When Deftones’s hit “Change (In the House of Flies)” blared out of Tyson Burden’s car stereo in April 2020, he started to choke up. It wasn’t the tune’s familiar growls or the teenage nostalgia it prompted that made him almost cry; it was his 15-year-old daughter, Nia LaVey Burden, sitting in the passenger seat and reciting the words to the song.
“She knew all the lyrics, and my mind was blown,” said Mr. Burden, 39, a retail manager in Jacksonville, Texas. Turns out, Nia had discovered the band on TikTok a few months earlier. After the initial shock, he joined in, and the two threw their heads back and belted out the chorus.
“It was just this really magical moment between parent and child where we love the same thing,” he said.
Nia is part of a growing group among Generation Z that is listening to nu metal for the first time. The subgenre, considered one of the most accessible forms of metal, blends a heavy sound with elements of hip-hop, funk and alternative rock (think: Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Kittie), and its lyrics often tackle dark subjects like pain, depression and alienation. 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, enduring teenage angst.
For Asher Nevélle, listening to nu metal is inspiring. “You feel like you can do anything,” said Mr. Nevélle, 25, a musician based in Los Angeles who performs under the stage name Freak. “It’s this ‘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 lacquered liberty spikes, pants so big they put ball gowns to shame — part of nu metal’s appeal is its flamboyant style, and celebrities have taken note. Billie Eilish is topping her oversize outfits with baseball caps à la Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit; Machine Gun Kelly is gelling his hair up into five-inch stalagmites; and in June, Justin Bieber was spotted in a pair of baggy wide-leg JNCO jeans.
Renee Dyer, 19, fell in love with nu metal fashion before the music. She doesn’t think a person needs to dress a certain way to be considered a fan, but her clothing choices are heavily inspired by nu metal. “It makes me feel as though I’m living in that era,” said Ms. Dyer, a retail associate who lives in Toronto. Among her favorite pieces are JNCO jeans and Tripp NYC pants. (“The bigger the jeans, the better!” she said.)
During nu metal’s initial explosion, visual aesthetics were central to the scene by design, said Alex Strang, a cultural analyst at Canvas8, a market research agency. Bands adopted flashy costumes and provocative stunts to distinguish themselves and grab people’s attention. “If you’re TRL,” Mr. Strang said, referring to a television program popular in the early aughts, “and you see this weird thing with people rapping and shouting and being angry, and some people in boiler suits or wearing masks, you’re going to want to put it on TV, right?”
Nu metal’s embrace of shock value led to a plethora of theatrical antics, such as when Mr. Durst blew up a boat live on MTV and when members of the band Mudvayne attended the Video Music Awards with fake bullet holes in their heads. More than two decades later, these bits are now ripe for recirculation on social media. For example, one popular Twitter account run by Holiday Kirk, a music journalist, posts bite-size clips of absurd moments in nu mental history, frequently garnering tens of thousands of views.
On the internet, “everybody has access to everything all the time,” Mr. Strang said. “And so Gen Z kids will just cherry-pick the best bits of a bunch of different genres and be into everything and like everything. It’s like a bricolage in action.”
Historically, nu metal has appealed to outsiders who felt a strong emotional connection with its gloomy subject matter. The most die-hard fans felt protective over their favorite bands and did not like the idea of “normies,” or people who were conventional or popular, listening to nu metal. In the 1990s, “either you were all in or you were a poser,” said Lynn Thomas, 53, a longtime Deftones fan from Pittsburgh, whose 21-year-old daughter discovered the band on TikTok.
But now many Gen Zers are more concerned with sociopolitical issues such as abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. rights, “rather than, ‘Who am I hanging out with at the field party this weekend?’” Mr. Thomas said.
These spaces may be less exclusionary now, but fans say there is still a sense of gatekeeping among nu metal heads — whether it’s older fans looking down on the newly initiated, or pretension from people of all ages about the bands they deem uncool. Since discovering the subgenre in January, Jay Katze, a 17-year-old high school student in Bradenton, Fla., has connected with some fellow listeners on the internet, but he has also been called a poser, a term he finds “silly” and “childish.”
“Who do you expect to support the band you love if you’re pushing out anyone else who shows interest?” Mr. Katze said.
Off the internet, fans are also creating physical spaces to cultivate the nu metal community. For the past two years, Sam Gans, 31, and Danielle Steger, 38, both die-hard nu metal fans, have organized sold-out “Nu Metal Night” dance parties in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. People go “absolutely nuts” with their fashion at these quarterly events, Mr. Gans said, showing up with gelled and colored hair, studded belts, JNCOs, chain wallets and face paint.
“There were people doing back flips off the stage,” Ms. Steger said of one New York party in March. “There was a whole row of headbanging, moshing.” One man kept asking the D.J.s to play “that one song” so he could propose to his girlfriend, Mr. Gans said. Nobody could hear him and figure out the name of the song — so the man never went through with the proposal.
The nu metal wave isn’t lost on popular artists today, either. Grimes, 100 gecs, Rina Sawayama and Demi Lovato have introduced elements of the subgenre into their sound, and some bands who were part of the initial nu metal explosion are feeling the impact as well.
In May, Kittie performed its first new song since 2011 at Sick New World, a music festival in Las Vegas featuring almost entirely nu metal bands. The group went on indefinite hiatus in 2017, but bookers started calling again in the fall of 2021 because of renewed interest, said Mercedes Lander, 39, Kittie’s drummer.
“It did take a little bit of talking into,” Ms. Lander said of the offer to reunite. But one year after the initial request, Kittie got back together. “When we stepped onstage, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she said. “This is a fantastic feeling.”
To Ms. Lander, it makes sense that the songs she wrote with her older sister, Morgan Lander, when they were teenagers still resonates with people. “It just kind of proves that teenage angst is timeless,” she said.
Morgan, 41, Kittie’s frontwoman, shared the sentiment. “That’s not to say there isn’t still a fire and anger in us now — yeah, we’re still pissed,” she said, jokingly.
Mr. Burden, the retail manager in Texas, said that after discovering his daughter was into 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 even found himself at a scene he had dreamed about for over 20 years: screaming, headbanging and thrashing at a Deftones concert alongside hundreds of sweaty, decked-out fans. He just never imagined that he would be standing next to his daughter.