Nu metal never died — it just took a Memorrhage to remember
The first coming of nu metal, as much a subgenre as a suburban raison d'être, both overpromised and overdelivered on its hostile id. The riffs? Sloppy and sloshy. The bass? No less than five strings of wobble. The drums? Thoroughly thwacked. The vocals? When rapped: pitchy; when screamed: puffed. The angst? Petty at best; violently misogynistic at worst. These were the features, not bugs, of nu metal as it overtook what remained of commercial rock radio. As a quiet teenager seeking a scene in those years, I found the positive reinforcement I craved through punk and hardcore. Nu metal appeared to be isolationist in its anger — the salve for pain was pain — and that didn't feel particularly productive. Even Korn was too whiny for me ... and I was an emo kid raised on guitar twinkle and nasal pining. (Of course, emo and punk weren't that much better; just read Jessica Hopper's necessary "Where the Girls Aren't" essay.)
In the last few years, younger metal musicians have been cribbing the nu style. Code Orange, Tallah, Vein.fm, Cheem and Tetrarch are not only scene leaders, but have stretched the sound by expanding perceptions of who makes this music; even pop singers like Rina Sawayama have gone all-in on songs like "STFU!" (I'm not made of stone: These bands inspired me to reconsider the likes of Papa Roach, Coal Chamber, Filter, Snot and Slipknot, not to mention rekindle my love for P.O.D. and Deftones.) That recombined nostalgia can sometimes have a disingenuous halo effect on how we remember, but it's also a crucial lesson in what we take away from music.
By his own admission, nu metal was Garry Brents' first love. Last summer, Brents — who makes an absurd amount of extreme metal music under several names including Cara Neir, Gonemage, Homeskin and Sallow Moth — found himself in a black hole of nostalgia, fueled by Korn's live performance in a Woodstock '99 documentary and the endlessly entertaining "Crazy Ass Moments in Nu Metal History" Twitter account, and decided to forge some freaky ground. His project Memorrhage, unabashedly a subgenre exercise, manages to both reclaim and reshape nu metal with a portmanteau'd moniker that also acts as a thesis on how a memory can flow uncontrollably once unblocked.
Everything on Memorrhage's self-titled debut is executed with mech-warrior ferocity and precision. In the opening seconds, harmonics are pinched in a swirl of creepy sustain before the bass slaps away a torrent of crunchy riffs and mathy breakdowns, as if the polyrhythmic chaos of Slipknot got caught in a Converge chokehold. "Memory Leak," performed entirely by Brents (as is the majority of the album), is a good introduction to his science fiction-inspired world building: A cybernetic organism awakens to a world not only drenched in but defined by violence and injustice, and like the replicants in Blade Runner, finds itself at odds with human existence. Brents delights in nu-metal's sonic tropes, but experiments with the lyrical lens through which he unleashes his fury.
"Exit" and "Reek" make compelling cases for Godflesh's tangential influence on the scene, pitting industrial clang and hip-hop beats against caustic riffs and an unmistakable bark indebted to Justin Broadrick. Lest you worry about the project's bona fides, nary a turntable is left unscratched: Two DJs split the duties, acting as lead instruments and syncopated ornamentation. Mr. Rager gives the demented "Knurl" — and the album, quite frankly — a much-needed moment of melodic respite, spinning Incubus-cool webs behind frenzied breakbeats.
Several guest vocalists appear, including Fire-Toolz and Aki McCullough (A Constant Knowledge of Death), but the most satisfying collaboration comes from Ilya Mirosh, a Minsk-based musician who posts vocal covers on YouTube. "Lunge" would have been voted most likely to succeed as a hit back in the '90s: Guitars squeal octaves, riffs do what the song title suggests with channel-panning glee, vinyl scribbles maniacally and the call-and-response chorus between Brents' harsh growl and Mirosh's melodic howl is instantly memorable. "Utility" breaks character and nods at a Memorrhage multiverse, one where nu-metal is played with a pretty-boy post-hardcore sheen and sung with post-grunge grit, featuring EDM breakdowns. It's the kind of genre perversity at which Brents has long excelled, especially in Cara Neir, taken to a secret new level.
Memorrhage is not only an exercise in genre but a meditation on perspective. In these songs, a downtuned dumbness scratches a '90s itch, for sure, but also imagines another path. For Brents and so many others, nu metal's angst-ridden viscera was the draw — primal screams, chugging riffs, maybe a funky rhythm section masquerading as metal. The lyrical style, too, offered a vehicle to vent frustration — an unfiltered expression with nothing left to lose. Brents still channels the genre's requisite misanthropy, just through a "dystopian escapism" that points its robotic fingers at our inhumanity: "I found a god and it's not you."
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