Nu metal is a sub-genre that often gets scoffed at and even fully disregarded when looking at metal as a whole. It is a genre that began to develop in the early to mid-1990’s and gained tremendous popularity at the tail end of the decade. Now, it is somewhat difficult to nail down exactly what characteristics make a band nu metal. Partly due to the fact that the genre is characterized as a one where the melding of influences was expected, with bands merging sounds from metal, hip-hop, funk, grunge, industrial and goth. So, in order to quell the potential arguments that this or that band doesn’t belong, we are going to simplify this, any band whose shirt looked good with your JNCO’s in 1999 is officially nu metal. We also chose to select one album from each band in order to maximize your nostalgia. With that out of the way, let’s look at the top 29 nu metal albums of all time.
29. Spineshank – Height of Callousness
Let’s start by scraping the bottom of the nu metal barrel. I am not sure what they did after this album but their first two albums were solid nu metal releases. The Height of Callousness was their second album and it was slightly more aggressive, catchier, and the singer got a cool red streak in his hair (we were easy to impress back then).
28. Mushroomhead – XIII
This album is the most recent album on the list with release year of 2003. It is actually included based more on its musical merits than the bands Slipknotian stage gear. The songs are well constructed and catchy but still hold that simplistic nu metal charm. Also, if there is one band that Mike Patton should be angry with for making the Faith No More impact on nu metal glaringly evident it’s Mushroomhead, try to make it through “Nowhere To Go” and not hear it.
27. Taproot – Gift
Taproot existed, and we were all fine with that. They were not exactly breaking ground but their first major label release, Gift, was full of angsty and memorable tracks that although didn’t age extremely well still hold a special place for those of us who went deep into the genre. Basically, nu metal’s favorite perpetual opening band.
26. Nonpoint – Statement
Nonpoint may seem ignorable when laying out the high points of nu metal but let’s first give them some metal credibility to naming their band after a Believer song. Statement was their first album on a major label and fed the masses the same grooves that we came to expect from the era but were able to stand out with a melodically capable and impressive vocalist.
25. Drain STH – Freaks of Nature
Leave it to a Swedish band to put out music for the Ozzfest crowd that really isn’t embarrassing in hindsight at all. This album was powerful and melodic and even had some Zakk Wylde style riffing on it (listen to the song “Black” and wait for the chorus). This was also my first mosh pit and a young man never forgets his first time, just awkwardly flailing his stringy body against other children who also thought wearing black nail polish was cool.
24. Apartment 26 – Hallucinating
23. Snot – Get Some
Here’s a band many of us were introduced to at Ozzfest 1998. Snot delivered high energy live performances and were able to match that energy musically on their first album. The album has more of a punk vibe than anything else on the list but it was openly accepted by the nu metal community. Unfortunately vocalist Lynn Strait died before he was able to record tracks for their second album. Luckily, Straight was here long enough to put out a critically acclaimed album, be part of the tapestry that is nu metal and get arrested for climbing naked out of Limp Bizkit’s giant toilet (that isn’t a metaphor, feel free to look it up).
22. P.O.D. – The Fundamental Elements of Southtown
With their third album P.O.D brought their Christian nu metal voice to the mainstream. The album stayed the course of nu metal by rapping over musical simplicities, but also infused reggae elements to the mix. Had my uncle not given me a Mercyful Fate CD the year before I would have probably even thought the whole Christianity thing was worth a shot based on how cool this band seemed at the time
21. Disturbed – The Sickness
Later in this list I will describe a band as “thinking man’s nu-metal”, so imagine that concept and once you have it clear in your mind, imagine the opposite. This was nu metal that was accessible enough to be used at your high school football game in the early 2000’s. However, Disturbed delivered an extremely polished version of the genre and if they ever decide to stop writing originals they have a bright future as a cover band.
20. Orgy – Candyass
Orgy like to consider themselves “Death Pop” but I consider them Korn’s nerdy electronic friends (they played Family Values 1998 so teenage me thought they must be best friends with Korn). The album itself actually does meld electronic elements, strong vocal hooks and seven string guitars into a easily digestible and enjoyable nu metal album. Candyass also includes one of the most wonderful cliche’s in the genre, the cover song, in “Blue Monday”.
19. Primer 55 – (The) New Release
Somewhere along the way someone told Primer 55 that if they worried less about twisting their bleached tips into pokey little spikes and more about actual songwriting they could possibly sound like a real band. As far as I can tell they listened because on their second album the band added a boatload of melodic hooks, groove, riffs that could be on a Clutch album (go listen to “Lou Evil”) and even the occasional saxophone to create a replayable and dynamic album.
18. Strangeland – Original Soundtrack
There were a lot of soundtracks that were important to Ozzfest attendees but none more so than Dee Snider’s Strangeland (sorry Spawn). Not only did the album have exclusive tracks from System of a Down, Sevendust, and Snot but it also had Dee Snider doing his best Tool impression.
17. Mudvayne – L.D. 50
Mudvayne looked stupid. They looked like the guys who were a little too old to still be Juggalos. They looked like the guys that you watched getting kicked out of the mall for filling their pockets with keychains from Spencer’s. However, L.D. 50 is heavy, memorable and has a singer who at moments captures the essence of Phil Anselmo, that’s not a joke, listen to “Dig” and try to not hear it.
16. Dope – Felons and Revolutionaries
Dope had a very important message to send in 1999. That message was “Everything Sucks”, and as a 14 year old fresh faced kid who had finally grew out his mullet I could not have agreed more. Strangely enough this album holds up as a enjoyable industrial, rage filled album. Oh, and depending on which version you find for 2.99 at your local record shop you either get a cover of “Fuck Tha Police” or “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”.
15. Powerman 5000 – Mega Kung Fu Radio
Mega Kung Fu Radio is full of groove oriented riffs, smoothly delivered and cool vocals and a funk infused rhythm section. It’s arguable that had Powerman not come at the same time as the nu metal scene this early funkier era would have brought them a more widespread fanbase. The band would garner more fame from their next album containing “When Worlds Collide” but for any nu metal fans who were paying attention before 1999 this album is an absolute classic.
14. Incubus – S.C.I.E.N.C.E
At this point in the Incubus catalog their was still a high level of energy, funky rhythms, a DJ pushed to the forefront, and vocal lines that were possibly the result of rummaging through ideas Mike Patton had thrown out. Although the band would certainly hone their songwriting skills on albums to come this album will always hold high marks with the 1998 Ozzfest crowd.
13. Kittie – Spit
Although Kittie developed beyond the nu metal moniker pretty quickly, their debut Spit absolutely fits the mold. A lot of the albums on this list have a sense of manufactured anger, Kittie on the other hand, felt genuinely angry. The band had yet to refine their sound on Spit. This resulted in a sound which felt raw and vehement. This intensity is in large part due to the vocal delivery of Morgan Lander, who easily had the best harsh vocals of the genre.
12. Sevendust – Sevendust
Sevendust’s debut stands in opposition to many of the fundamentals of nu metal. They not only had an amazing vocalist with a clear R&B influence but also actual guitar solos . Sevendust toured on this album relentlessly and quickly built a solid reputation as a fan favorite in the genre.
11. Fear Factory – Obsolete
Let’s set aside the fact that Fear Factory is one of those fluid, genre defining bands whose impact can be heard in countless current metal bands and genres. In 1998 they dipped their toes in the warm pooling waters of nu metal and added their brand of syncopated tightness to the sub-genre. Obsolete is immensely heavy, melodic and took the band to an even wider audience.
10. Machine Head – The Burning Red
Nu metal had claimed another victim in 1999 by taking groove metal band Machine Head, go google “Robb Flynn 1999” and tell me those twisty bleach blonde spikes of hair don’t make you long for your youth. It still has the groove that Machine Head is known for but with all the cliche’s we loved from 1999 (track suit and cover song included). The reason this album works so well is it clearly is coming from a band confident in their abilities as songwriters. The Burning Red arguably stands stronger than their earlier material in that they focused more on each song as a whole rather than just the riff.
9. Soulfly – Soulfly
Soulfly’s debut was heavy with groove, brutal in its simplicity, and introduced world music and spirituality into nu metal. This album lead the nu metal crowd at the time into a heavier landscape than they were getting from bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. It’s just really good.
8. (Hed) P.E. – Broke
When any particular genre grabs the attention culturally that nu metal did you start to find that many bands feel specifically manufactured for potential sales. If there was one band of this genre that felt undeniably genuine it was (Hed) P.E. On their second album, Broke, the band perfected their sound. They began mixing their veritable intensity with diverse songwriting. Also, they were smart enough to put Morgan from Kittie and Serj of System of a Down on the track “Feel Good”, essentially giving us a four minute and fourteen second nu metal buffet.
7. Coal Chamber – Coal Chamber
You know how people look back at nu metal and laugh at the fashion and the musical ineptitude? Well, those laughs aren’t entirely unfounded. Coal Chamber’s debut album mixed a heavy simplicity with creepy childlike imagery. Coal Chamber would perform at Ozzfest 1998 with a stageful of oversized crayons and children’s toys. The mix of simplistic musicality and spooky imagery catered to the taste of the fishnetted adolescent of the time. Coal Chamber’s debut is an absolute pillar of nu metal.
6. Limp Bizkit – 3 Dollar Bill Y’all
If you are still under the impression that this band sucks and didn’t fully change the landscape of metal then that’s fine, I am sure there’s some doom or death metal band you can go listen to that sounds exactly like the other doom or death metal band you were excited about last month. For the rest of us ready to admit their impact, Limp Bizkit’s debut was jarringly creative. It had groove, a sense of indignation, creative guitar work, a turntable played through a Marshall stack and the ability to take the genre to new levels.
5. Deftones – Adrenaline
The real debate is whether or not this is a true nu metal album, or possibly if Deftones are even a nu metal band. Well, unfortunately for them we are going to include them whether they like it or not. Come on guys, you wore Adidas, played in drop-D, and had a DJ, you’re nu metal. This debut did manage to escape the silliness that plagued a lot of nu metal however. Adrenaline felt matured for a debut album. The vocals were passionately delivered, the rhythms and atmosphere helped build the songs purposefully toward catchy hooks, and the guitar tones were raw and distinctive. This is one of those albums that was able to pull non-metal fans into the genre.
4. System of a Down – System of a Down
Remember when I said I was going to call a band “thinking man’s nu metal”? That band is System of a Down. The lyrical themes were thought provoking while the musicianship and songwriting was beyond most, if not all, of their counterparts at the time. The original and distinctive vocal delivery also made this album stand out upon its release. This debut is one of the most passionate and focused albums of the genre.
3. Slipknot – Slipknot
Slipknot had an intensity in everything they did. Their imagery, lyrical temper tantrums, and ferocious live shows were all catered to enraged teens. This album still can trigger that inner rebellious teen when played at a high enough volume. The album also pushed the genre into an even darker and heavier place than it had been. Arguably adding elements of extreme metal that were new for much of the younger crowd. For many of us young metal fans this was the first consistent use of double bass drumming we heard, not to mention the first clown banging on a wobbly keg we heard.
2. Korn – Korn
Korn is the blueprint for all nu metal. Musically and aesthetically they did it all. The dreaded hair, Adidas, melodically inaudible guitar tunings, dissonance to cover lack of musical proficiency, quirky nicknames, vulnerable lyrics, and merging genres, they literally created a nu metal. Their debut album is essentially Grandpa Nu Metal and all other bands on this list took turns on Papa Nu Metal’s lap to hear his weird old nursery rhymes. This album was truly innovative and literally defines the genre.
1. Static-X – Wisconsin Death Trip
Static-X put out Wisconsin Death Trip in 1999 and brought their heavy industrial sound to the nu metal landscape. The album was driven by thickly distorted and tightly performed guitar riffs, mechanical rhythms, electronic atmosphere, and memorable vocal lines. The result of which was an album full of anthemic nu-metal classics. The album gave the Ozzfest crowds of the time moshable tracks like “I am” as well as trudgingly heavy and atmospheric tracks such as “The Trance is in Motion”. It’s just the best, sorry Korn.
Also check out Damnation’s return to nu metal playlist on Spotify here
Written by: Sean Cantor