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  THE SECOND COMING OF NU-METAL

Michael Downie

michael downie

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Let me set the scene for you. It's 1999, you're a reasonably well adjusted teenager with nothing to really worry about in your life and that's just fine. You turn on MTV (back when it actually played music) and you happen across a music video. There's a white guy, wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round and proclaiming how bad a day he's having. It's new, you've not heard this kind of thing before. You watch longer, more bands, more like this. Over night you start spiking your hair, wearing baggy jeans and basketball jerseys. You were officially caught by Nu-Metal.

Yes, Nu-Metal, the subgenre that strikes terror into bands and stirs up vitriol from the elitist Metal fans. From 1995 to about 2004 you couldn't turn on Kerrang! or MTV2 without being assaulted by simple low tuned riffs, rapping and baggy clothing. It was a cultural phenomenon that I have to admit, I became swept up in and served many a teenager as a route into Metal. Great relief was had in the mid 2000s when it seemed like the genre had died, but the evidence dictates that it's about to come back around for a second stab at the big time.

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Whatever your opinion of nu-Metal, you cannot deny that it was massively successful. Korn were huge back in the day, shifting hundreds of thousands of copies of albums when they were released, Limp Bizkit broke the record for the fastest selling rock album in America when they shifted 1.3 million copies of 'Chocolate Starfish & The Hotdog Flavoured Water' in a week. Papa Roach have scored a platinum accolade for 'Infest' and Linkin Park had their royalty cheques delivered on flatbed trucks, the amount was so great.

But as quickly as it became popular, the Metal buying public (fickle as they are) changed their minds and the popularity dropped like a stone. According to the lovely people at Wikipedia, Papa Roach's 'Infest' album sold seven million copies and was certified triple platinum after just a year of release, whereas their followup release in 2002, 'Lovehatetragedy', sold a (comparably) paltry one million copies and only achieved Gold status. Now, any other band would consider the sales of 'Lovehatetragedy' to be a massive success, it is still considered a failure compared to the phenomenal sales figures of 'Infest'.

So what changed? Well, in my opinion, nothing really. The bands weren't evolving in their sound or their composition and frankly, it became very samey. The unrivalled hype around the whole genre is what killed it off in the first place.

Much as nu-Metal is derided throughout the Metal scene, it would be very unfair to deny what a massive impact that it had for Metal as a whole. The crossover between rap and rock had been done before, but it had never reached out in quite the same way. Take Limp Bizkit's odd collaboration from their second album, 'N 2 Gether Now'. 'Method Man' from seminal gangsta rap group The Wu Tang Clan joined up for the decidedly un-Metal, heavily rap orientated track which was released as a single and with a video doing full circuits around MTV. It crossed over with fans of both rap and Metal in the same way that Aerosmith's collaboration with Run DMC had done back in the 80s. It helped Limp Bizkit build their fanbase significantly and tapped into an audience who would have never normally listened to them otherwise.

Other bands benefitted from the genre. Machine Head dabbled with nu-Metal elements on their poorly received album 'Supercharger', with Robb Flynn experimenting with simpler beats and riffs while rapping more than he would sing or scream as he had on past albums.

Part of the backlash, admittedly was the debut of lead single 'Crashing Around You' on September 11th 2001, featuring a video where the band played in front a background showing the New York City skyline on fire. Clearly not the band's fault but the events of that day obviously didn't help their promotion of the album.

The change was upsetting to the majority of their fanbase, who hated the album and declared it a major misstep for the band, who were then subsequently dropped from Roadrunner Records due to poor sales. However, the benefit for Machine Head was the exposure they gained from the young nu-Metal fans (such as myself) who were dabbling in Metal for probably the first time. Their back catalogue sales increased and when RR subsequently re-signed them and released their stunning comeback album, 'Through The Ashes Of Empires', the band began to reach heights they would have never reached before 'Supercharger'.

As the genre initially died off, some bands folded, others disappeared into relative obscurity (for instance Staind or Puddle Of Mudd) and others managed to weather the storm and develop. Linkin Park have had incredible success due to their constant evolution away from angsty young men with an axe to grind to considered songwriters and musicians. They're about as far away from Metal as you can get, but if you listen through their back catalogue you can hear a constant evolution and a determination to become more than their original label.

Papa Roach are still going, again significantly growing up in terms of their subject matter and lyrics and their very swift insistence that vocalist Jacoby Shaddix was a singer, not a rapper and from 'Lovehatetragedy' onwards they've all but done away with the rapping completely, becoming more of an alternative Metal band, rather than nu-Metal.

For the last seven years or so it has appeared that nu-Metal was dead and buried. None of the key bands in the genre were playing it any more or had split up and gone their separate ways. Until now that is.

Nu-Metal appears to be making a resurgence. Last year, Limp Bizkit released their first album in seven years or so with the (in my opinion) terrible 'Gold Cobra', in which Fred Durst and co were back and at their most noisy and obnoxious. Spineshank are back with a new album, Staind scored a top five charting entry for their newest self-titled effort last year too. So why now? Why is nu-Metal all of a sudden trying to be cool again?

It's hard to identify a single reason for nu-Metal bands trying to break out again. A lot could be said for the popularity of dubstep creating space for these bands to break back through. Dubstep crosses a lot of boundaries between fans of dance music and Metal, they share a lot of common composition techniques and stylistic ideas. Nu-Metal became popular initially based on the fusion of rap with Metal and some Metal bands are now embracing dubstep too. Korn's last album 'Path Of Totality' was so heavily influenced by dub step producers such as Skrillex, it really shouldn't be considered a Metal album at all.

For me, Staind's return was the biggest surprise of them all. Their self-titled album was a mile away from the song that made them a hit in the last decade, the mournful 'Outside'. It still held a lot of nu-Metal hallmarks, the chunky, syncopated riffs, the lack of guitar solos and even had some rapping (in the form of a very ill-advised guest appearance from Snoop Dogg). It did well, surprisingly enough, especially in the American market where it jumped to number five in the billboard charts.

It could also be down to the number of high profile reformations of popular bands that have been trending over the last half a decade or so. As I said before, a lot of nu-Metal bands had split up when the genre died, some going on to bigger and better things in other bands. Some remained in a constant state of flux. Adema, who scored a hit with 'The Way You Like It' back in 2001 have remained as a unit, shifting line-up many, many times, but they are in a position where new music looks like it is possible to be released. Spineshank managed to patch up stylistic issues with their lead singer and have a new album, 'Anger Denial Acceptance', out next week. Hell, even One Minute Silence are reformed and planning new material.

Another reason I can attribute to nu-Metal bands coming back to the fold is the relative cost of making an album has changed these days. For one, it is much cheaper to get professional quality recordings made in a home-studio context. Bands with DJs can use iPod loaded decks or CD decks for scratching and samples, rather than having to pay a small fortune for a couple of custom vinyl to be cut.

Promotion can be much cheaper with clever manipulation of social media. It has been proved many a time how powerful Facebook, Twitter and Myspace can be if they are used properly. Distribution models have changed entirely too. Whereas before a band would need a recording contract and a publishing deal to get their music out to the public along with a huge expense to have CDs made, sites like Bandcamp and Reverbnation allow bands to sell digital and physical copies of their work directly to fans without having to worry about ordering a warehouse worth of stock. iTunes and Amazon music stores have allowed direct distribution of music to fans in an easy and convenient manner and services like Spotify are easy and pretty much free forms of advertising to bands.

For the bands who are determined to make proper discs and sell them, cloud funding prospects like Kickstarter and Pledge Music allow fans to preorder the album before it is made, the money directly going to the band and to the cost of producing the product. This can save a band from having to repay a label's excess and helps increase the level of interaction between the fans and the bands. Perennial noisemakers Earthtone9 are in the process of crowd funding for their new album on the back of a successful pledge drive last year to release their comeback EP. They have proved that the process works and can be incredibly successful.

Altogether, it might just be one of those aberrations in the music industry which has led to so many nu-Metal bands making a comeback. It might be a collection of the points I've made above, but without asking everyone who makes and buys nu-Metal, it's going to be almost impossible to define with any degree of finality.

What can be said though is that nu-Metal appears to have never died as many thought it had; it just remained in the background. Like all trends in Metal (or the wider music scene for that matter), it looks like the cycle is ready to start again. It happens all the time, Metal-core has been a big thing for a long time, progressive Metal is very fashionable at the minute and thrash has been building some serious momentum for the last couple of years. It's not inconceivable that nu-Metal is coming back entirely naturally rather than with any level of label endorsement or fortuitous timing.

That said, as my own tastes have changed, so will have the majority of the fans who made nu-Metal so huge in the first place. The bands who are coming back, or breaking out as new entities in nu-Metal have to change it up a bit and roll with the times. I don't think "I did it all for the nookie, the nookie, so you can take that cookie” will fly as well this time round.

18.6.12


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