How Incubus Survived Nu-Metal

So when did metal bands decide it was a good idea to have a DJ? Who decided that since metal was cool and funk was cool, they would be twice as cool when you put them together? And why did so many angry young dudes relate to this thinking so strongly for a few years from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s? It's a question that's been puzzling people for years – how did the onslaught of nu-metal happen, and why did it take so long for us to realize it was just a bad idea?

There isn't a reasonable answer to most of these questions, and most rock historians are still trying to pretend the whole nu-metal thing didn't happen, just as they tried to wish it away as it was happening. But one thing nu-metal fans have in common with metal fans in general is their loyalty – even the most hapless '80s hair metal act can still bring out fans on the club circuit or as part of a package tour playing the sheds each summer, and second-tier New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands can still bring a small but hearty pack of admirers out when they come to the States.

This may help explain why one of the major "bands with turntablists" acts, Incubus, is still on the road and has a significant fan following 20 years after they released their first album. Their fans loved 1997's S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and 1999's Make Yourself, and on the other side of the century, they'll still show up to cheer on their heroes. But it's worth noting Incubus was also a good bit smarter and more eclectic than many of the other bands that were at the top of the nu-metal heap during its glory years near the end of the 20th century. Unlike Korn, they could sound playful and lyrically diverse – Incubus often performed acoustic based songs with pop-leaning melodies and consistently make them work (and even scored hits with them, like "Drive" and "Black Heart Inertia"). Unlike Limp Bizkit, they didn't hate most of the people walking around the planet (or at least their songs didn't reflect such an attitude), and their frontman, Brandon Boyd, could actually charm people if he felt the need. Unlike Rage Against the Machine (who didn't have a DJ, but Tom Morello tried to make us forget that), they had the internal focus to hold things together when stardom hit.
And Incubus had the good sense to musically evolve – unlike most of their peers, the band always had threads of prog rock and art rock wound through the dirty guitars and hard rhythms, as well as a sense of dynamics that allowed them to work in loud and quiet modes. And on albums like 2004's A Crow Left of the Murder and 2006's Light Grenades, they included some savvy flashes of electronic music to the mix, though they still sounded like Incubus. Incubus may have been one of the major acts during Nu Metal's day in the sun, but they never let the boundaries of the sound confine them, which is one of the reasons why they can still tour a fill a house today, while Fred Durst is directing commercials for eHarmony. And since they released a new EP in May, Trust Fall (Side A), for a new label (Island, after spending most of their career at Sony), they may still have some new tricks up their sleeve, no small accomplishment for a band with more than two decades under their belt.
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Mark Deming
Contact: Mark Deming