Let us just begin with the statement that, frankly, this was one of the more difficult articles we’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of writing. Nu-metal, the dread-headed stepchild of 90’s hip hop, grunge, and heavy metal, has been making somewhat of a comeback. For instance, there’s a host of new breeds like Code Orange, Tetrarch, and Vein. We also have a resurgence of old-guard, household names this year from bands like Limp Bizkit, Mudvayne, and Korn.
So, in the face of all that, we’ve spent the last month prodding the old wounds and embarrassing moments that made up the soundtrack to our early teens – and we were actually kind of surprised by the journey. As we mentioned before, there were some… challenging moments. We had to reconcile with a lot of questionable narratives sprinkled throughout the lyrics, and that’s when they’d ahem Break the Cycle of merely repeating colloquial cliches. We ground our teeth and convinced ourselves that we’d never heard of Drop-D tuning – not to mention the same exact riffs pummeling our ear drums over and over again. And we sat through a veritable shit-storm of uninspired Alice In Chains covers.
But underneath all of this millennial baggage, we rediscovered some real gems. Nu-metal was a breeding ground for all kinds of experimental production. Many pre-existing metal bands saw it as a way of breaking out of their old routines – hell, even Metallica gave it a go with St. Anger. Also, without nu-metal, we’re not sure the guitar community would have embraced extended range (7-8 strings, for the uninitiated) with such sustainable results. As we follow these old threads, we even recognize some of the influences the genre still exudes today… even in math rock.
Let’s get this party started.
For nearly three decades, Chevelle has chiseled up palatable slabs of riff-laden angst. While they were initially lumped in with a heap of Tool imitators, the band eventually proved themselves to have a unique flavor, for a number of reasons. For one, Pete Loeffler’s bark-y tone and incomprehensible lyrics were still remarkably vulnerable. The band never came off as preach-y or holier than thou unless it was consciously ironic. But perhaps more relevant is the fact that Pete is a literal riff-salad. The balls-to-the-wall combo of adrenalized guitars and guttural screams helped differentiate them from peers like Earshot or American Headcharge. And if you’re here looking for how, in any way, Chevelle might have influenced math rock, might we suggest the aggressively vast mix of “Bonfire Disaster Movie” by Alpha Male Tea Party. You can get back to us.
Filter is truly an outlier when it comes to nu-metal. Formed by bandleader Richard Patrick after a stint with Nine Inch Nails, the project’s sound has remained largely consistent despite a number of lineup changes. There are loud guitars, loud machine-whirring sounds in the background, and a lot of yelling. Like high pitched, guy-just-fractured-his-femur yelling. But Patrick’s journey has been an interesting one; we’ve seen him check himself in and out of rehab, we’ve seen him analyze his surroundings and heritage, we’ve seen him get political… perhaps the bandleader’s best quality isn’t songwriting, but the honesty behind it. This confident lack of pretense or gimmick is appreciated, especially when compared to similarly cyberpunk peers Orgy and Powerman 5000. Even if it is particularly shriek-y. While it’s difficult to say if Filter itself influenced math rock, we have seen a resurgence in all-out Ministry influenced mayhem from people like Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos, Bent Knee‘s Ben Levin, and the inimitable Angel Marcloid.
Dredg is one of those bands we were tangentially aware of growing up, but never dove into. However, while touring with Thom Simon in summer of 2016, our singer/songwriter Jeff Wiseman turned me on to a host of nu-metal nuggets I’d never had time for. Out of all of them, Dredg swiftly rose to the top as one of the most listenable records in the vehicle. Soaring above the conceptual heights of Jimmy’s Chicken Shack and early 311, Dredg’s nimble guitar and dexterous drums are actually pretty math rock when you get down to it. Even when the snare lands on the four, the band employs a hefty amount of off-kilter, polyrhythms tricks. The band became more accessible as time went along, but Leitmotif grooves like a slowly pacing Pele, or slightly more pissed off Live. Although in the end Dredg most likely gets more points for prog than for nu-metal, their dreary yet hopeful haze continues to reel in new fans, no matter what they call it.
I distinctly remember seeing the music video for Sevendust’s “Enemy” on Yahoo Music Videos, the same lawless wasteland I discovered bands like Snot, Dope, and Static-X. Sevendust had a certain brand of passion that helped them stick out. Despite a couple repetitive moments here and there, every record saw the band leveling up dramatically. Drummer Morgan Rose eventually ‘rose to fame’ from the sheer technique behind so many of the band’s songs. Take “Rumble Fish” and “Shine” for example – both are technically in common time, but they’re jarring as hell. You know… for this kind of stuff. And it goes without saying that Lajon Witherspoon’s talent for infectious choruses was unquestionable in a sea of same-y post-grunge peers. The band released Blood and Stone last year and from what we can tell, it seems their upwards trend has only continued.
We’re not sure if this is terrible to admit, but we actually first heard Ra while playing ATV Offroad Fury 2 – and it was marvelous. We also remember only being able to preview tiny fragments of the songs on Amazon and Windows Media Player, so we’d never really got the whole experience. Upon finally exploring their debut From One and it’s sequel Duality, it was all… pretty okay? At some points it sounds like a lovechild between Weezer and Incubus conceived in Egypt, but ultimately raised in California. The debut is filled with wiggedy-whack lines like “You’re just a traitor, eleventh grader, a cyber sex addicted masturbator,” but what makes it strange is they’re butted up against introspective dives such as “And as the sun goes down I cry myself to sleep, I watch the bugs crawling across my skin, Now that you are gone, I can let things crumble.” It’s a mixed bag for sure. Duality picked up the pace with a slightly more focused direction overall, with tracks like “Take Me Away,” and “The Only One” finally uniting the esoteric themes with vaguely mysterious sounding music. Ultimately the band is as credited for nu-metal as it is funk metal, a term we’d all but forgotten. Funk metal isn’t exactly making waves right now, but it does imply the existence of math-funk. Which sounds like something we made up (and we did) but bands like Jagga Jazzist, black MIDI, and The Zeta show us that regardless of what you call it, it is already within you.
Far is an altogether different breed, and it feels strange to include them here. But like so many of those early 90’s indie/alternative weirdos, (Helmet, Toadies, Jawbox for example) the band’s trajectory didn’t always line up with media buzz words. Far’s first couple records played like an angry cousin to space-rock’s beloved Failure, but by 1996’s Tin Cans with Strings to You the band’s rage had bubbled up into something else completely. The positively grating bass tone of classics like “In The Aisle, Yelling,” is met with sinister two-faced vocal parts, and the interplay between these frequencies is nothing short of dramatic. Though killer at the time, this vocal technique was later adopted, and perhaps perfected by their friends in Deftones on albums like Around the Fur and White Pony. And to be honest we’re going to cleanse our palette with those records as soon as we are done with this. But not because of Far. Far kept making decent records, with 1998’s Water and Solutions taking more of a punk rock stride, and 2010’s At Night We Live combining everything they’d done before into what is possibly their best album overall.
Adema used to really scratch the itch when this writer was attending a Christian school… in the seventh grade. Accessible yet grimy, and literally related to Korn, the band’s self-titled debut went down perfectly with video games and Mountain Dew whenever I’d finally get home, repressed as hell. Fifteen years and several lifetimes later however, there are some glaring holes in its narrative. Back then, I was the target audience. But now, it’s physically demanding to listen to singer Marky Chavez moan “I think about you sometimes and wanna kill you, you disrespected my pride, how could you do this?” I won’t harp on the records lack of progressive values, but suffice it to say, the band had a lot of growing up to do. That being said, the production and songwriting were formidable for the time period. The sparse but effective production featured hypnotic middle-eastern styled breaks, dramatic vocal effects, and a number of memorable instrumental performances. Unstable the band’s sophomore album, actually put some work in as well, with some more mature themes pervading the songs in general. Even if the lyrics were still a bit… youthful. Regardless, Marky has left the band multiple, and Adema has seen some absolutely bat-shit changes since then. The band dabbled with a classic rock sound on 2005’s Planets. They were featured on Metalsucks for having one of the worst EP artworks of all time. And currently, Ryan Shuck of Orgy and Julien-K is the resident vocalist. Adema likely bears no influence on anything adjacent to math rock.
When I was in a Border’s bookstore, probably at the age of twelve or so (just after the Adema phase I reckon) I came across two bizarre looking CD’s. One was Pitchshifter‘s www.pitchshifter.com. I loved the facial distortion on the cover, and thought to myself “I bet this is some subversive shit.” I’d never heard anything about the band. But a few aisles later, I found Spineshank‘s Height of Callousness. This album cover was way more extreme. So by my seventh grade standards, it had to be even more subversive – and somehow I actually got this one right. Johnny Santos and co absolutely fried my expectations with as much screeching, screaming, and machine-noise as possible. Ironically, the band’s next album Self-Destructive Pattern was the first place yours truly had ever heard of math rock, math metal, or anything cool related to math, ever. Tommy Decker, the man behind the drums, said in an interview around that time that while recording he’d been influenced by ‘math-metal,’ particularly by Chris Pennie of Dillilnger Escape Plan. You can hear this on songs like “Stillborn” and “Falls Apart” where they bring math-metal, nu-metal, and their already audible penchant for industrial to a new level of symbiosis a la Fear Factory or Machine Head. Their single “Smothered” actually earned the band a nod from the Grammy Awards. The band resurfaced in 2012 to release Anger Denial Acceptance, which took the metalcore and math influences even further, but we’ll be honest, we were exhausted at this point in the list and only listened to a couple of the songs. We did notice how well Santos’ vocals have held up, which is pretty remarkable considering he pretty much sounds like he’s spewing demons out both ends half the time – and we mean that as a compliment.
6. Alien Ant Farm
We’d be idiots to not include Alien Ant Farm here, as they were one of the weirdest and honestly mathy-est nu-metal acts around. When we were talking to Delta Sleep last year (in a currently shelved but eventually available Zoom call) the band came up as a rhythmic influence on Blake, Delta Sleep’s drummer, as well as loads of hip-hop. It was around then we revisited AAF’s world shaking ANThology, and we gotta say, we were impressed. Like Adema, there were some definite missteps and difficult moments to sit through, but AAD’s utilization of nu-metal, emo, and indie to create their own voice was relatively incredible. On one hand you have pulverizing hits like “Wish” and “Courage,” who’s sonic structures still knock the wind out of us when the time is right. On the other, you have these puzzling, Jimmy Eat World meets A Perfect Circle songs like “Calico” and “Universe.” It’s a mystifying experience to this day. Subsequent albums only deepened this pattern. In fact, they’d throw in a bright, shiny chorus here and there, but for the most part kept it pretty obscure, and we really respect that. In a scene literally drowned itself with repetition and lookalikes, it took balls to stay original, and Alien Ant Farm had more than enough balls to spare.
Mudvayne just had a different level of vision for their craft when it came to nu-metal. In fact, it’s hard to say whether they consciously adhered to any particular trope outside of their extremely disturbing makeup. Like Slipknot or Mushroomhead, the band’s visual component was key to the band’s live performance. But unlike those aforementioned masked marauders, Mudvayne sounded like they wrote the songs as the demons they portrayed. The way the psychedelic soundbites of “Monolith” erupt into the metal meme classic “Dig,” is downright explosive. L.D. 50 the band’s major label debut is still seen today as a groove metal classic, a term people would throw at bands like Pantera and Meshuggah, when you could tell it was in 4/4, but felt like you were being torn apart by a sonic cyclone. It’s very similar to funk metal, but it’s better. The band outgrew their visual shtick over time, and opened up emotionally on Lost and Found, but it also saw them blending into the crowd because of it. Bands like Seether, Saliva were pushing their southern-fried grooves through major labels everywhere, leaving little room for something as experimental as Mudvayne. You could tell these influences crept in a bit on their subsequent albums, with the vintage vibes additionally spurred by time spent with Hellyeah. The band seems to be returning to it’s roots these days however, including the demon makeup, so we’ll see what happens. More demons and makeup in math rock, please.
Taproot was honest-to-god one of the most underrated bands in the whole nu-metal scene, despite being relatively successful. Like their peers P.O.D. and HED P.E., the band stretched vaguely hip-hop inspired verses over chugging, dissonant riffs. But the backhanded shoegaze references and warped electronics off of their 2000 debut Gift give us goosebumps to this day. The band was hated by Fred Durst because they turned down his business offer as well, which is pretty ballsy, but the band was right to believe in themselves. As time went on, Taproot’s records would dip further and further into progressive and art-house influences. If you’re a fan of Alice in Chains’ classic Dirt, particularly it’s unhinged sense of melody, we highly recommend giving Taproot’s first couple albums a shot. Or if you’d like to listen to Cold, but want to try something less dramatic. On 2005’s Blue Sky Research, the band took a slightly more straightforward approach, but it’s still quality stuff. Then they ricocheted into more aggressive territory with Plead the Fifth in 2010, which contained some truly weird struts like “Game Over” and “Stolage.” We ended up not even listening to 2012’s The Episodes because frankly, we’ve got nu-metal bleeding out our ears and we just want it to end.
It’s hard to find things to say about Audioslave that haven’t already been said. Like chocolate to peanut butter, like clouds to sky, one of the most talented singers of the 20th century met with one of the most musically potent acts of the 1990’s to form some second-coming of Led Zeppelin shit. At least for one album. The force of Audioslave’s debut was felt worldwide – it was impossible to escape. Songs like “Show Me How to Live” and “Shadow On The Sun” consciously scorched critical expectations, showing a vast emotional and dynamic range. But while the band’s followup Out of Exile was certainly decent by any standard, it lacked the gestalt quality of its predecessor. It was ironic that the album’s most memorable song was “Doesn’t Remind Me,” because every other track reminded me of something else. Unfortunately, something forgettable. The band split up after 2006’s Revelations, which sucked, because it actually seemed to recapture the “Original Fire” of the debut, even if it was a slightly dimmer one.
Nonpoint was a really interesting journey compared to a lot of their major label peers. Despite multiple asks to calm down or write more radio-friendly songs, the band never seemed to relent. At first, you can tell the band had little to no regard for anyone’s expectations on their 2000 debut Statement. It was as heavy as it was psychedelic, with watery guitar verses, grinding choruses and vicious vocals. It was also fairly monotone, but Eventually Elias Soriano expanded his vocal range to include all kinds of tricks in a single bar, darting from fry-tone to falsetto in the space of a syllable. The drums also got more and more complex as time went on, blending the multi-drum part styles of bands like Sepultura, Soulfly and Ill Niño on top of their established onslaught. While not exactly varied, Nonpoint’s discography still represents some of the less embarrassing nu-metal you could have been caught with. Although this may or may not depend on your feelings concerning their recent Prince and the Revolution cover, “When Doves Cry.” Personally, we were into it and look forward to whatever comes from the band next.
1. Limp Bizkit
What can we say about the Sultans of Nookie? When it comes to nu-metal, there really isn’t a bigger name. Korn or Deftones might stand as decent arguments, or we suppose perhaps System of A Down, but… which of these bands wrote “Dad Vibes” again? Oh yeah, right. Say what you will about Durst and company’s antics, but the bands immortal swag fully breached the barriers of hip-hop and heavy metal, and the impact never really went away. While Durst might never approach any poetic heights, riff-master Wes Borland is an incredible player who’s chops are as easily compared to Car Bomb and Vildjharta as they are to Primus and Rage Against the Machine. Expectations were high for Still Sucks, the band’s 2021 comeback, and we have to admit, ours were shattered. We’re not saying they re-invented themselves, but like the clip from the intro says… “We cannot change the past, but we can start today to make a better tomorrow.” For nu-metal, that’s more than enough.
We hope you enjoyed this article. We are not going to listen to any music for at least a week. We’ll be squeezing out a couple more articles before the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled. Now go listen to some decent music for Christ’s sake!