15 Years On – Was Nu-Metal The Last Musical Tribe?

It was barely 11am when I saw him: a mud-splattered trench coat over his orange Slipknot boiler suit, using one hand to prop himself against a grid-iron fence as he violently threw up, and, hilariously, throwing devil horns in the air with the other. He was maybe in his late 20s and, if the puddle of black bile circling his mosher boots was anything to go by, had spent the previous evening celebrating the eve of another Download festival with more than a few Jagermeisters. “Are you alright, mate?” I went over to ask. Before I could finish my sentence, with sick dripping from his beard, he roared back: “SLIPKNOOOOOOT!” Sure, he’d just vommed up the contents of his stomach like someone was trying to exorcise his entire intestines but what did it matter? Corey Taylor and has band of masked nu-metal riff-slingers would be hitting the main stage in just ten hours’ time.


A bit like that dude, nu-metal is somehow still standing. And not just at Download either, where you’d expect it. This year’s Reading and Leeds festival saw System of a Down and Deftones from that late ‘90s scene entertain huge main stage crowds. Then of course there’s Skrillex, whose womping dubstep noises – you know, the one that sounds like someone hitting a car alarm with a lightsaber – aren’t a million miles away from the grinding low-end rumbles he once made in his old band From First To Last, who cropped up towards the end of nu-metal. Speaking of old bands, Sleigh Bells returned with a new track this month, guitarist Derek Edward Miller riffs still containing the bombast of his former outfit Poison the Well, who sat on the peripheries of nu-metal. Linkin Park continue to pack out stadiums across the world, Avenged Sevenfold, another post-nu-metal act, recently scored their first UK Number 1 album and earlier this month nu-metal pioneers Korn – whose seminal album ‘Follow The Leader’ dragged the genre into mainstream view in 1998, shifted 14m copies worldwide – announced they’re bringing back their famous Family Values Tour – 15 years on since the original – featuring Limp Bizkit, Rammstein, Deftones and more, for one night only in the US. Is nu-metal attempting a comeback?


The idea of a second coming for the genre will agonise the music press, who widely chastised the genre first time around. They balked at its dumb lyrics about shoving cookies “up your ass” (poet laureate and keen hygienist Fred Durst, there). They sneered at its clumsy mix of rap and rock, chuckling bewildered as grown men hurled angsty rhymes about their childhoods at power chords. They – perhaps rightly – criticised its sexual politics, with women widely sidelined as “bitches” (but no more so than in hip-hop). Was nu-metal really so bad, though? Slipknot’s ‘Iowa’ was a white-knuckle ride into darkness, singer Corey Taylor’s scream like detonating two tonnes of TNT in your brain. Limp Bizkit didn’t need intellectualism: they were (and still are, I guess) a wrecking ball crew of Snakebite-soaked caveman rock with more tongue-in-cheek humour than went observed (as if someone could name an album ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water’ without). And in what other genre could four Armenian oddballs rallying against political oppression in far-off nations headline festivals to 70,000 people? System of a Down are proof that nu-metal is more open-minded than many credited it.


In a lot of ways it was western civilisation’s last real youth movement. There are still young rock fans, and always will be, but nu-metal was a phenomenon that swept the US, Europe and beyond. The tabloid furore exceeded the panic over the emo fad that followed years later, with the likes of the Daily Mail accusing bands like Papa Roach of glamorising self-harm. These days, there’s fewer tribes in music, with little divide between rock, dance and hip-hop. At Reading and Leeds, crowds would waltz from System of a Down on the main stage into the dance arena. People like variety now, you might say. It’s good there’s no warring chavs and moshers, you might suggest. On the other hand, you could argue youth culture has been melted down into more of a big boring homogenised gloop. Tribes like the “greebos” of nu-metal are part of a British tradition that peaked with mods and rockers. Being kitted out in my oversized Deftones hoody as a teen gave me a real feeling of belonging. When you’re awkwardly navigating adolescence, struggling to fit in at school and with train-track braces glued to your teeth, and suddenly there’s a sort of music that gives you a sense of identity, that means something.

It may get a bad rap but, to paraphrase Linkin Park, in the end it doesn’t really matter – nu-metal it seems is here to stay, and could even be facing a revival. So dig out your baggy jeans, get your studded belts at the ready and put those devil horns in the air. Just try not to throw up everywhere.