The downtuned guitars, funky bass lines and DJ scratches are obviously important, but so much of what gives nu-metal its unique and game-changing character are the singers. For a genre that blends the vocally-centric music of hip-hop with the visceral fury of metal, any given nu-metal band's identity is defined in large part by the sonic persona of their frontperson. It goes without saying that a genre this divisive has had its fair share of less-than-spectacular talents behind the mic, but we wanted to highlight the cream of the crop. From its pivotal originators to its most celebrated innovators, these are the 10 best vocalists in all of nu-metal's storied history.
10. Wayne Static, Static-X
Although Static-X also channeled industrial-metal bands like Ministry and Rob Zombie, their late frontman Wayne Static gave the band their wonky nu-metal flair by sounding like Serj Tankian at his growliest and Jonathan Davis at his most amped-up. While singing songs like "Push It" and "I'm With Stupid," off his band's1999 debut, Wisconsin Death Trip, Static not only looked but also sounded like he was being shocked with a stun-gun — his voice surging out of his throat with a cartoonish fortitude. A truly electrifying performer, may he rest in peace.
9. Lajon Witherspoon, Sevendust
Musically, Sevendust have always stood out with their grunge-inflected approach to nu-metal, and their vocalist Lajon Witherspoon is a major reason they sound the way they do. Tipping his cap to the drawly, rough-hewn stylings of Chris Cornell and Layne Staley, while also pulling influence from R&B greats like Stevie Wonder and James Brown, Witherspoon has a completely singular approach to singing that still lends itself to the bouncy grooves and robust hooks of nu-metal.
8. David Draiman, Disturbed
David Draiman is perhaps best known for his mighty "oo-ah-ah-ah-ah" caterwaul in "Down With the Sickness," but the Disturbed singer is capable of much more than just those iconic monkey noises. His smokey, dusky baritone is one of the most instantly recognizable and powerful voices in all of nu-metal, whether he's barking ferociously on "Indestructible" or ascending throughout the octaves on his band's wildly popular rendition of "The Sound of Silence."
7. Brandon Boyd, Incubus
Although Incubus began to stray from their nu-metal origins after their 1997 sophomore record, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., their comely frontman Brandon Boyd definitely deserves to be recognized for his contributions to the idiom. Drawing on the eccentric funk-rap of his predecessors in Faith No More, Primus and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Boyd's approach embodied the logical progression of heavy music at a time when Korn and RHCP were taking over rock radio. Crucially, it worked, and the frontman's somewhat goofy yet also badass presence on the first two Incubus records is unparalleled.
6. Amy Lee, Evanescence
Amy Lee is an incredibly important nu-metal vocalist for two reasons. 1) her voice is a breath of fresh air in a scene that's always been unfairly dominated by dudes. And 2) she's a terrific singer with an infectiously charismatic delivery. Evanescence's 2003 mega-hit, "Bring Me to Life," doesn't get the credit it deserves for being one of the greatest nu-metal anthems of all time, and Lee has proven herself time and time again — most recently on the band's 2021 comeback, The Bitter Truth — as one of the strongest and savviest singers in the genre.
5. Chester Bennington, Linkin Park
For all of the incredible vocalists on this list, none of them have ever channeled pain, anger and sadness as effectively as Chester Bennington. On classics like "Numb" and "In the End," the late Linkin Park frontman sounded convincingly tortured in a way that few singers in the history of rock music ever have. The emotional authenticity of his delivery has been forever painted with a thick coat of poignancy since his tragic passing in 2017, but his vast musical catalog will forever live on as some of the greatest nu-metal vocal performances of all time.
4. Chino Moreno, Deftones
Chino Moreno proved that nu-metal could sound downright beautiful. The Deftones vocalist is as much of a crooner as he is a feral screecher, and that icy-hot dichotomy is exactly what makes him such a uniquely compelling figure in a genre that's often characterized by raw, spitfire deliveries. Moreno can crank the heat as high as any of his peers, but he's also a master of subtlety and restraint, two distinguished musical traits that he's wielded to great effect on Deftones' more recent — and decidedly not-nu-metal — material.
3. Corey Taylor, Slipknot
Corey Taylor is by far the most intense nu-metal vocalist, as well as one of the most versatile. The Slipknot frontman is as skilled at unleashing vicious roars as he is at belting out triumphant choruses, making him one of the genre's most formidable beasts. Beyond his sheer power, Taylor can scream while still letting the audience hear every word, therefore synthesizing all the rage of death metal with the precise diction of hip-hop — a terrific execution of nu-metal's sonic essence.
2. Jonathan Davis, Korn
Jonathan Davis isn't the best singer on this list, but at the vanguard of the scene, the Korn frontman completely redefined what a metal vocalist could do. Whether he's scatting, spitting bars, howling, grunting, sobbing or simply coasting over a funky bass line with his nasally and artfully shaky mid-range, Davis is the Don of nu-metal swagger. If you're still skeptical of his talents after hearing "Freak on a Leash" and "Blind," listen to the Untouchables deep cut "Hating" and feel the unexpected chills down your spine when he hits that high note.
1. Serj Tankian, System of a Down
Forget nu-metal and even heavy music writ larger — there's simply no one else on earth who sings like Serj Tankian. Although his ecstatic upper range suggests otherwise, the System of a Down frontman actually isn't classically trained, which might explain why he's always bucked conventions by careening between death-metal lows, operatic highs and machine-gun rapping at a mind-blowing pace. His vast solo catalog has expanded far beyond nu-metal, but his vocal maneuvers throughout the SOAD discography are simply unmatched — even amid such a talented pool of peers.