Let's face it: "Nu-metal" will never be "cool," if only because of its associated rave-ready fashion choices, but a lot of bands thrown under its umbrella are pretty damn great, groups that catalyzed a generation and served as a gateway to even heavier and/or more nuanced sounds. With a new breed of musicians currently mining the nu-metal aesthetic in exciting ways, we recently put together our somewhat-controversial list of 20 Essential Nu-Metal Albums, and then we asked you to pick what you consider to be the scene's single greatest recorded offering. You hit social media with wide-ranging nominations, spanning from the classic (System of a Down, Coal Chamber) to the recent (My Ticket Home, Cane Hill); below are the ranked top-five vote-getters.
"I was probably angrier than I've ever been in my life, but I was probably happier than I ever was in my life," Chino Moreno told Revolver of the Deftones' impassioned, innovative sophomore album, 1997's Around the Fur. "Every emotion was like the pinnacle of all those emotions." By approaching that emotional intensity from a vast multitude of stylistic perspectives — crushing metal, ethereal dream-pop, expansive grunge, skatepark-ready punk — the Sacramento band made a record that sounded like nothing else at the time. And 20 years later, it sounds as fresh as when it first dropped, even as it has solidified its place as a true classic, nu-metal or otherwise.
A head-spinning mélange of death metal, hard rock, spasmodic prog and virtuosic jazz, the debut full-length from heavily makeup-slathered Illinois quartet Mudvayne leavened nu-metal's angst-ridden simplicity with hyper-technical arrangements. That the record was executive produced in part by Slipknot's Shawn "Clown" Crahan only reaffirms its zeitgeist status, showcased on explosive songs like "Dig," "Death Blooms," and "Nothing to Gain."
After pretty much giving birth to the nu-metal sound with their self-titled debut album and defining its darkness further on Life Is Peachy, Korn took a victory lap of rock excess on Follow the Leader. The boys from Bakersfield encapsulated what was so striking about nu-metal in giant singles like "Freak on a Leash," packed as it is with off-kilter guitar work, hip-hop–inflected rhythmic undertones and, of course, Jonathan Davis' seething, psycho, scatting vocals. Tracks like "Justin" pad out the band's enduring commitment to hard riffs, while more sophomoric cuts like "All In the Family" (featuring Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst) confirm that they truly didn't give a fuck about what anyone thought.
Backed up with a full-fledged army of members onstage, Slipknot honed in on nu-metal's aggression and chaos on their 1999 self-titled album, injecting the music with an array of pro and DIY percussion, DJ scratching, industrial noise and ferocious riffage that made every song swing and pummel like a sonic fistfight. It was also the first peek for the greater world at the voice of Corey Taylor and his ability to growl and lilt on the same track, like on hit single "Wait and Bleed."