The main criticisms against nu-metal during its heyday were that a) it wasn’t metal enough, and b) it was too mainstream, and therefore watered down its punch. While both of these takes have merit (I mean, play a fucking solo and stop acting like a rockstar before you’ve even cut a demo, dumbass), entrenched fans of the genre know that both are inherently inaccurate. The truth is that nu-metal did go hard as fuck when it wasn’t mainstream — but that required doing a little digging into bands’ discographies, and back then, you had to buy records to do that. Who had the money?

Thankfully, in 2022, streaming allows us to delve deep into back catalogs with little to no cost. And while we’re happy nu-metal is finally getting recognized, we still see the same bands and albums being hailed, over and over. So for those of you wanting something hard as fuck that’s not Iowa or Around The Fur, here are 10 nu-metal ragers that did the genre right on albums that you’ve probably never heard of…

Powerman 5000, “20 Miles to Texas, 25 to Hell” (Mega!! Kung Fu Radio, 1997)

Before they became spaceman disco metallers, Powerman 5000 went with a funkier, gnarlier rap-metal vibe, and every song on Mega!! Kung Fu Radio is a different shade of weird. “20 Miles to Texas, 25 to Hell” has a slow southern twang to it, with a roadkill verse melody and massive, slamming chorus. Spider One really puts his sneer in his vocal sound as he drawls road-trip platitudes about being a sunburnt dirtbag. Definitely a track you wouldn’t expect from these dudes during the *Zoolander *days later on.

My Ruin, “Hot In The House of God” (The Horror of Beauty, 2003)

Rapper-turned-groove metaller Tarrie B. was an underground style icon of the nu-metal period, but her band My Ruin was always two steps too hard for rock radio. That said, “Hot In The House of God” is proof that she deserved plenty of respect in sludge and stoner circles. The track starts with a cinderblock riff and never lets up pounding the crap out of the listener. A sweaty, ugly headbanging anthem if there ever was one.

downset, “Holding Hands” (Downset, 1994)

Though they were one of rap-rock’s first and best bands, downset were always a little too earnest for the genre’s popular side. But “Holding Hands” shows the band ripping out their entire bleeding heart and showing it to you in a quivering hand. The screamed chorus of, “LIFELESS!” has an honest tang of misery to it that a lot of the band’s peers never quite hit. These guys’ good tracks always felt real, even in their pain (especially in their pain).

Sinisstar, “First Day of Nowhere” (Future Shock, 2002)

The sleazy, goth-leaning side of nu-metal had plenty of cool, weird bands, too. Were Sinnisstar one of them? We’re not totally sure, as Future Shock is a real hit-or-miss album, but “First Day of Nowhere” has serious sex appeal to it. The post-chorus brings a glam-leaning grin that sounds perfectly tailored for sweaty trysts with heavily-pierced lovers. You can’t fake that kind of vibe, even if this niche of the genre’s sound often smacked of plastic.

Full Devil Jacket, “Mr. Wiggly” (Full Devil Jacket, 2000)

What was “Mr. Wiggly” about? Who gives a fuck? The track, off of Full Devil Jacket‘s self-titled album, has a rusted bassline and snarling energy the likes of which the band never quite replicated elsewhere. This is a classic case of a band being harder than those around them, but trying their damnedest to fit in with the crowd. Sucks for them that they didn’t just write a dozen songs like this one.

Puya, “Retro” (Fundamental, 1999)

If we’re being honest, Fundamental is way more interesting than plenty of the other albums on this list. Puerto Rico’s Puya believably combined Latin influences with the emerging nu-metal sound and made music that was as fascinating as it was hard as fuck. “Retro” shows off how the band’s more dulcet moments only helped emphasize their viciousness. The song’s use of Spanish and unstoppable bounce riffs were things of beauty, elevating these dudes to untold heights — of sonic talent, if not fame.

Dry Kill Logic, “A Better Man Than Me” (The Darker Side of Nonsense, 2001)

The cover of Dry Kill Logic’s The Darker Side of Nonsense is immediately recognizable to me, but damn if I could name any song from the record other than this one. That said, this one sticks because it comes out of the gate swinging. The track is a tight, mean little bruiser, with a chorus of “FUCK YOU, DON’T TELL ME” that feels like a distillation of the entire nu-metal ethos. A fun, pissed-off deep cut that would’ve changed the game had it dropped a few years earlier than it was.

Skinlab, “Take As Needed” (Revolting Room, 2002)

Whether or not Skinlab are a nu-metal band could be argued, as their earlier records have a lot more death and groove metal influence son them. But 2002’s Revolting Room definitely went in on the genre’s obsessions with mental instability and polished, kinetic anthems. That said, “Take As Needed” broke through those designations with its speedy drums and forceful screams. The song’s vehemence is a vibe that runs through the entire album, even if the band are still trying to finally make their nut.

The Union Underground, “The Friend Song” (…An Education In Rebellion, 2000)

I’m not gonna act like …An Education In Rebellion didn’t deserve to be lost to time – that record has some questionable lyrics, and is by-the-numbers nu-metal overall. But “The Friend Song” definitely showcased that when they wanted to, the Union Underground could rage. The song is just fast, snotty, and has a post-English class simmer that younger listeners can understand. A perfect example of that nu-metal trend of throwing a single punk song on an album working in a band’s favor.

Dope, “So Low” (Group Therapy, 2003)

Obviously, Dope weren’t lost to time – they just announced a new album – but 2003’s Group Therapy came out right as nu-metal was gasping out its last breath and metalcore was rewriting its will. And while “So Low” comes all the way at the album’s end, its massive chorus puts it above many tracks by its more famous peers. The lyric, “What makes you so great?” is basically the whole of nu-metal genre summed up in one Oreo-voiced growl. Gotta love a band who buries a track this good so that only fuckwits like me know about it.