Some like me who got into Metal with Korn, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit look back on these days and shudder every time someone mentions baggie pants, white guys with dreadlocks or the annoying calm and loud dynamic that nu metal made its own. Although there is nothing wrong with the idea of mixing diverse style with Metal since it’s the root of normal musical evolution, Nu metal bands took to the idea as a cut-and-paste technique where the sole juxtaposition of two stereotypes is supposed to cause a revolution. Basically, bands like Ill Nino, Soulfly or Ektomorph created the equivalent of the worst of World music.
Although most of these bands were at least formed by people who embraced the heritage of their families instead of being formed by a group of white guys who stumbled on a reggae album, the concept of mixing these influences with Metal was limited to the most stereotypical elements of each culture. Take down tuned riffs, add some double bass drums, sing, and scream and you got yourself a « Metal » attitude. Unlike bands such as Negura Bunget or Orphaned Land who embraced two cultures to create a sound that is as personal as it is musically progressive, Ill Nino or Soulfly summed up Latin American music to a couple of notes and musical instruments. I could also go on and on about how the utmost majority of frontman who wanted to rap misunderstood completely the delivery, and the culture, they were trying to re-create but I think the evidence speaks for itself.
However, limiting Nu metal to this abomination would be forgetting about the biggest fraud the genre has created: the need to legitimize some form of childhood trauma to be able to look scared and sensitive on promo shots and get some press out of supposed or legitimate abuse. Not only did it turned what was at first a legitimate need for catharsis on Korn‘s first album into a marketing method directed towards teenagers in need of any form of identification, it also gave an excuse to thousands of white boys over the world to feel like they had suffered some terrible problems when a girlfriend broke up with them in high school or when their parents refused to buy them a brand new car.
Nu metal miserabilism is, in my opinion, the worst plague that ever existed in modern music. Twisting the perception of white middle-class teenagers that any issues affecting them in their teenage years would become an ongoing problem in their adult life strangled the voice of reasonably more important subjects such as politics, racism, homophobia, sexism… While the indie side of Metal with bands such as Tool, Rage Against the Machine or Pearl Jam took on larger issue and brought it to the MTV masses, nu metal redirected the attention of teenage inside themselves instead of outside. Now, there is nothing wrong about talking about personal problems and writing songs about them, but when your whole career revolves around the first world problem you are dealing with, it becomes comical. Yes, I’m talking about Jonathan Davis from Korn if you had not already guessed. A band I used to admire but who turned into a parody of themselves so quickly that they discredited their own material by chasing continuously the idea that they need to return to the sound they started with instead of evolving (also, when the evolution sounds like the material on Follow the leader, you might be tempted to forgive their need to get away from that).
All of this might make Nu metal looks like the worst thing you could imagine but it is actually making a comeback. Youngsters are embracing their love for the down-tuned presumed heaviness of seven strings guitars, whiny melodic vocal and controversial lyrics parents will hate. As for the people who lived through these years, they now look back with some nostalgia towards their teenage years and think that « it wasn’t all bad ». Sure, it wasn’t. Sepultura‘s Roots still has some pretty good songs… when they’re played by somebody else than Max Cavalera and Deftones continues to release quality albums, but that does not mean Coal Chamber or Mudvayne should be invited back to the party! Don’t try to justify the lack of judgement of your teenage years. Accept your mistakes and move on. It’s better than trying to pretend that there was nothing wrong with one of the worst musical genre of the nineties.