Monday, 20 July 2015

Nü-stalgia: Five Underrated Nu-Metal albums

It was almost as if someone had forged the night from my own teenage memories. The event was called Break Stuff, it boasted an extensive repertoire of classic Nu-Metal, Attitude-Era wrestling and retro video gaming. They had me at hello. The only thing absent was a skate park and clumsily rolled joints. For the three hundred or so curious individuals present, this was an ultimately nostalgic festivity. For that was why we were all there, to reclaim a few hours of our youth from the intimidating grasp of our twenties. Three hundred people, lost amidst the wistfulness and uneasily pondering which hole the last ten years of our lives had crawled into.

It is not often I frequent nightclubs these days, when I do it is usually not of my own accord. I usually, just pretend to be enjoying myself, aimlessly nodding along to the repetitive and unfamiliar sounds being passed as music, whilst actively hoping that copious amounts of spirits maybe able to grant basic movement besides my trademark awkward shuffle. Here, I felt mobile again, free of the constrictions of my own social insecurities, namely what is considered appropriate nightclub decorum. Upon hearing the songs that formed the basis to my later musical preferences, the suppressed sixteen year old broke free from the shackles cultivated from responsibility and maturity and took the wheel. Suddenly, it became acceptable to jump and scream along to the lyrics. I even felt compelled to introduce my best pseudo hip-hop gestures, the kind that would have made Fred Durst proud... and jealous.

Regardless of my well intended parody, I was left humbled by how important these songs are to me. This was the soundtrack to both my youth and generation. It was irrelevant the songs were overtly angst-ridden and immature because, speaking for the majority, we were exactly that. Meaningful reflections aside, the night was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my substantial Nu Metal proficiency. I exhibited great pride in effortlessly identifying every single song. Admittedly, the DJ did not exactly make this challenging with his safe, yet enjoyable selection. He could have merely played the earlier 'Kerrang' compilations and no one would have been the wiser.

In the days Nu Metal was confidently riding its wave of momentum, I was determined to engorge my music collection with bands that had an agreeably limited audience. Pre Spotify or Youtube, I would scour Amazon or Yahoo Music absorbing anything that none of my associates had heard of. My logic being that band would then forever be attributed to me. Unsurprisingly, many of the leading examples of the genre are relatively unknown, especially outside of America. For this reason I feel obliged to share with you the five albums considered Nu metal that I feel are the most underrated. Take note Break Stuff DJ, you have to redeem yourself for disregarding songs from any of these artists for Creed. Inexcusable.

Relative Ash – Our Time With You (2000)

Nu Metal has become somewhat of a derogatory term in later years. Many see it as the era where music, effectively dumbed down, dismissed musicianship and played towards the lowest common denominators. I almost felt contrived to associate Our Time With You with the term Nu Metal as it demonstrates a much higher level of talent and self awareness. Maybe it was purely a consequence of time that this album was cached together with the masses of generic musical reproductions? Or maybe it was the fairly obvious influence of Nu Metal mainstays Deftones? Regardless, this album virtually transcends the genre.

It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Relative Ash actively acknowledge their main inspiration as the Deftones. Listening with a casual ear, the comparisons are apparent, predominately in vocal performance. Marcus Harrington channels the haunting melodies, punctuating visceral screams and hip-hop influenced delivery that Chino Moreno bought to the earlier Deftones albums. Harrington carries a sense of vulnerability in his enunciation and considering many of the lyrical themes it is evident to see why.

Our Time With You has the kind of lyrical themes largely unheard of with the genre. These are intelligent and emotive lyrics dealing with complex themes such as abortion, child birth, sexual frustration, religious disillusionment and even the harsh realities of HIV. At times it can be an uncomfortable listening experience, but the best music is that which can generate a genuine emotional response and almost everyone can relate to any of the subject matters highlighted within the album. On stand out track Bounce, the chorus states “This is raw emotion,” and ultimately, this is what this album documents, authentic emotion in a pre-eminent musical form.

40 Below Summer – Invitation to the Dance (2001)

In comparison, Invitation to the Dance demonstrates many of the archetypal conventions of Nu Metal, however, it elevates itself above its peers by compiling all the familiar elements of the genre with sharp proficiency and ambition.

The album is effectively a major label reworking of the bands previous release Side Show Freaks. Produced by Slipknot percussionist Shawn Crahan (and conceivably the best musical output he has contributed to) the advantage of a larger production budget allowed the band to develop their sound considerably. Invitation to the Dance experiments with various musical formulas and exhibits an eclectic diversity ranging from the rap-metal anthem Step into the Sideshow to the industrial influenced Smile Electric.

Whilst, it is a stylistically aggressive album, melody is emphasised through anthemic choruses delivered by the impressively schizophrenic range of vocalist Max Illidge. The bands follow up The Mourning After would accentuate the use of melody even further, albeit to mixed results and consequently, reaffirmed the accomplished balance of tone demonstrated here.

This album would be my primary choice to introduce someone to the attributes of Nu Metal, not only does it accurately represent the key musical qualities, it does so with just enough originality and accessibility to make it an essential example of the genre.

The Deadlights – The Deadlights (2000)

If I were to summarise the sound of The Deadlights, a unique combination of The Smashing Pumpkins and Korn comes to mind. The band have left very little trace, except for the sole, truly exceptional album they released in 2000. Again, this is a quintessentially characteristic Nu Metal album, except from the aforementioned vocal style which brings an almost haunting sense of melody to the discordant and contentious music.

The Deadlights is a bleak album with lyrical content portraying themes of violence, alienation and nihilism, yet it rarely demonstrates the often clichéd approach of the bands predecessors. The band exhibits conscientious song writing and musical proficiency, especially towards the climax of the album with the eastern-influenced Time and atmospheric finale Falling Down.


Ultraspank – Progress (2000)

Had Ultraspank chosen themselves a more sensible or relevant moniker, I believe many would have taken them more seriously, or at least not instantly dismissed them as another boorish Nu Metal band. Although, when considering the dominant band in your market is named Limp Bizkit, they might have been onto something.

Progress, as the title suggests, saw the band dramatically improve on their sound from their debut self-titled release. The heavy use of programming on the album showcases the increasingly industrial-orientated sound the band was likely aiming towards. One of the reoccurring themes in my list is that all of the aforementioned albums benefit heavily from the bands substantial vocal performances. Progress is no exception. Pete Murray can sing, very well. One listen to Stuck demonstrates Murray's ability to channel the spirit of Layne Staley before transitioning into an almost operatic chorus. Similarly, on Push, he fluently shifts from aggressive growls to near angelic harmonies.

Progress is an unique and appropriately titled album in the sense that it possessed concepts ahead of its time. The albums mature, eclectic sound did not coincide with the over saturated marketplace of the era. The major labels spoon-fed the masses with banal Linkin Park clones, leaving bands like Ultraspank, who exhibited both originality and talent, to falter. Consequently and ironically, Progress proved terminal to the bands career.

Lollipop Lust Kill – My So Called Knife (2002)

Aside from the masks of Slipknot and Mushroomhead and Coal Chambers inability to write a song, the Nu Metal genre was, predominantly lacking in gimmicks. The majority of Nu Metal bands adopted the back to basics, let the music do the talking approach, that Grunge had previously all but executed the Hair Metal scene with. Very few bands incorporated stage theatrics or a specific visual aesthetic. In fact, many of the band members would effectively become unrecognisable amidst their own audiences, obscured in a ocean of baggy jeans and spiked hair, not Lollipop Lust Kill though.

My So Called Knife showcases Lollipop Lust Kills exclusive brand of horror themed metal. The band were renown for adorning themselves as pall bearers and relying heavily on themes of murder, serial killers and all that is considered macabre as the main inspiration for their lyrical content. The most graphic of these can be found on the tracks Father which details child abuse and Bury You which describes a premeditated murder. The stirring lyrics are extenuated by vocalist Evvy Pedder's eerie croon which at times is comparable to that of Roy Orbison. The Perfect Woman is probably the leading example to describe the bands overall sound. Imagine 'The Big O' softly lulling, accompanied by the theme to The Addams Family and punctuated by a chorus of hardcore influenced metal and you have Lollipop Lust Kill.

NG