When Deftones’ song “Change (In the House of Flies)” blared from Tyson Burden’s car stereo in April 2020, he started choking. It wasn’t the familiar growl of a tune or the teenage yearning that pushed him that almost brought him to tears. His 15-year-old daughter, Nia LaVey-Berden, was sitting in the passenger seat and reciting the words to the song.
“I knew all the lyrics, and my mind was blown,” said Mr. Borden, 39, a retail manager in Jacksonville, Texas. Turns out, Nia discovered the band on TikTok a few months ago. After the initial shock, he joins in, and the two throw their heads back and belt out the chorus.
“It was that really magical moment between parent and child where we both love the same thing,” he said.
Nia is part of a growing group among Gen Z that are listening to metal music for the first time. Considered one of the most accessible forms of metal, the subgenre blends a heavy sound with elements of hip-hop, funk, and alternative rock (think: Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Kitty), and its lyrics often deal with dark themes like pain, depression, and isolation. Once popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has now found a second life among young listeners, thanks to TikTok, the Y2K revival, and of course, perpetual teen angst.
For Asher Neville, listening to nu metal is inspiring. “You feel like you can do anything,” said Mr. Neville, 25, a Los Angeles-based musician who performs under the stage name Frick. “This is the ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Like, you can look at me, you can stare at me, you can judge me, but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Silver chains, overly plated silk spikes, pants that are so big they ruin ball gowns—part of nu metal’s appeal is its flamboyant style, and celebs have taken notice. Billie Eilish She tops her oversized outfit with baseball caps à la Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit; Machine Gun Kelly wets his hair into stalagmites five inches long; And in June, Justin Beiber Dressed in a pair of JNCO wide leg jeans.
Renee Dyer, 19, fell in love with nu metal fashion before music. She doesn’t think anyone needs to dress a certain way to be considered a fan, but her clothing choices are heavily inspired by nu metal. “I feel like I’m living in that era,” said Ms. Dyer, a retail employee who lives in Toronto. Among her favorite pieces are JNCO jeans and Tripp NYC pants. (“The bigger the jeans,” she said, “the better!”).
Alex Strang, cultural analyst at Canvas 8Market research agency. Bands adopted flashy and provocative outfits to distinguish themselves and attract people’s attention. “If you’re a TRL user, and you see this weird thing with people singing and screaming and getting angry, and some people wearing boiler suits or wearing masks, you’d want to put it on TV, wouldn’t you?”
Nu metal’s embrace of shock value has led to a slew of theatrical antics, like when Mr. Durst blew up a boat live on MTV and when members of Mudvayne’s band attended the Video Music Awards with fake bullet holes in their heads. More than two decades later, these pieces are now ready to be re-circulated on social media. For example, one of the popular Twitter accounts run by Holiday Kirk, a music journalist, posts vignettes of absurd moments in the new mental history, which often garner tens of thousands of views.
“Everyone has access to everything, all the time,” Mr. Strange said online. “So Gen Z kids are going to pick the best bits out of a bunch of different genres and they’re going to be into everything and love everything. It’s like bricolage at work.”
Historically, nu metal appealed to outsiders who felt a strong emotional connection to its dark subject matter. Most hardcore fans felt protective of their favorite bands and didn’t like the idea of ”norms” or traditional or folk listening to nu metal music. In the ’90s, “either I was all over me or I was a poser,” said Lynn Thomas, 53, a longtime Deftones fan from Pittsburgh, whose 21-year-old daughter discovered the band on TikTok.
But a lot of Gen Zers care more about social and political issues like abortion and LGBT rights, “rather than” who am I hanging out with at the field party this weekend? “
These spaces may be less exclusionary now, but fans say there’s still a sense of guardedness among new metal heads – whether it’s older fans looking down on newlyweds, or clamoring from people of all ages about bands they consider uncool. Since discovering the subgenre in January, Jay Katze, a 17-year-old high school student in Bradenton, Florida, has reached out to some fellow online listeners, but has also called it a poser, a term he finds “ridiculous” and “childish.”
“Who would you expect to support a band you love if you were firing everyone else who showed interest?” Mr. Katze said.
Off the internet, fans also create physical spaces to grow the nu metal community. Over the past two years, Sam Gans, 31, and Daniel Steiger, 38, both die-hard metal fans, have organized “Nu Metal Night” dance parties in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Mr. Gans said people go “absolutely crazy” with their costumes at these seasonal events, showing up with leather-tinted hair, studded belts, JNCOs, chain purses and face paint.
“There were people backing off the stage,” Ms. Steiger said of a party in New York in March. “There was a whole row of mass strikes.” Mr. Gans said one man kept asking DJs to play “that one song” so he could propose to his girlfriend. No one could hear him and know the name of the song — so the guy never took the suggestion to heart.
The wave of pure metal is not lost on today’s popular artists either. Grimes, 100 gecs, Rina Sawayama, and Demi Lovato all brought elements of the subgenre into their sound, and some of the bands that were part of the proto-metal explosion feel the influence as well.
In May, Kittie premiered her first new song since 2011 at Sick New World, a music festival in Las Vegas that features almost entirely metal bands. Kitty’s drummer Mercedes Lander, 39, said the group went on an indefinite hiatus in 2017, but the two stoners began calling again in the fall of 2021 due to renewed interest.
“It took a little bit of talking about it,” Ms. Lander said of the reunion show. But one year after the initial request, Kitty is back together. “When we got on stage, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s how it’s supposed to be.'” “That’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “This feels great.”
For Mrs. Lander, it only makes sense that the songs she wrote with her older sister, Morgan Lander, when they were teenagers, still resonate with people. “It’s kind of proof that teenage anxiety is timeless,” she said.
And Kitty’s leading lady, 41, shared the sentiment. She jokes, “It doesn’t mean that there is no fire and anger in us now – yes, we are still angry.”
Mr. Borden, the Texas retail executive, said that after finding out his daughter was in Deftones, he showed her more of the band’s discography—particularly the album “White Pony,” which he loved as a teenager. And in May 2022, he finds himself in a scene he’s been dreaming of for over 20 years: screaming, banging his head and punching him at a Deftones concert alongside hundreds of sweaty fans. He never imagined that he would stand by his daughter.