Back to a Nü Future: A Small Primer on Metalcore

If you know me, it’s not really a surprise to see me write about my favorite subgenre of metal. If you don't know me, my name is JP and I love everything that is melodic and heavy at the same time, I live to die in a mosh pit during a sick breakdown and I’m really passionate about metalcore - what can i say?

I have both a little history lesson and some food-for-thought today, since this is something that has been on my mind since the beginning of this pandemic. Some bands I follow released a few songs that reminded me a lot of early Slipknot or early Linkin Park, both being a big part of what was called nu metal at the time. And I thought there were some interesting links that could be drawn from this. 

Let us start with a little information session before anything else to make sure you can follow along;

Nu metal is a subgenre of alternative metal. Really, it’s mostly a melting pot for bands who were too influenced by either hip hop, funk, rap and electronic music to be categorized in any other metal subgenre. It became immensely popular in the middle of the 1990s before dying down before 2010. Albums like Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory (2000), Slipknot’s self-titled (1999) and sophomore release Iowa (2001), System Of A Down’s Toxicity (2001), Papa Roach’s Infest (2000), Korn’s Follow the Leader (1998), Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other (1999) and the Rage Against the Machine self-titled (1992) were game-changers, defining the musical taste and expressing the anger and frustration of a couple of generations of young adults and teens.

Metalcore was officially born in the early 1990s from the fusion of hardcore punk and extreme metal, as some hardcore punk bands started adding more melody to their sound, having other bands jokingly calling them metallic hardcore. The subgenre is mostly known for substituting solos with slow and intense breakdowns, which are usually accompanied by crowd choreography we call mosh pits. The genre gained a lot of popularity in the early 2000s, with the Warped Tour launching the career of so many bands when it was at the peak of its popularity. Records like As I Lay Dying’s Shadows Are Security (2005), August Burns Red’s Constellations (2009), Killswitch Engage’s As Daylight Dies (2006), Hatebreed’s Perseverance (2002), ArchitectsLost Forever // Lost Together (2014), Bring Me The Horizon’s Suicide Season (2008) and Parkway Drive’s Horizons (2007) are some of the albums that both define and influenced the subgenre.

With the background laid out, now we can jump to the small history lesson. By the early 2000s, the subgenre of nu metal was running out of steam, for 3 different main reasons. Reason #1 was that, while the genre still sold well, the material released at the start of the new millennium was poorly received by critics, sometimes being judged weaker in comparison to records previously produced. Reason #2 was the Hollywood-like drama that occurred between bands and even bandmates, making the genre more about the relations between its people instead of the music. Reason #3 is that the imagery and the nu metal style was cringy and, like a new fashion trend in high school, it died down after people got older and cringed at some old pictures of themselves. Those 3 main reasons caused the bands to change their sound and to move to more specific genres or to go for a more commercial outlook. Meanwhile, fans turned to metalcore as a rising star in the metal realm, as it was as heavy and melodic as what nu metal could offer without any style change (pre-emocore, please). So rap and guitar solos turned into long heavy breakdowns, as the genres evolved.

We now fast forward in time to the present day, where I listen to anything on Spotify and I keep noticing metalcore bands using rap parts, more noticeable computer-fabricated melodies, and even going as far as collaborating with DJs. I know how this sounds and no, I am not attacking your music taste, everyone can listen to anything they want. It's more about “Why? Why do it now, 20-ish years later?” Especially after considering the three main causes of nu metal’s fall written in this article, the mystery behind the sudden resurgence of these rap and electronic parts was bugging me.

Why would suddenly I Prevail decide to invite rapper Joyner Lucas to sing in another version of "DOA" that originally didn’t have a rap part? Why would bands like Bad Omens and Point North suddenly decide to do a collaboration with DJs like ILLENIUM, Excision and Kayzo? Why would Bring Me The Horizon decide to use computer-generated melodies as the main parts of half the songs on POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR (2020)?

This makes more sense when you look at the artists as real people who, like everyone, are influenced by their music tastes. Nu metal has been on this planet for 30 years and was only at its peak for 5 years. And if you understand capitalism, the more in demand nu metal concerts, merch, and records were, the more widespread it became, as the subgenre was once the most popular metal genre on Earth. So every member of those modern bands were probably heavily influenced by Linkin Park, by Slipknot or by Rage Against the Machine. And when you are fond of a sound or a song, you almost always go back to it, no matter what. It is called nostalgia. So it would make perfect sense for these sounds to come back into more recent music, especially after influencing so many future musicians back then. 

But why now? That one is easier to answer. With everything that happened in 2020 and the panic, stress, anger and sadness that it caused, a negative state of mind was inevitable. There are many ways to cope with these emotions, and those options are limited when your local government confines you to an enclosed space. People are constantly being fed with new information causing a lot of uncertainty. For a lot of people, it required going back to something familiar to find some sort of comfort, which was nu metal in this precise case.

I am no elitist of the metal genre. Since I’m the ‘Core Guy, I would be, by default, a poser. On occasion, I will caricature the metal elitist persona as a joke to my friends, telling them that they needed to listen to either Norwegian black metal or BABYMETAL to truly be considered a real metalhead. I never mean it, as I believe everyone should listen to what makes their hearts dance the way they want. I personally like those nu metal-influenced metalcore songs that I mentioned earlier, as I am one of those people that was really influenced by nu metal, with both Linkin Park and Slipknot being early discoveries of mine during the beginnings of my metalhead journey. 

I will conclude this essay by listing fiven nu-metalcore songs that you should check out.

  1. I Prevail - Hurricane

  2. While She Sleeps - SLEEPS SOCIETY

  3. Afterlife - Wasting Time

  4. Bring Me The Horizon - Teardrops

  5. Kayzo, Bad Omen - Suffocate

JP co-hosts The Iron Club, your weekly guide to the dark and mysterious realm of underground metal, which airs every Sunday from 9:00 - 11:00PM.