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Nu metal (or Alternative metal) is a controversial fusion of heavy metal, alternative rock, and hip hop. Nu Metal is characterized primarily by its lyrical themes, but is also defined by its mixed use of simplified metal aspects, rhythmic innovation and syncopation primary to hip hop, and sometimes a pronounced experimental edge.

Nu metal bands feature a broad range of approaches to the genre, including aggressive vocals (rapped, shouted, or sung), drop-tuned guitars that can be clean or distorted used to play a variety of styles synthesing several musical forms, a funk, or, metal based rhythm section, the occasional DJ techniques such as turntables and sampling, and sparse keyboarding or sequencer programming. Generally speaking, the emphasis is on either communicating feelings of angst and hostility, or motivating a crowd to move with the beat -- many bands opting to do both at once.

The term Nu Metal is used as a broad and loose definition, but is usually used to describe artists playing a style of metal which is considered not strictly metal, alternative rock, or hip hop. Faith No More are an example of this category, with their 'unconventional' metal sound, with the musics composition including elements of funk and rap music. Some artists of this category such as The Melvins and Meshuggah, take a more avant-garde approach to their music, including unconventional lyrics, odd time signatures, and unusual technique, while others have a more conventional but unique style such as Tool, Rage Against The Machine, Helmet, and Mudvayne.

The popularity of such music in the late 1990s led to widespread negative associations with the phrase "nu metal", particularly due to commercialisation, and many nu-metal fans and artists reject the term, which has become almost an all-purpose musical insult. A related term, mallcore, is used similarly to dismiss aggressive music that may appear to be calculated to appeal to young teenagers.

Contents

Style

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Beyond the pronounced hip hop and alternative rock influence, nu metal has like most forms of heavy metal music proven somewhat difficult to define using common knowledge. Some fans and musicians have a firm concept of the genre and its constructs, but others reject such categorization as unnecessary, limiting, useless or wrong.

Some heavy metal fans do not consider nu metal a form of heavy metal music at all, arguing the genre is too diluted from what they consider "true" heavy metal. Nu metal guitarists, for example, typically forsake traditional metal guitar technique, such as soloing and often use riffs quite different from those most commonly associated with what is expected of metal bands.

It is also not commonly accepted as metal because of the lyrics that usually deal with what teenagers face because some metal fans feel that metal is about strength, not weakness. Other heavy metal fans reject these arguments, citing rock music's long history of incorporating disparate elements--including jazz, experimental music and world music, out of curiosity, genuine appreciation for other musical genres, or both. Moreover, little objection has historically been raised to doom metal (a genre which lacks high-speed guitar pyrotechnics) or power metal (whose high fantasy image is often less threatening than nu-metal angst). It is possible that some of the anti-nu-metal backlash might be due to the genre's significant success as a popular music genre. In general, the rise of nu metal, as with most genres fusing other metal genres, has helped to cause severe divisions in the worlds metal communitys and remains a source of much animosity and debate among heavy metal fans.

Categorization of specific artists as "nu metal" is difficult, considering the widespread mistrust of the term among artists and fans alike, and the "edges" being blurred as to whem nu-metal bleeds into other genres. In general, the artists in question are mostly American bands that found their first success in through the 1990s, with other artists immediately shaping their sound to resemble the new groove-driven metal, leaving its influence still felt today. For example, the American metalcore scene of the early 2000s owes much to nu metal, as do recent releases from artists like Metallica and In Flames.

The popularization of the genre

The birth of nu-metal can in part be pinpointed to the earliest Lollapalooza music festivals in the 1990's which increased the exposure of bands who performed brands of metal and metal-influenced music that had little to do with traditional genre approaches. The funk of Primus and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the hip hop crossover of Rage Against the Machine and Fishbone, as well as the experimental rock of Tool have been mentioned numerous times by nu-metal bands who gained mass-media exposure at the end of the millennium.

Another essential part of nu metal's birth was the grunge movement of the early 1990s, which itself was a combination of classic metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with underground punk. This helped increase nu metal's audience and popularity, as many of the bands were as comfortable playing to alternative rock fans on various Lollapalooza line-ups (itself founded by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell) as they were opening for larger metal bands like Metallica. With the expsoure granted by the popular breakthrough of alternative rock, newer bands emerged with their distinctive takes on metal: White Zombie, Nine Inch Nails and Fear Factory started the industrial metal wave, Tool immersed themselves in prog-rock influences, Rage Against the Machine was as influened by hip hop and post-punk agitprop such as Gang of Four as it was by heavy metal, and Helmet molded a background in jazz and noise-rock/post-hardcore influences into an influential strand of intense rock music.

As the 90s progressed, nu metal's sound became more standardized as newer bands drew inspiration for the same collective set of influnces including RATM, Korn, Nine Inch Nails, and Helmet. Helmet in particular, with its downtuned riffs and aggressive dissonance, created the sonic template for nu-metal.

Although Nine Inch Nails and Ministry are viewed more often as industrial rock or industrial metal, their presence has also lived up as origin to nu-metal bands that would appear later, such as Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Orgy, Dope, Static-X and Powerman 5000 (fronted by Rob Zombie's/Cumming's younger brother). All of these bands have shown themselves to follow the same fusion of metal aspects with other genres that nu metal holds reign to, with the inclusion of industrial/techno influenced beats, ryhthms and sequencers.

Grunge, Post-Grunge and Nu-Metal

After Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, the viability of other bands in the grunge scene would follow: Alice In Chains' appearances would be sporadic due to Layne Staley's reclusive (and eventually fatal) drug addiction, Soundgarden would record only one more full-length, "Down on the Upside", before splitting up the following year, and Pearl Jam would scrap the rainy bleakness of "Ten" in favor of more politically-focused rock songs, mostly taking form as a side-project with singer Eddie Vedder.

Perhaps more than any other musical definition, Grunge is the most recognizable ancestor of nu-metal; the quick jolts of distorted guitar chords, tortured vocals and lyrics of angst have found clear public display in signature nu-metal artists, including those with a reputation for initiating "hip hop" into their sound.

The most apparent offspring to Grunge is Post-Grunge, which is often quickly dismissed as nu-metal. Whether it is or isn't is a subject of debate or matter of opinion. However, arguments on both sides are usually valid.

Days of the New is perhaps the first post-grunge band with a sound that best defines the groups that would precede: Mostly acoustic riffs, and a less iconoclastic, more radio-driven mentality likelier to appeal to an older, mainstream audience. Creed, Nickelback and 3 Doors Down are nondebatable examples of post-grunge bands.

Others, such as Cold, Staind, and Puddle of Mudd have been seen as both, since the song paces are usually faster, the guitars are louder, and the consumer field is generally younger and usually a fan of what could comfortably be defined as "nu-metal".

Sounds, constructs, and lyrics

Lyrical themes

Specifically, lyrics of most nu-metal bands reflect on the stresses and mishaps of everyday life from the eys of a teenager. Topics range from childhood alienation and abuse, socio-economic status, relationship/marital difficulties, dealing with feelings of stress/anxiety/depression and unpresidented anger at one's peers/family members..

Drug use, particularly marijuana and heroin, is also mentioned, usually in an elebratory or sarcastic manner. There is usually a fine line drawn for the latter, as a few prominent singers (and sometimes other band members) admitted to extremely hardcore drug addiction in the past and use music as "therapy" to denounce, or in some cases promote, their days before they quit using their chosen drug.

Political progressivism and activism is a least common item, but still noticeable in many nu-metal bands, expecially those that either influenced or started the genre in the early 1990's. More often, this is usually discussed candidly rather than in songs.

Vocals

Zach De La Rocha Zach De La Rocha

In the 1990s, many bands began to mix rapping and other vocal techniques with traditional heavy metal guitar and drum sounds. As a result, fans and music journalists needed to differentiate between the more traditional heavy metal music and this "new breed" of bands who were using samples, DJs, rapping, and drum machines in a way that made their music distinct. "New metal" was the name given to the genre, quickly evolving into the trendier spelling "nu metal," and a genre was vaguely defined.

Nevertheless, some distinction is usually maintained between bands that use rapping vocals, and those that don't. Bands featuring rap vocals are sometimes loosly called Rap Metal, or, Rapcore, both terms used by fans to depict a combination of singing, screaming, and/or rapping (for example, the vocals of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park). Furthermore, some nu metal artists use no rapping at all.

Tool has been a recognizable origin for some nu-metal vocal styles, if not nu-metal in general. Although dedicated fans distance the band as "different" and "progressive" compared to other popular rock acts, Chevelle's Pete Loeffler, Inner Surge's Steve Moore, Taproot's Stephen Richards and even Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst have cited Maynard James Keenan's signature "drone" style as an influence.

Guitar

While other metal genres were very guitar-based, with intricate guitar solos and complex riffs forming an important part of most songs, nu metal generally emphasizes the guitar as a rhythmic instrument. The riffs often consist of only a few different notes or power chords played in rhythmic, syncopated patterns. To emphasize this rhythmic "pulse," nu metal guitarists generally make liberal use of palm muting, a technique which itself blurs the boundary between a melodic note and rhythmic note. Unlike classic eighties thrash however, these palm mutes are widely spaced out and blend easily into the surrounding riffs. Another common tactic is the use of de-tuned strings (in drop-D or lower, sometimes adding a seventh string) whose lower pitch creates a thicker, more resonant sound. Many nu metal guitarists occasionally use natural harmonics. The opening riff of Linkin Park's "One Step Closer" is a representative example of many of the above techniques. Guitar solos are generally not part of nu-metal songwriting, though some bands do use them, such as Adema, Inner Surge, Saliva and System of a Down. When they are used, solos in nu metal generally rely on blues based scales, as opposed to the more technical solos of other metal genres. Another aspect of nu-metal guitar work is the use of electronic effects. Usually outboard effects pedals are manipulated to enhance simple single note riffs or add to simple to play chord riffs. Luminaries of nu metal such as Korn, Deftones, and Limp Bizkit have all utilized this trait in their work. Helmet has been cited as one of the biggest nu metal guitar influences, along with Machine Head (band), Prong and Fear Factory.

Bass

Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu

The speed and skill of a bassist in most metal genres plays a large part of outcome in the band's sound, complementing percussive tempos (and occasionally the guitar riffs) to add a strong rhythm to the tone.

In nu-metal, however, the bass is often the primary instrument, with guitarwork acting as a backing instrument, or sample in some cases, for a more "hip-hop geared" nu-metal.

Although the nu-metal "bass line" is hard to classify, the "slap style" style made popular by Michael Balzary, Billy Gould and Les Claypool would be forefront in the styles of latterday bassists like Justin Chancellor, Reginald Arvizu and Sam Rivers, who would follow in becoming influences themselves.

The nu-metal bass is also slower than most other metal genres, strutting a funkier, louder sound more geared towards making people dance and move with the beat, than to complement the other instruments. Some people have said that Nu Metal's bass often competes in volume with the bands vocalist.

Drums

Nu-metal drummers usually play in the vein of basic 4/4 beats (some say this could be from the hip hop influence) but often reach beyond patterns used in other metal genres, for more syncopated beats, such as Eastern dance rhythms (as played by John Dolmayan of System of a Down), jazz drumming, and the complex breakbeats of hip hop. One of the most important aspects of nu-metal drumming, and the music in general, is that the tempo rises above the estabilished 'alternative' midtempo range on a songs chouras. This is an almost universal rule with Slipknot and System of a down being two rare exceptions. Also, many notable nu-metal bands feature a DJ who provides sampled "beats" and other effects. Two of the more famous nu-metal DJs are DJ Lethal and Joe Hahn.


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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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