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Call the Family Values Tour a nü-metal showcase if you must it's understandable. But remember: When Korn, Slipknot, and the Deftones spawned the genre, nü metal wasn't the punch line to some rock critic's joke. Though it has since become the most maligned movement since hair metal, nü metal's dreadlocked, drop-tuned giants are proving they have twice the staying power of their poodle-headed predecessors.
In the wake of recent number-one albums by second-wave nü-metal acts Staind and Disturbed, some of the genre's founding fathers have returned to reclaim their crowns, mounting a big-rock road show that's one of the summer's hottest tickets. Korn,the Deftones,and Stone Sour (which features members of Slipknot) headline the fourth Family Values Tour, with support acts representing everything from guard-your-grill hardcore to big-name radio rock. Hell, this year, there's even a girl onstage. So the pundits who pronounced the movement dead when Limp Bizkit stopped selling now must admit that the music is still evolving... a little. It's no longer synonymous with rap rock, at least.
"I'm thrilled to death that rap is working its way out of metal," Stone Sour guitarist Jim Root says on the phone from a photo shoot at San Antonio's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. "And I'm thrilled that guitar players are learning their fretboard and using it well. I really couldn't tell you what Stone Sour is. We write what we write. I've heard us called get this the new grunge-wave, straight-up hard rock, and alternative. That whole labeling thing is silly."
Root made his name as masked man number four of Slipknot, the one true metal band of the nü age. When you have eight bandmates and just three albums, you have to hustle a little for your money and art. Root says that no matter how technically demanding Slipknot's deadly metal is, the band's extreme nature denies its members recognition as musicians. Stone Sour's new album, Come What(ever) May, lets Root and Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor drop their guard and turn in some ballads 2002's "Bother" helped send the Spider-Man soundtrack platinum in addition to Slipknot-caliber shotgun blasts.
"This album is a step in the right direction as far as the songwriting goes," Root says. "You can be the best guitar player in the world, but the real test is whether you can write a song."
When you're in Korn, however, the money from seven platinum albums gets split five ways or rather four, since guitarist Brian "Head" Welch traded metal and masturbation for Jesus so your legacy is secure and your bills are paid. Last year, the Grammy-winning group signed a reported $25 million deal with EMI/Virgin Records and Live Nation, agreeing to split revenues from merchandise, publishing, and touring call it raging with the machine. The band also made a bold decision to record the new See You on the Other Side with hitmakers the Matrix (Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne). Both gambles paid off. Other Side debuted at number three on the Billboard chart and has sold nearly 2 million copies. This tour, Korn's headlining set will include an acoustic version of "Hollow Life."
The fourth Family Values trek since 1998, this year's tour is a cross between Lollapalooza and Ozzfest, with a side stage and extra attractions, including a paintball competition. Unlike previous editions, the 2006 lineup is skimpy on rap, techno, and backward ball caps. But overall, it's the most diverse yet.
With members from Orange County and St. Louis, Bullets & Octane play trashy glam rawk, wearing black jeans, T-shirts, and eyeliner. Boston breakdown badass Bury Your Dead is the heaviest band on the bill. If you don't want to catch a spin kick in the pit, this hardcore set is a good time to go get some water. Knoxville's 10 Years plays the kind of post-Staind radio rock that can double as a slow-dance number at proms even if you don't know the band, you've probably been tired of its power ballad "Wasteland" since June. Japan's Dir en grey looks like a delicate take on Marilyn Manson, and its music recalls the romantic-rock of HIM, with infectious grooves and random outbursts of demonic vocals. In the absence of Evanescence, Texas' female-fronted Flyleaf has done well. With nursery-rhyme hooks, songs like "I'm So Sick" sound like Kittie covering Korn.
Cult favorites since 1989, Northern California's avant hard rockers the Deftones helped reintroduce the notion of heavy during the alternative '90s, and the group teamed with legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Jane's Addiction) for its upcoming fifth album, Saturday Night Wrist.
Rounding out the bill is Los Angeles electro-rockers Deadsy, a onetime buzz band that's been around so long, it's practically an urban legend. Looking sharp in private-school uniforms and Flock of Seagulls haircuts, the band recorded a hotly tipped demo in '95, pioneering a then-unheard-of combination of hard-rock guitars and new-wave synthesizers. The group survived a bad record deal, rehab, and singer/guitarist Elijah Blue Allman's liaison with Paris Hilton to deliver its second album, the new Phantasmagore, a crunchy mashup of Orgy and Bauhaus.
Even during the band's many doldrums, Allman (stage name: Phillips Exeter Blue I) never questioned whether he'd make it to the main stage. Born into the business, he's the son of Cher and Gregg Allman. After stewing for a decade, he thinks the delays might ultimately work in his band's favor.
"The thing that's good about that is, in that time, the Killers came out and Interpol came out," Allman says in a deeper version of his dad's gravelly voice. "I think the culture has caught up to where we've been for a long time now."
A guitar prodigy, Allman has written music and lyrics that have made Deadsy popular with fellow musicians. Korn is the band's biggest booster: When the group extricated itself from a deal with Sire, Korn signed it to its Elementree label. But the children of Korn weren't always so generous when the two bands hit the road together. Allman says that the Family Values crowds are far more open-minded this year than they were during the 2001 tour, and aside from the fatal sucker punch one fan threw at another in Atlanta last month aren't "straight meathead." He adds that no matter what you've read, neither are the bands.
"The Deftones are a deep, complex band," Allman says. "Stone Sour the whole band are shredding musicians. Korn are like the Led Zeppelin [of the movement]. These bands stood the test of time. This is all real-deal motherfuckers out here."