Nu-metal isn't just about the loud music; it's also defined by sometimes even louder visuals. When you think of nu-metal, you're not just hearing turntables and down-tuned guitars, you're seeing Adidas tracksuits and elaborate makeup; Fred Durst's red cap, Chad Gray's blue rope-beard, David Draiman's labret piercings, Slipknot's masks. Nu-metal's visual language was expansive and gaudy, a byproduct of a moment in time when music videos weren't frivolous novelties, but requirements for commercial success.
Like everything with this scene, nu-metal music videos don't have the cultural respectability that other genres achieved (the 1990s' most revered music video directors such as Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry wanted nothing to do with nu-metal) but its visuals left an indelible thumbprint on heavy music's timeline. Here are 10 of the most unforgettable mini-movies from the nu-metal pantheon.
Sepultura's Roots is an album about location, specifically the band's native Brazil, where it was recorded and where Max and Igor Cavalera and their bandmates journeyed for inspiration. Therefore, it makes sense that the video for its thunderous lead single, "Roots Bloody Roots," was shot there on-site. However, less obvious is the specific shooting location they chose — a real-deal catacombs in Salvador where Brazilian slaves were once auctioned off. This critical detail literalizes the song's title and makes Sepultura's triumphant performances — interspersed with scenes of martial artists performing capoeira moves — all the heavier.
In which Fred Durst reaches the mountaintop. Or, in this case, the quarter pipe. "Break Stuff" is Limp Bizkit leaving their Osiris D3 footprint on the late Nineties, filming their video in an indoor skate park (radical), packing it with A-list cameos (Jonathan Davis, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg) and generally looking like they're having a blast. In those TRL-crazy days, Fred Durst went from just another angry guy to the man of the moment, but what really made him such an endearing avatar for his audience was how stoked he was to be there. There's no better illustration of Limp Bizkit's juvenile bacchanalia than the video for "Break Stuff."
If you're going to make a music video about making music videos then you have to really deliver, and the Rocky Morton-directed clip for Orgy's electro-metal throwdown "Stitches" delivers in spades. Framing the entire production process — from treatment to edit — as a museum piece, the clip is at once a send-up of music video excess and a tribute to the form. The band might look disillusioned standing in a row like gothic Ken dolls, but it's hard to deny how cool they appear while playing in a hydraulic cube.
Before his career directing Hollywood blockbusters like 500 Days of Summer and the Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb made his music video debut with this visually rich and impeccably edited clip for Fred Durst's proteges Cold. In one shot, frontman Scooter Ward's haunted eyes look up at a camera that sees the band isolated in a pool of shallow water, noticeably removed from the jamming audience. Later, a girl stumbles past torches toward a door with a closing porthole. What does it all mean? Just enough to feel significant without intruding on the song.
As with his similarly striking video for Papa Roach's "Last Resort," director Marcos Siega allowed the audience's live reactions to tell the story of "Chop Suey!," rather than zeroing in on a heady concept. As his camera whirls, turns and tumbles around the band, Siega and cinematographer Ramsey Nickell let both the performers and the excited crowd's faces fill each frame. Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian probe the camera directly while the fans sing along to each gripping word, their eyes locked on them with hyper-focus. That sense of connection between band and audience is what keeps System of a Down in stadiums to this day, and no cleaner demonstration of it exists than "Chop Suey!"'s iconic vid.
In direct contrast to the era's murky color pallettes and dour expressions, Mudvayne's "Dig" visual comes bounding out of the screen with its psycho-circus band looking like they just dropped in from Toontown in front of a blinding white background. Bassist Ryan Martinie's unhinged facial expressions and wriggly dance moves are as much a part of the deathless "brr brr deng" meme as much as the music itself, and the rest of his bandmates look like total freaks. Its surreality was so alluring that it even earned Mudvayne the first-ever MTV2 award at the 2001 VMAs, which the band collected by trotting out onstage with huge bullet wounds in their foreheads. Naturally.
In this stunning visual, director Liz Friedlander employs Deftones' White Pony standout "Change (In the House of Flies)" to soundtrack a psychedelically sensual collage of night-before tension and morning-after release. Its menacing pan-and-scans and grainy, digital quality creates a seedy sextape vibe that's acutely reminiscent of Fiona Apple's "Criminal" — which was, oddly enough, filmed at the exact same Hollywood estate. "Change"'s video is a somber, visually arresting clip that maintains a singular mood — just until that close-up shot of drummer Abe Cunningham looking absolutely stoked to bring in that last chorus.
The Joseph Kahn-directed clip for Korn's 1996 single "A.D.I.D.A.S." isn't just a gripping work of filmmaking in its own right, but a game-changer for a genre that would soon rely more on music videos than radio play to sell records. Its cinematic visual — pretty indistinguishable from contemporary Hollywood movies — made the song's shorter runtime feel feature length. In it, the band's lifeless corpses are hauled from a car accident to a morgue — paralleling frontman Jonathan Davis' real-life mortuary experience in his pre-Korn days — where an unforgettable body bag performance goes down. It was wildly popular videos like this that gave Korn their own unofficial slot on TRL.
Slipknot's "Duality" is the epic closing sequence to nu-metal's peak era of commercial domination — ensuring that period in metal history went out with a bang, not a whimper. Released in 2004, the video features a horde of predominantly angry white males ripping a Midwestern house to shreds, and it still feels electric. On its surface, it's just a cool fucking clip of primal demolition. On a deeper level, it personifies that generation's discontentment and desire for catharsis through aimless destruction, which played out in both global brutality (the Iraq War) and violently hysterical entertainment (Jackass). The "Duality" video concludes with an unnamed young man — shirtless, sweaty and exhausted — casting a look back at what's been done. Nothing of value gained, so much lost, and the pain of trudging onward.