Many of these bands did share a similar sound, a similar look and no real will to develop their music beyond what was popular in the metal scene at the time. Groups like Spineshank, Nothingface and Coal Chamber made their labels huge amounts of money and earned themselves a loyal angsty teenage following. One only has to look at Limp Bizkit as the perfect example of a group typifying a moment in music history that most of us look back on in embarrassment. These days most of those bands are long gone. Limp Bizkit are still going and have a loyal following but are now just a nostalgia act for 30-somethings desperate to relive their youth.
However, it is not fair to categorize all bands labelled as nu-metal in this way. Many, including Linkin Park, Slipknot and KoRn, did develop their sound beyond the confines of DJ scratching and drop-D guitar chords. All to great success.
However, of these nu-metal survivors, one group stands out. A band who even nu-metal's harshest critics now acknowledge as one of the great rock bands of any genre of the last 20 years. The one and only Deftones.
Formed way back in 1988 (long before nu-metal was even a thing) Deftones are a Sacramento, California-based band who combine metal guitar tunings and drum techniques, alternative rock sensabilities with hip-hop influenced keyboards and grunge inspired 'quite-loud' verse-chorus dynamics. Lead singer Chino Moreno's voice ranges from shoegaze quite, to death-metal growls. The group released their first two albums, Adrenaline in 1995 and Around The Fur 1997. Songs like 'Be Quite & Drive' and 'My Own Summer' gained the band a cult following not just among metal fans, but those from punk and hip-hop scenes too. Despite this, the band only achieved moderate critical success. However, it was 2000s mega-hit album White Pony (a clear allusion to cocaine) that cemented the outfit as the undisputed kings of metals new era.
Let's take a look at 3 songs that I believe typify the album.
First up is the albums second track 'Digital Bath'. This song is as smooth as can be and showcases the bands trippy side, with two-guitars inter-weaving in and out of drummer Abe Cunningham's rhythmic drums. Chino's vocals soar at the chorus and crashes during the verses. Strangely, this song was the biggest radio hit of the album. While this is probably due to it being one of the least heavy tracks it's lyrics concern a guy who kills his girlfriend after sex by electrocuting her in the bath.
Next is the NSFW, groove-infused 'Passenger'. The song is as straight forward as they come, a first person narrative from the point of view of a guy having sex with his girlfriend in the back of a moving car at night. The guitar rift and bass lines in this song are as good as anything the band has ever done but what truly elevates it to legendary status is the combined harmonies of Moreno and guest vocalist Maynard James Keenan from Tool. The pair takes turns singing each line but it is Keenan's performance during the chorus that is spine-tingling. For me this is not just the best track on the album, but the best from the Deftones whole discography.
Lastly we have the song that, if you have ever heard of the Deftones, you have probably heard before at least once due to it's amazing video being played frequently on music channels. I am talking of course about the creepy, gentle, floating 'Change (In The House of Flies)'. The song feels drunk. Moreno's dissonant and distant vocals tell of a relationship gone bad. The video is a work of art too. It shows the apathetic aftermath of some headonistic party in LA (normally the focus of rock videos) which coupled with the metaphor-filled lyrics about something beautiful being destroyed, make this song one that will stay with you long after its 3:55 run time has expired.
White Pony remains the Deftones best album 19-years later. After its release came two so-so rock oriented albums which, while still fun and enjoyable, didn't come close to the heights of White Pony. Since 2010 however, the band have been on one of the best album runs of any group I can think of. Diamond Eyes (2010), Koi No Yokan (2012) and Gore (2016) are all fantastic and show a band on the top of their game. For my money, the Deftones are among the most consistently high-quality bands in all of rock and metal. With a new album on the horizon, all I can say is long may it continue.