NU-METAL or not? 10 great albums that straddle the line | Revolver

NU-METAL or not? 10 great albums that straddle the line

Nu-metal is incredibly hard to define. These awesome records could go either way.
DEFTONES 1999 GETTY crop group, Gie Knaeps/Getty Images
photograph by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

Nu-metal is hard to define because it's so much more than just a sound. It's a scene, an era, a look, an attitude and a vibe. The parameters of the genre are broad in some respects and highly specific in others, which leads to a whole boatload of contradictions in the way people discuss what is and isn't nu-metal. Below, are 10 albums that ride the fine line between what's "nü" and what's not. We provide the argument for both sides of the coin, but we'll leave it to you — the people of nu-metal's kingdom — to decide where each of these albums land.

Deftones - White Pony

Nü: Fans will endlessly argue about whether Deftones are a nu-metal band, but they definitely were. One listen to the rap-rock rager "Back to School (Mini Maggit)" — White Pony's opening cut on streaming platforms — and it's obvious they still had at least one foot in the style at the time.

Not: Deftones' label forced them to add "Back to School (Mini Maggit)" to the album to jump (back) on the nu-metal bandwagon. The rest of the album sounds as connected to shoegaze, trip-hop and grunge as it does to nu-metal: White Pony is when Deftones became something more expansive.

Faith No More - The Real Thing

Nü: Funky, freaky and heavily hip-hop-influenced, there's a case to be made that Faith No More were nu-metal's unintentional progenitors. Korn, Slipknot, System of a Down and the rest owe an undeniable debt, with the rap-metal anthem "Epic" arguably serving as nu-metal's first big hit.

Not: Mike Patton and Co. may have been a massive influence on all the major nu-metal groups, but The Real Thing pre-dated the movement by a few years, and the band weren't a part of that scene. Call them proto-nu-metal or just call them Faith No More, but they're not nu-metal proper.

Fear Factory - Obsolete

Nü: Fear Factory would more fully embrace nu-metal on 2001's subpar Digimortal, but even on 1999's excellent Obsolete, they were getting down with the sickness. "Edgecrusher" has hip-hop scratching and rap-ish vocals. "Descent" is the nu power ballad. Then there's the bonus cover of Gary Numan's "Cars" — a classic nu-metal cover if ever there was one.

Not: There are elements of nu-metal on Obsolete, but the concept album is much too ambitious, technical and extreme to be considered a straight-up nu-metal album. It has much more in common with its industrial-death-metal predecessor Demanufacture than, say, Follow the Leader or Significant Other.

Glassjaw - Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence

Nü: Glassjaw's 2000 debut was produced by the "Godfather of Nu-Metal" Ross Robinson, who leveraged his work on Korn and Slipknot's early albums to get the Long Island band signed to nu-metal powerhouse Roadrunner Records. Also, the band were constantly compared to Deftones for their similarly icy-hot spasms of shriek-laden verses and serene choruses.

Not: Despite their proximity to the genre, Glassjaw simply aren't a nu-metal band. They came out of Long Island's emo and hardcore scene and always remained loyal to that world, and their music is simply too noisy, screechy and convulsive to be considered nu-metal. Every nu-metal fan's favorite post-hardcore band? Sure.

Machine Head - Burning Red

Nü: Just watch the music video for "From This Day." Just listen to the cover of the Police's "Message in a Bottle." (Nu-metal bands love covers.) The omnipresent Ross Robinson produced the album, which, to many OG fans, seemed like a clear, trend-hopping swerve from the groove-metal of Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change

Not: Sure, the "From This Day" video is "corny as fuck," as even bandleader Robb Flynn admits. But aside from that song, there's actually very little rapping on the album, and anyway, Machine Head always had a hip-hop element to their sound and look. The Burning Red is nu-metal-influenced, but more so, it's just another step in Machine Head's evolution.

Mudvayne - L.D. 50

Nü: To some fans, Mudvayne's nu-metal status isn't even a question. They definitely had the cartoon-character look and eccentric attitude to fit the Family Values mold, and Slipknot percussionist Clown liked them so much that he signed on to executive-produce L.D. 50. In fact, the Slipknot association was so tight Mudvayne eventually stopped wearing outlandish makeup so they'd be treated as more than Illinois' answer to the Iowan mad men.

Not: In Mudvayne's own lingo, they weren't nu-metal; they were "math-metal." We see their point. L.D. 50 is way more instrumentally complex than any Korn record, and even the comparisons to Slipknot really only extend to the vocals and the fire-breathing energy. The "br br deng" basslines, haywire rhythms and unconventional song structures have more in common with TOOL than Limp Bizkit.

Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine

Nü: On paper, Rage Against the Machine's fusion of rapped vocals, hip-hop grooves and funk-metal instrumentation checks all the boxes for what nu-metal is as a sound. Also, they're a California metal band from the Nineties, which all but guaranteed their regional vicinity to nu-metal's ground zero.

Not: This is where the distinction between "rap-metal" and "nu-metal" is important. In tone, style and subject matter, Zack de la Rocha's fiery calls for underclass revolt are a world away from the tortured exorcisms of Korn's Jonathan Davis and the tongue-in-cheek hedonism of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. Plus, RATM's music has guitar solos. Guitar solos aren't nu-metal.

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe

Nü: Musically, Rob Zombie's psychotically thrilling solo debut is undeniably adjacent to the "evil disco" sound of nu-metallers Static-X. Culturally, Zombie was right there, too. His kitschy goth-clubber aesthetic spoke directly to the average Coal Chamber fan, and he was more than happy to play the Ozzfest circuit with nu-metal's biggest bands.

Not: "Dragula" gets an honorary pass on any nu-metal playlist, but if you really listen to the entirety of Hellbilly Deluxe, it's way more industrial than nu. Songs like "Demonoid Phenomenon" and "Superbeast" are more taut and driving than they are bouncy and swaggering, and Zombie's horror-movie camp is more psychobilly than "Psychosocial."

Sepultura - Roots

Nü: Korn were a massive influence on Max Cavalera when making Roots, and their down-tuned, mid-tempo stamp is all over the Ross Robinson-produced album. Plus, Korn's Jonathan Davis guests on "Lookaway" alongside Mike Patton — two nu-metal figureheads on one damn song!

Not: Take it from Cavalera himself: Roots is not nu-metal. "To me, Roots is a very heavy record," he said in 2022. "I think some of the stuff like 'Straighthate', 'Spit', 'Ambush' and 'Endangered Species' was so frickin' heavy and it's fast and it's brutal. ... It got really popular, it got trendy. Some people connected it with nu-metal. I don't think Roots is a nu metal record. In fact, I think it's very opposite — it's really kind of more caveman."

Slipknot - Iowa

Nü: It's early Slipknot, so of course it's nu-metal. The Nine were the genre's new poster boys at this point, taking all of the genre's core elements — the scare-your-mom look, the volatile behavior, the middle-American rage, the rap- and rave-infused heaviness — to their most extreme conclusions.

Not: Name another nu-metal album that sounds like Iowa. The record is so dark, heavy and emotionally all-consuming that it bites down and severs the tongue that's always planted in the genre's spiritual cheek. For as psychologically damaged as it can be, nu-metal is, in its purest form, music that you can dance to. Iowa is music for beating ass, not throwing it.