Heavy Metal Book Club: Brave Nu World by Tommy Udo

"Once again, it seems that reports of the death of rock and roll have been greatly exaggerated."
So begins a text that, ironically, much like the musical genre it discusses, has now become a dusty relic of a forgotten era, attempts at a revival notwithstanding. I didn't pick up Brave Nu World by Tommy Udo expecting to read a 17-year-old message in a bottle, a somewhat backhanded love letter to nu metal tossed into the ocean of 2002, when the genre still had an actual beating pulse. For whatever reason, I expected to read a thoughtful reflection on a deeply polarizing genre, now decades old, a genre which I know little about and for which I care even less. Instead, Brave Nu World reads somewhat like a cross between a nu metal primer for concerned parents, and a hastily-written fanzine guaranteed to loosen a few dollars from the wallets of the most dedicated followers of the genre... or at least those who can read.*
Udo does connect nu metal to a wider cultural context, and shows interest in dissecting the implications of the genre, particularly regarding issues of race and gender, but the incisions, not benefitting from clarity of hindsight, are mostly superficial. What emerges is the picture of a largely incestuous subgenre indelibly tied to a very specific time and place, one that might benefit from a revisit today, if only anyone cared enough to bother. 
After all, the rap-rock bombast of nu metal was rife with contradictions that are still worthy of examination. For example, how was a genre so widely derided by both critics and consumers also so commercially successful? Or to put it more succinctly, perhaps, how could Limp Bizkit simultaneously be one of the most hated bands in the world, yet sell over one million copies of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water in one week in the United States alone? How could a subgenre that was arguably extremely juvenile and disposable, also be one of the most diverse, both in terms of musical influence, but also ethnicity? How did the moronic misogyny of Limp Bizkit come to coexist with the makeup-counter androgyny of Orgy and Coal Chamber? Udo touches on some of the complications, and provides salient first-hand opinions in the form of direct quotes from players in the genre, but otherwise leaves the reader mostly to their own conclusions.
By far the strangest thing about reading a survey of a relatively brief period in music, especially one written quickly on the heels of that period, is how rapidly so many of the touch points of an era can become obsolete. It's not just defunct bands or deceased band members, but also record labels and festivals that no longer exist, or even aspects of the industry as a whole that have changed. This gives the reader the sense of peering into a time capsule, which has the unfortunate side effect of making the author look a bit foolish when his predictions for the future of a genre have not come to pass. Assertions like "Deadsy may actually be part of a movement back towards the brutal negativity of death metal in the coming months and years", and that "any follow-up to [one hit wonders Crazy Town's] The Gift of Game will be one of the major releases of the next few years" are amazingly laughable from our current vantage point.
Beyond failed predictions, the book is sprinkled with tiny inaccuracies that made me hike my metaphorical glasses a little higher on my nose and mutter "well, actually...", and while certain errors point to this having been written as quickly as possible in order to capitalize on a waning musical moment, overall, this is a fairly comprehensive summary of a genre. I could have done with a little less breathlessness on the chapter dedicated to Staind (an obvious outlier within the genre), and a little more stitching together of information about releases and band formations into a cohesive timeline. In fact, the book's structure weakens it. With full chapters dedicated to Korn, Limp Bizkit, the aforementioned Staind, Linkin ParkDeftonesSlipknot, and Kittie, but then dozens of artists relegated to a couple of later catch-all chapters, while wider narratives of the genre emerge, it's not clear to see how exactly this all came together across time.
I did not become a fan of the genre upon completion of this book, but that is hardly the point. Nu metal either spoke (or perhaps still speaks?) to you, or didn't, so this book will mostly confirm your existing bias, albeit painting a better picture of the influences that came together to bring this aggressive genre to massive mainstream appeal. Through it all, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst lurks and lumbers, and it's interesting to see how much of an impact, for good or ill, he had in shaping the genre. Having had the... experience of seeing Limp Bizkit live at last year's Heavy Montreal festival, it is nigh incredible to think that the same man who whinily did it all for the nookie managed to noisily stomp his influence all over a significant chunk of turn-of-the-millennium radio rock.
If you yearn for the heady days of heavily gelled hair spikes, braindead breakdowns, aggressive revisions of 80s pop hits, and wide-legged, overly complicated pants, this book is a permanent tribute to an ephemeral moment that will satisfy your nu metal nostalgia needs.
* This is, of course, an easy joke, and, given the amount of references to the supposed lack of cognitive abilities of the average nu metal fan sprinkled throughout this book, heavily on theme.
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