Mar 6, 2014

Are You Ready (For the Nu-Metal Revival)?

By Ian Cory

Chances are that if you were plugged into the music criticism side of the Internet last year you know that we are in the midst of what is being referred to as the “Emo Revival.” Faced with a seeming glut of young bands drawing from the sounds of Midwest emo bands from the 1990s, critics were quick to tag the label onto any band that passed anywhere close to that sonic territory. With some bands this was totally appropriate, and in ways dragging the term back into the critical spotlight after it was blacklisted in the mid 2000’s could be seen as a triumph. But by touting this as a revival, countless bands that had been silently carrying this torch in the shadows were subsequently ignored in favor of newer acts with slightly more fashionable or palatable sounds. Regardless of whether or not emo was actually revived or just rediscovered, the easily hashtagged term serves as an entry point for a wider audience to a style of music often ignored and dismissed as being petulant and melodramatic. Chances are that unless you are really deeply plugged into a specific part of music culture this year you haven’t noticed that another genre pegged with these criticisms that also had its heyday in the 90s is seeing a similar resurgence: nu-metal.

Of course, like emo, (and if we’re being real, like pretty much everything in our digitally fueled media cornucopia) nu-metal never really went away. After it peaked in the early 2000’s, a fair amount of the smaller acts either died off or changed lanes into something less rooted to a single epoch and into the bland and forgettable world of “modern hard rock” (Drowning Pool, Papa Roach, the dissolution of Mudvayne and their reinvention as Hellyeah, Disturbed) but the larger acts, the ones that had at this point imbedded themselves deep enough into the fabric of rock culture, soldiered on. Korn continued releasing albums with alarming consistency and had the smarts to attach themselves to the burgeoning dubstep trend. Slipknot continued to nearly break up every few years and give new waves of 9th graders a doorway into heavier strains of metal. Deftones and Linkin Park both ventured off to explore atmosphere and more melodic songwriting, although the former did it far more successfully than the later. This isn’t to say there wasn’t a dip briefly as teenagers moved to metalcore and its siblings to relieve their stress, but it wasn’t long before nu-metal resurfaced. Hell, even Limp Bizkit were able to trade in on their own absurdity and their fan’s semi-ironic nostalgia and get themselves signed to fucking Cash Money of all record labels.

However, most of this won’t register on the radar of any self-respecting music fanatic. This is pretty understandable given that barring Deftones, the majority of these bands are well past their prime, and what little redeeming qualities they once had have long since vanished. Even that last statement might set off some buzzers in your head. I would be lying if I said that nu-metal deserves any serious critical reexamination. It’s a genre so rooted in a specific kind of pre-millennial angst that even when Korn filled their newest music video for “Spike In My Vein” with as many topical themes as possible it still felt like it was straight out of 1998. But beyond its questionable quality, the reason you haven’t been hearing much about Nu-Metal is that growing up on it isn’t particularly conducive to entering the critical discussion. Having an emo phase can easily lead a listener to discover bands essential to the critical canon, either through the genre’s punk roots or its more esoteric offshoots. Nu-metal fandom only* leads deeper into the ghettoized world of heavy metal and as a result fans with a soft spot for the genre are locked into preaching to the choir. And thus it is likely that the most essential piece of the nu-metal revival will slip by unnoticed.

A few weeks ago Rise Records (aka the label that brought you Attack Attack back in 2010) released the debut self-titled album from Issues. Issues, along with Woe Is Me, the band they splintered off from, are from the current crop of melodic metalcore bands aimed primarily at a teenage audience. But what makes Issues (both the band and their self-titled album) stand out from the pack is the unabashed love for the sounds of Top 40 radio. Clean vocalist Tyler Carter has the requisite tenor voice for this kind of music, but instead of drawing from post-hardcore or other metalcore, he approaches his hooks with the deftness of an R&B singer. He shares frontman duties with harsh vocalist Michael Bohn, which along the heavy presence of DJ scratches and EDM elements gives Issues the aura of an updated and much heavier Linkin Park.

Metalcore bands taking cues from nu-metal isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. You can see traces of nu-metal’s nilhistic hedonism in bands like Attila or its laughably extreme brand of hip-hop inspired macho posturing in Emmure or Falling In Reverse. Suicide Silence even made the connections between the two genres explicit by getting Jonathan Davis of Korn to sing on their album The Black Crown in 2011. But what makes Issues different is that their use of nu-metal tropes is tempered by how consistently they poke holes into the hyper masculine fa├žade of the genre even while acknowledging their own moral failings. While their lyrics are generally the stuff of radio pop (i.e. a lot of references to getting faded) Issues come across as actual human beings rather than hate-mirages surrounded by dreads and trip pants. In this way Issues are more than just a revival of a decade old trend; they are something brand new. They have used the underlying spirit of nu-metal, which boils down to melding the most cutting edge sounds in pop to a more aggressive frame, to craft something that could only happen in the year 2014.

This early on it's hard to say exactly how wide spread a nu-metal revival could be. While Issues have been for the most part ignored by the critical hype machine (other than as the newest “what are these idiot kids listening to” punching bags) their album currently sits at number nine on the Billboard Top 200 and they’re deep into a US tour, with dates in Europe upcoming as well. Clearly the band is resonating with an audience, one that likely has little nostalgia for the first wave of nu-metal, and for good reason. Issues is a hell of a fun record, certainly much better than the Korn album it shares its name with. If the masses that buy it or catch Issues live do decide to break out those old Slipknot records for inspiration, the bar will be set high for whatever happens next.

*Okay, it’s possible that some might use nu-metal as a gateway to legitimately good rap since tons of great rappers like Nas, Ice Cube, or Pharoahe Monch have done guest verses on nu-metal songs, but I’d imagine this is a pretty small portion of the audience.

Image via Wikipedia


  1. Hell yeah! Nu Metal is coming BACK!