Sound Off

Modest Proposal: It's Time to Rethink Nü-Metal

I have a modest proposal that I doubt many of you will cotton to: It’s time to critically re-evaluate nü-metal.

You remember nü-metal, right? Chugging riffs. Grunted vocals. Big pants. Soul patches. It’s one of the last remaining mutations of rock that no one has bothered to pick up on. But I think it’s high time that we all took a closer look at it. Disturbed are getting back together and that seems as good a reason as any. So let’s re-evaluate it, together.

More than anything else, nü-metal is known for heavy, heavy riffs. Granted, there’s not a lot of complexity there. The riffs tend to sound like they were composed by a gorilla who was handed a guitar for the first time. And while there are some definite technical standouts (Wes Borland is pretty much the Steve Vai of nu metal), for the most part, you don’t like nü-metal if you’re a guy who likes flashy, technical guitar work.

But maybe that’s precisely what makes nü-metal so great. It’s not that there’s no place in the world for a Yes record. Hell, I own a bunch of that stuff. I’m even a big partial to the whole “flute rock” end of prog. On the other hand, I appreciate (probably even more so) basic, crunching rock riffs that send your testicles aflutter and have you looking to get in the pit and try to love someone. What’s more, while anyone can learn a few scales inside and out and shred, it’s a lot harder to write an effective track that basically uses one chord over and over again.

It’s a visceral artform. And visceral is precisely what we need in a landscape occupied by indie folk, twee pop and embarrassing pretensions. It’s no mistake that virtually any nu metal track sounds like it might be ring music from the WWE’s Attitude Era, before they took the “F” out. Stick on a track by Drowning Pool or Mudvayne and see if you can’t imagine yourself pointing out at an audience pumped on you picking up the Intercontinental strap in a ladder match.
Okay, so the riffs aren’t all that challenging. But that simplicity of composition is precisely what has forced nu metal bands to find other ways to set themselves apart from the pack. So it might be Fred Durst’s raps. It might be the post-Marilyn Manson take on shock rock that Slipknot brought us. Or it might be Static-X’s nods to disco. But unlike other idioms of rock music, you’re probably not going to confuse one nu metal band for another. Especially not if you’re looking at a picture.

Then there’s the small matter of sound effects. DJ Lethal’s solos on the turntables are arguably more interesting than what Wes Borland was doing on his guitar, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. But when it seemed like there was nowhere else left for rock to go, nü-metal found a few remaining nooks and crannies. You couldn’t just pick up a guitar and bash away. You needed a guy who knew a thing or two about sampling, programming and — dare I say it? — soundscapes to pass in that realm.

It’s been about 10 years since nü-metal’s inevitable fall from grace as the flavor of the month in rock 'n' roll. That means we’re primed not just for a critical reappraisal, but also a revival. So if your band doesn’t have a DJ already, you're too damn late.  
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