The thing you have to understand about nu-metal is that the word doesn’t really describe a particular sound; it describes a moment in time. Sure, you can find the connective-tissue bands that unite Limp Bizkit, Staind and Static-X in the same scene, but the only thing that kept those bands on bills together was a last grasp at keeping hard rock in the popular culture.
We all know how that turned out. Hard rock is more marginalized in the mainstream than ever, and while emo might be having a revival, "nu-metal" remains a dirty word in most music circles.
This is understandable. While I’ll be the first to defend nu-metal, I’m also willing to acknowledge that much of it was very, very silly. We allowed “Break Stuff” to become an anthem of sorts, and we should never be allowed to live that down.
While many of the big bands of the era are still out on the road, many others have fallen by the wayside. It happens all the time with any form of popular music. But if you were going to shows in the early ’00s, you probably heard a ton of great songs you haven’t thought about in years, and I’ve got the streaming media numbers to prove it. So, for the moment, let’s leave the Korns and Disturbeds of the world behind. How many of these obscure nu-metal jams do you remember?
Bonus Track: Drain STH “Simon Says”
Spotify Plays: 70K
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Drain STH weren’t a nu-metal band, but “Simon Says” is a very good example of a hard rock band trying very hard to tap into what was going on with the world of rap rock. The “throw your hands in the air” sample is just so jarring compared to the rest of Freaks of Nature, but in kind of an endearing way. Fun fact: This song was produced by future pop music earworm maker Max Martin.
10. 40 Below Summer “Step Into the Sideshow”
Spotify Plays: 94K
While nu-metal did encompass many different rock styles and sounds, were I to pick one song to put in a time capsule to represent it, “Step Into the Sideshow” would be a very tempting choice. It’s very much the sound of someone who loves rock and rap music trying to figure out how the two might come together without having to do any actual rapping. It’s the type of song you can start shows off with forever, or at least as long as your band remains a thing.
9. Mad at Gravity “Walk Away”
Youtube Plays: 190K
One of my favorite games to play when I’m bored is “See if Band I’ve Mostly Forgotten About Has Any Tracks on Spotify.” Mad at Gravity do not, but this great Incubus-lite track does have a cover version of it, so they’ve got that going for them. Too bad no one has bothered to upload a high-quality version of their video to Youtube.
8. Onesizezero “Instead Laugh”
Spotify Plays: 37K
Onesidezero would be higher on this list if it were about general quality of the band, or if I could actually find a streaming copy of “Oneside of the Zero,” which in the realm of “songs that share the name of the band” is really fantastic. Alas, we go with “Instead Laugh,” which really plays to those of us who loved both nu-metal and emo at the time. I don’t know how big that middle part of the Venn diagram is, but I know there have to be a few of us out there at least.
7. The Step Kings “Zeroes and Ones”
Youtube Plays: 750 (that’s seven five zero full stop, not 750 thousand)
Credit to Step Kings for being ahead of the curve with this ditty about the dangers of being online. Of all the songs on this list, I think this might be the easiest one to fall in love with on first listen; its hook is pretty great and the riffs come along nicely. If their name sounds vaguely familiarish, it might be because they did a cover of “Another Brick in the Wall” before Korn did.
6. Deadsy “Babes in Abyss”
Spotify Plays: Not listed under “Popular Tracks,” so probably fewer than 15K plays
I actually thought Deadsy was going to be way bigger than they ended up being. “The Key to Gramercy Park” was a hell of a first single, and I figured with their look, they’d be able to develop a cult following they could flip into something big; I feel like there was a time when people were wearing their white chain, but maybe that was a fever dream. For my money, though, “Babes in Abyss” is the superior song, propulsive with a wicked sharp guitar line. Fun fact: They’re the only band on this list name-checked in a 30 Seconds to Mars song.
5. 3rd Strike “No Light”
Spotify Plays: 62K
This song is 98% perfect. 3rd Strike have a great sense of melody, Jim Korthe (R.I.P.) has a wonderful voice for their brand of rap-rock sound and the guitar tone is fantastic. Unfortunately, there’s that part where he uses the word “diz-ie” instead of “die,” which is such a decision of its moment in time that maybe I’m wrong and the song actually is perfect. You can’t listen to this song and not feel like you’re back in 2002.
4. Fingertight “Guilt (Hold Down)”
Spotify Plays: 31K
By the time we got to 2003, bands just started getting lumped into nu-metal because there wasn’t really a home for them anywhere else at the time. Fingertight is one of those bands, and nu-metal is better for it. In the Name of Progress has three amazing songs back to back to kick off the record, with “Guilt” being the high-water mark. Nu-metal is not known for its slower tracks, but this is a pretty great example of what it can be.
3. Dry Cell “Silence”
Youtube Plays: 39K
If you’re wondering who Dry Cell are, don’t worry; they are likely the most obscure band on this list on account of the fact that their debut album, Disconnected, was scheduled for release back in 2002 but wouldn’t go on sale until 2009. If you do know them, you were probably downloading mp3s off the Internet. (Do you also have the Powerman 5000 record that got canceled? Let’s be best friends.) Listening to “Silence” and “Body Crumbles” bums me out, to be honest, because I hear a band that could have been as big as Linkin Park with a bit of help, or at least still playing Scout Bar once a year.
2. Flaw “One More Time”
Spotify Plays: Not listed under “Popular Tracks,” so probably fewer than 127K plays
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Flaw are a band that I could easily write 500 words in tribute on. Though the Eyes has a very strong case as the best nu-metal record ever, and although the band saw some success, they never broke into the mainstream. The ending of “One More Time” hits like a tidal wave, and Chris Volz’s vocals still kill me even today. That he could deliver live just makes me all that much sadder that more people didn’t give them a listen.
1. From Zero “Check Ya”
Spotify Plays: 33K
No matter how I try, I can’t remember any other song off of From Zero’s One Nation Under, even though I’m sure I’ve listened to it more than once. What I know for sure is that I’ve listened to “Check Ya” at least a thousand times since 2001. I love this song, cheesy, nonsense rap-like vocal breakdown and all. When I think nu-metal at its best, this is the song I think about. Always has been, always will be.