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Fear of the Flyover – Snobbery and the Nü-Metal Revival

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On March 11th Mick Thomson, the guitarist of Nü-Metal juggernauts Slipknot, was rushed to the hospital after being stabbed multiple times by his brother. Thomson thankfully survived the altercation with no serious injuries, but the event is yet another tragedy for a band whose history is filled with them, including the death of bassist Paul Grey in 2010. Since their inception Slipknot have teetered at the edge of disaster, the theatrical bedlam of their live performances always threatening to spill over into reality.

It’s a wonder that a band so prone to bad luck has been so remarkably successful, but then again, the aura of barely controlled chaos is inseparable from their mythology and thus their appeal. It’s no secret that an element of real or perceived danger is a draw for many heavy metal fans and despite its black sheep status among the metal blogosphere Nü-Metal is no different. As a young teen I was fascinated by the genre in part because I was repulsed by it.

Being raised in a mild mannered upper middle class New York household, I found Nü-Metal’s depravity to be both tantalizing and terrifying. This only became more palpable when I graduated from hard rock leaning bands like Korn and Linkin Park to heavier acts like Slipknot, Static-X and Mudvayne. Slipknot and Static-X in particular wore their Midwestern-ness on their sleeves, repping their states of origin on their album titles with the fierce regional pride of hip-hop’s coastal rivalries. It seemed to me that just across the Hudson was a vast waste of cornfields teeming with masked men in jumpsuits willing to demolish a house for no discernable reason (see video below). Midwestern Nü-Metal’s nihilistic rage didn’t derive from any philosophical underpinning but from boredom and the desolation of its geographical origins. They created a vision of America’s heartland where the cultural blood had long stopped pumping, leaving a monochrome nightmare of school shootings, meth use and detuned guitars.

Slipknot – “Duality”

While there’s some validity to the idea that Nü-Metal’s proliferation through the Midwest was a reaction against the normalcy of its surroundings, the dystopian wasteland of my imagination was undoubtedly fueled by an East Coast disdain for the “flyover states.” The East and West Coasts, New York City and Los Angeles in particular, have long seen themselves as the source and arbiter of American culture. As such, coastal haughtiness towards those outside of the perceived cultural centers of the country is inevitable, even with a genre as rooted in the working class as heavy metal,. Though American metal has often been propelled by those in the margins, the stereotype of what Thomas Pynchon in Bleeding Edge called “this aura of blank menace with which the Midwest so often fails to endear itself” remains hard to shake.

One only needs to look at the way King 810 are gawked at with voyeuristic disgust by the metal media at large to see that fear of the flyover is alive and well. King 810, like the predecessors in Slipknot, use their area code as a badge of pride. It’s impossible to not recognize their origins in Flint, Michigan, a fact that may strengthen their tough guy credibility but reduces them to a little more than a pack of mindless thugs in the eyes of metal’s coast centric media outlets. To be fair, King 810 don’t exactly play down their hometown’s violent reputation as they use it’s crime statistics and dire economic straits as seasoning in their music videos (see below) but the speed at which a site like Metalsucks is willing to treat these aesthetic choices as a deception or merely theatrics belies a complete lack of interest in taking the content of King 810’s music seriously. It’s telling that Deftones and System Of A Down, both Nü-Metal bands often given a pass by metal fans and media, originate from the West Coast, while acts like Mushroomhead or Mudvayne are passed over as Mr. Bungle (another California band) knockoffs.

King 810 – “Killem All”

But while metal media is quick to scoff at bands like King 810, they are more than happy to elevate other bands that are clearly influenced by Nü-Metal as long as they play into a more convenient narrative. Noisey has written about the younger bands drawing from Nü-Metal in order to present themselves ahead of the curve. This is a classic case of the coasts waiting for time to grant an ironic distance between itself and Midwest culture before championing that same culture, just as the coasts did with the “emo revival” and normcore. Metalsucks have also brought up the “Nü-Metal Revival” as a way to enforce their own sense of superiority to a band like Issues or Emmure. Regardless of how it fits into your agenda, if you cover semi-mainstream metal in 2015, you have to reckon with Nü-Metal. Korn have now been a band long enough to be as old as Metallica were when Nü-Metal was having its heyday in the early 2000’s. An entire generation of new musicians and fans who have none of the same inherent apprehension towards Nü-Metal are starting to make their mark on the scene. Hell, even Coal Chamber are getting back together. Like it or not, Nü-Metal’s place in metal history can no longer be swept under the rug, and resorting to classist assumptions and old biases won’t cut it anymore.

—Ian Cory

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