Whether it’s the surprisingly frequent Evanescence covers on TikTok, the return of ’90s staple JNCO jeans, or the fact that Netflix’s hit show Beef featured Limp Bizkit music, the cultural signs are all pointing toward a shocking truth: Nu metal is back, baby.
If you grew up in the ’90s and had a penchant for rock music, you likely got swept up in the angsty nu metal trend that revolved around bands like Korn, Slipknot, Linkin Park, Static-X, and Papa Roach. The hallmarks of the furious genre include atonal chord changes, embracing dissonance, and guttural bass. One of the most memorable elements is the way nu metal vocals blend inspirations from traditional metal and hardcore music while bringing a hip-hop sensibility to the chaotic sound. All of that made it the alternative music of choice for angry teens — like ’00s baby goth me — to the horror of parents everywhere.
Pulling inspiration from ’90s hip-hop production and even occasionally including rapping — to the chagrin of many hip-hop fans — the “nu” in nu metal symbolized the fact that this was metal taking cues from rap just as hip-hop was becoming the predominant force in popular music. Nu metal’s growing popularity and perceived edginess soon led to genre film soundtracks following the lead of proto-nu metal compilations like The Crow in 1994, which featured Helmet, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Rage Against the Machine, Pantera, and Nine Inch Nails.
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By the end of the ’90s, two horror-drenched comic book films would prove instrumental in setting the stage for a monumental nu metal event: the vampire nu metal soundtrack. 1997’s Spawn soundtrack and the 1998 OST for Blade laid the foundation for the arrival of the nu metal vampires. Though the latter didn’t feature nu metal, it played with the industrial and electronic trends that were a core tenet of the nu metal sound, and it established many of the visual flourishes that later nu metal vampire movies, like Underworld, would ape. It also opened with one of the most iconically goth sequences of all time: the gore-soaked vampire blood rave. The Spawn soundtrack mixed the industrial and electronic sound of Blade with tracks like “Kick Out the P.A.” by Korn, establishing a connective tissue between the sounds.
The vampire nu metal connection was finally cemented with the Wes Craven-produced Dracula 2000, featuring a smorgasbord of acts from the upstart genre. Bands like Endo, Static-X, Disturbed, System of a Down, Linkin Park, and Taproot set the aural stage for the revamped vampire movie that featured many long black jackets and flashy edits. Centering around Gerard Butler’s resurrected Dracula, who returns to find his long-lost love — who works at a Virgin Megastore, no less — the movie peppers in nu metal at unexpected moments, as well as featuring a charmingly weird nu metal medley over the credits. Coming only two years after Blade, the film feels deeply derivative and dated in comparison to Stephen Norrington’s vampire classic. But it almost certainly influenced the most important entry in the nu metal vampire — and soundtrack — canon, which hit screens just two years later.
Nu metal soundtracks arguably peaked in 2002 with the much maligned yet incredibly entertaining and almost straight-to-video Interview with the Vampire sequel, Queen of the Damned. Though it starred Aaliyah as the ancient bloodsucking queen Akasha, the soundtrack was curated by Korn’s Jonathan Davis. He co-wrote five original songs with Richard Gibbs that made up the musical output of the film’s fictional band, Satan’s Night Out, fronted by none other than the main character from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, the vampire Lestat. Aaliyah, whose eclectic taste and love of industrial and rock music was well known, was such a fan of the tracks that she asked Davis to write a duet for her to sing with him. But due to her tragic and untimely death, the song was never recorded. As Davis’ vocals contractually couldn’t appear on the CD version of the soundtrack, he brought in famous nu metal stars like Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Wayne Static from Static-X, and David Draiman of Disturbed.
Even outside of the stacked soundtrack, the power of nu metal is key to the film, as Lestat is literally awoken from his centuries-long slumber by the heavy drumbeat of a band practicing in his sprawling mansion. Nu metal runs through every moment of the movie, from the credits to the songs sung by the band to the plot relevance of the music — Lestat is revealing ancient vampire secrets via his Jonathan Davis-penned bangers — to the legendary Deftones-scored sex scene that takes place in a rose-petal-filled bath. While seen as corny and thoroughly lambasted at the time, the film found a cult following among nu metal fans and teenage girls, thanks to the powerfully hot and horny pairing of Stuart Townsend as Lestat and Aaliyah as the all-powerful vampire queen Akasha.
Just as nu metal is making its return to the mainstream, so has a growing fandom for Queen of the Damned found a home online. TikTok features multiple clips of the film’s most infamous moments with tens of thousands of likes. There are Akasha belly dancing videos and, of course, Lestat and Akasha fancams. It’s not just nostalgic millennials like me who saw the movie at a formative age and never forgot it. Nu metal fashions like chokers, mesh shirts, and ornate jewelry are featured in Queen of the Damned aesthetic posts all over Pinterest. A new generation is discovering the nu metal vampire legacy, meaning that perhaps it can be resurrected again. In the age of streaming, anything can find a new audience, and the internet makes it far easier to find people who love the weird stuff that you thought you should be embarrassed for adoring.
These dangling cultural threads are easy to tie together, especially with the rise in nostalgia for Catherine Hardwicke’s 2008 teen vampire movie, Twilight. While that infamous blue-tinged romance featured a soundtrack that was more emo than nu metal, millennials who were mocked for enjoying the overwrought and fantastically campy franchise have reclaimed it thanks to meme accounts, fan art, and witty language built from years of being too online. That has inspired an entirely new fandom of young viewers who can’t believe the toxic high school-set love story is real but still can’t resist its cringe-inducing charms. The love for the Twilight Saga has grown so all-consuming that Hot Topics are now filled with merchandise that hadn’t been seen in malls since the final film hit in 2012, and Lionsgate has spent 2023 aggressively cease-and-desisting the fan accounts that inspired the resurgence in the first place.
The nu metal vampire canon waned after Queen of the Damned. Some of the notable later entries were the Dracula 2000 sequels Dracula II: The Ascension and Dracula III: Legacy. Those are some of the rare sequels that are far superior to the original, thanks to Jason Scott Lee’s vampire-killing priest. Another later nu metal vampire entry is questionable Lucy Liu Blade ripoff Rise: Blood Hunter. And likely the most well known of the mid-’00s vampire films is Underworld, which introduced a werewolf threat to the leather-clad vampire movie aesthetic.
Despite that, though, the horror nu metal canon continued to grow, with films like Freddy vs. Jason, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Bride of Chucky, Scream 3, Ghosts of Mars, Jason X, and many more keeping the nu metal genre connection alive. As we move back toward ’00s franchises like Saw and throwback superhero (and vampire) films that feel like they were made in 2005, like Morbius, it is time to restore the nu metal soundtrack and embrace the cringe that may come with it. So, screenwriters and studio heads: Who among you will be brave enough to bring back the nu metal vampire? The world — and the internet — needs them and their long leather jackets more than ever before.