significant Other was critical to the nu metal movement. And if we’re being honest, Wes Borland is one of the few actual guitar heroes in a genre that’s a bit lacking in said department.
1. Follow the Leader – Korn (1998)
It didn’t matter where you were; there was no escaping Korn’s 1998 magnum opus. The album was popular from the get-go on the strength of Freak on a Leash. And the accompanying Family Values Tour was a boon, carrying Korn to nine MTV Video Music Award nominations and one Grammy nod.
In retrospect, Jonathan Davis’ depressing yet at times awe-inspiring lyrics, bookended by Head and Munky’s effects-filled guitar heroics, made Follow the Leader a pillar of nu metal. In a genre defined by tortured souls and savage imagery, Korn gifted the masses with a record to yelp to at ear-splitting volumes.