Nu-metal is possibly metal’s most ridiculed genre (only glam metal receives as much scorn). Frankly, you can see why. From the frequently terrible rapping to the childish lyrics to the silly fashion styles to the cartoonishly adolescent posturing there is a lot to dislike. And that is not to mention all the Frat boy misogyny and, well, anything to do with Fred Durst. However, it wasn’t all bad. Don’t believe me? Well, why not check out my nu-metal top 20 and see:
Okay, let’s get this one out of the way. I don’t like Disturbed. Never have, never will. To say their music is dumb is an understatement. Now, you could say that was true of a lot of nu-metal and you would be right. But there is nobody else who presented quite as pretentiously as Disturbed did. Despite that, Down with the Sickness is an undeniable nu-metal anthem. Also, I am sure I would get a lot of flak for leaving it off the list. So here it is, I hope you are happy.
Kid Rock is an idiot. One who has jumped on various bandwagons over the years, nu-metal just being one. And let’s not even get into his many problematic opinions. However, despite much of his output being rubbish, he got round to making a couple of nu-metal gems. Some would argue American Badass is better, but I think this effort is superior. From its “My name is Kiiiiid!!” opening to its nonsensical chorus everything about makes it a goofy delight and the best thing Kid Rock has ever put out.
Hed (PE) were one of nu-metals lesser lights who remain little known outside the States. By far their biggest hit was Bartender, and it is that song you can usually find on other equivalent lists counting down the sub-genre’s best singles. However, for this writer’s money it is this track remains their pinnacle. Singer Jared Gomes getting to show off both his powerful metal scream and his smooth rap skills. This song also provides a perfect distillation of their reggae-tinged nu-metal sound.
Saliva are a band who are frequently written off for putting out meat-headed, dumb metal anthems even by nu-metal enthusiasts. Is this song any different? Nope it definitely isn’t. It is 100% a brazenly dumb fratty anthem. However, in its defence, it is bloody catchy. There is something undeniably infectious about that chorus, and it is difficult to resist singing along any time it plays in a metal club. Plus, any early noughties wrestling fan (like myself) is bound to have a certain nostalgia for this, and other Saliva songs, as it was inescapable at the time.
Over the course of their career, Alien Ant Farm have produced little in the way of great stuff. And were definitely on the nu-metal B (or maybe even C) list. That said, they produced two cracking singles. One being their Michael Jackson cover Smooth Criminal and this being the other. The former may have been the bigger hit, but this… It is a perfect slice of pop-metal and was a breath of fresh air proving nu-metal didn’t need to be angsty and aggressive all the time but could also be goofy and fun.
Talking of the more positive side of nu-metal here comes P.O.D’s uplifting anthem in at number 15 on the list. In some respect neither track nor band should work as Christianity and metal rarely mix well. But there is something undeniably stirring about Sonny Sandoval’s gut-punch vocal on this. Add to that an eminently chantable chorus and a catchy-as-hell guitar hook from Marcos Curiel, and you have something great. Little wonder this is both their most popular track and their regular set-closer.
Static X are a splendid example of the weird varied umbrella of nu-metal was, as the band are essentially an industrial metal act with nu-metal trimmings. Anyway, I am still including them for this belter. Push It was their very first and best single (although the likes of I’m With Stupid, Black and White and Cold are good too). Its shredding guitars, driving 4/4 beat and the sadly no longer with us Wayne Static’s raw vocals make it an absolute beast of a track.
For good or ill, no band is more emblematic of nu-metal than Limp Bizkit. Simultaneously, being a key example of the subgenre and representing all the things people hate about it. From the mediocre rap to the turntable stylings to the bratty self-aggrandising/self-pitying attitude. Rollin’ is pretty much peak Bizkit as it is gloriously dumb metal anthem. But does that stop me throwing my hands up when it’s on? Hell, no. Oh yeah, it also the only nu-metal single to reach number 1 in the Official UK charts. Not a sign of quality, but it shows how much nu-metal had entered the mainstream by 2000.
American Head Charge are another band where it is debatable how much of a nu-metal act they were. Much like Static-X, they are largely an industrial metal act. However, there are enough nu-metal elements to keep them on the list. Also, I wanted to highlight them as they are easily one of the most underrated acts of the nu-metal era. This track, their only single, is a vicious slab of nu-metal tinged industrial. But it is the way it gets the quiet/loud dynamic just right that makes it special. Going between primal howls and pummelling drums and it is beautiful swooning chorus.
You have to feel sorry for Mudvayne. They always seemed to get accused of ripping somebody off. Their face-painted look led to unfavourable comparisons to Slipknot and their tech-metal leanings to some unfavourable comparisons to Tool. Again, while on the weirder side of nu-metal, they still (just) fit into the subgenre. Most people will tell you the excellent bass-driven Dig is their best single, but I disagree. Instead, I have gone for this track which also has a sweet bass line, vicious guitars and a wonderfully weird mid-track vocal meltdown from singer Chad Gray.
Now it was difficult to pick which of Linkin Park’s singles to go with here as all four singles (One Step Closer, Papercut, Crawling and In the End) from Hybrid Theory are nu-metal gold. However, it is this second single from their second album that shows them at the absolute peak of their powers. Also, this is definitely the track to play anyone who writes the band off as being “boy-band metal” as Faint is harder, faster and punkier than anything they did before or since. When the sadly deceased Chester Bennington roars, “I won’t be ignored” you believe him and you would be a fool to ignore this gem.
“Let the bodies hit floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the….FLOOOOOR!” And so goes what is one of nu-metal’s most iconic opening salvos and the beginning of Drowning Pool’s biggest and best hit. Sure we have steered back into the more lunk-headed side of nu-metal but there is a reason this song has appeared in various film soundtracks, ads, tv shows and, of course, wrestling. That reason being as repetitive and silly as it may be, that chorus is an infectious mix of effects laden guitar, stomping drumbeat and chantable lyrics and that makes for a moshpit classic.
Coal Chamber are amongst nu-metal’s more underrated acts. Back when their first album came out in ’97 they were often written off as Korn copyists. While there is a grain of truth to that, it is also a little harsh. Also, while it is fair to say they were inconsistent, they have a clutch of great tracks, of which Loco is the best (although Sway isn’t far behind). Its greatness stems from the spine-tinglingly sinister opening riff and Dez Fafara’s unhinged vocal performance. When Dez sings over and over “me loco!” you goddamn believe him!
As mentioned, many bands ill-fit the nu-metal tag however no band hated having that tag more than Deftones did as they always seemed to want distance themselves from that label. However, they remain one of the most iconic early proponents of nu-metal, and this is their most iconic nu-metal anthem. It’s made by a snaking sinister central guitar riff and Chino Moreno’s vocal performance, which goes from distorted creepy whisper to primal howls to sweetly melodic and back again. They would eventually move away from this sound, but the song shares common traits with all the Deftones best work in that it’s beautiful, experimental and brutal.
Last Resort was Papa Roach’s breakout hit and remains, 20 years on, their biggest and best song to date. In fact, it wouldn’t be overstating to say it may just be the ultimate teen angst metal anthem. A key part of the song’s appeal coming down to the raw emotion of the lyrics and Jacoby Shaddix vocal performance. There are several other metal songs that deal with suicide, but rarely with this level of vulnerability. Plus, it backs those emotions with a catchy-as-hell guitar hook, a formula that not only makes it a nu metal classic but a song that still resonates with metal misfits to this day.
1999 was a simpler time. Back then Eminem, Marilyn Manson and, you guessed it, Slipknot were the greatest threats to western civilization. Or so certain media outlets would lead you to believe. This was the song that introduced the band to the world and while, maybe, not their greatest song, it is their most quintessential nu-metal anthem (like a few on this list the band would diverge from their original nu-metal sound). It is easy to see why too, as everything from Corey Taylor’s vocals (both clean and growling) to Joey Jordison powerful drumming to the guitar hook to that mid-song turntable breakdown are just perfect and set the band on the path to become one of the 21st Century’s biggest metal acts.
Of all the odd fits in nu-metal System of a Down where the oddest. Most others loosely fit a subcategory within the genre be it the industrial nu-metallers (American Head Charge, Static X) or the original alt-metallers (Korn, Deftones) or the rap metallers (Limp Bizkit, Hed (PE)). System however completely defied categorisation playing their own oddball version of nu-metal, most of which is glorious, particularly on their first two records. Chop Suey is probably their defining anthem and features all their finest qualities, from the odd time signatures to the wacky lyrics to Serj Tankian’s eccentric vocal performance. Plus, their classic move of welding vicious metal breakdowns with a sweet pop hook.
“Are you ready?! “yells singer Jonathan Davis at the start of this song. It is a stirring statement of intent on a song that not only introduced the band but the metal world to a new sound. There really is no way to overstate this track’s importance on nu-metal as it set down the original template from the dark emotional lyrical themes to downtuned guitars to the mix of harsh and melodic vocals the list goes on. It is possibly something of indictment that the first nu-metal single is also one of the subgenre’s finest hours (well, four and a bit minutes). But putting that to one side, even outside of its influence, this track is a stone-cold metal classic which can go toe-to-toe with any classic metal anthem.
2 Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff
Fred is mad and he ain’t going to take it no more! If ever there was a metal anthem that perfectly represented stroppy adolescence, then this is it. Here is a song filled to the brim with all the key Bizkit ingredients; macho swagger, unjustified rage and topped with a dollop of self-pity. It also the perfect song to put on when you have had a bad day and just want to throw a tantrum. Plus, be sure to check out the video which features angry adolescents, skateboarding, random celebrity cameos (Snoop Dogg, Jonathan Davis, Eminem, Dr Dre…eh…Pauly Shore), backward caps and dodgy sexual politics making it peak 1999. The only downside to what is a very fun, if silly, song is if the Alt-Right had a theme tune, this would probably be it.
1 Korn – Freak on a Leash
For many Blind will always be Korn’s greatest song, but for me it will always be this song. Why? Well, part of it is this is the track that first made me a Korn fan. However, much more than this is quite possibly the best metal song about being a teen misfit. Yeah, it may not be that lyrically deep, but it gets to the heart of that feeling being out of place in a direct way that metal-loving misfits everywhere can resonate with. Also, it is just a gloriously weird song as musically it is a bit oddball but then things get really eccentric when Jonathan Davis just starts singing gibberish as he repeats “Da boom na da noom na namena” over and over until going back into the song. So for flying the freak flag and just being a great headbanging anthem Freak on a Leash is my No 1.