Rock has been a genre integral to the musical environment for the past half century, and is one of the biggest musical movements to occur over the past 70 years. But as the 2000s dawned, rock started to be in danger of becoming a fad.
At this point, the grunge explosion of the late 90s had run its course. With Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain dead, Alice in Chains on hiatus, and Soundgarden breaking up, many rock fans were desperately searching for the next movement.
Britpop looked like it might be the answer, coming over from the UK, but towards the end of the 90s, bands like Oasis were putting out albums that caused a band implosion and groups like Blur were only able to score marginal success with songs like “Song 2.” But nothing substantial.
By 1998, rock suffered a severe drop off the Billboard charts, with the only notable records being Metallica’s Reload and Aerosmith’s Nine Lives. Even though both of those acts are considered rock titans, these albums are far from the best that rock has to offer.
This caused MTV and TRL to look for more teeny-bopper acts to come to the forefront for teenagers to eat up. Enter the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.
At this point, many would assume that rock music may have been limping towards its grave, but many genres over the horizon were about to take the music world by storm. Here is a guide to all the major players of the rock scene in the Noughties.
These general descriptions will give you an idea of what to expect from each sub-genre as well as the best bands in each. If you like what you hear from the heavy hitters, use the Deeper Digging section to find other bands who are totally worth your attention. Without further ado, let’s rock it!
The first new brand of rock music had been brewing since the late 90s but only came to the forefront in the 2000s. At the time, nu metal’s combination of a hip-hop musical base and angsty metal guitars was not entirely new.
But once Rage Against the Machine emerged onto the scene with their eponymous debut, it opened the floodgates for a plethora of other artists.
These acts were focused on the aggression of their music, as well as more creative recording techniques influenced by industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails. These bands were normally defined by a rhythmic section centered around grooves, angst-ridden lyrics, and the use of super-low guitar tunings.
While the genre fell into obscurity by the mid-2000s, there was a resurgence in popularity at the start of the our current decade, proving that you can’t stop the aggressive appeal of this music.
Nu Metal’s Big Three
Korn: This California band was the first nu-metal act to break through on a massive scale. Though their rise began in the mid 90s, they became an overnight global phenomenon following the release of Follow the Leader (1998) and Issues (1999). With Jonathan Davis’ atonal vocal delivery and riffs courtesy of Brian “Head” Welch, this band found themselves darlings of TRL, being played right alongside the Backstreet Boys. Korn helped lay the groundwork for nu metal and showed the public that the mainstream could embrace heavy music if exposed to it in the right form.
Essential Album: Follow the Leader (1998) – This is Korn’s mainstream breakthrough. Davis’ vocals are at their most ferocious and the record contains their first smash: “Freak on a Leash.” The riffs are undeniable, riding propulsive drum grooves.
System of a Down: This Los Angeles band were the first to subvert nu metal into something that transcended genre. These guys infused a political edge into their sound and lyrics, as well as influences from Eastern music scales. If you pride yourself on eclectic music taste, this band is right up your alley.
Essential Album: Toxicity (2001) – System’s most political statement also happened to be their greatest. The songwriting from guitarist Daron Malakian shines through on this outing. Tunes like “Aerials” and the title track show the unique mix of punk fury and Eastern melodicism that have become their signature.
Linkin Park: This veteran California act helped bring nu metal to the pop masses. This was the first band to have a trade-off vocal approach of a rapper (Mike Shinoda) and a singer (Chester Bennington). This helped show record labels about how profitable nu metal could be, with their debut record Hybrid Theory having sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. If you’re of a pure rock fan who looking to try something heavier, this is the record for you.
Essential Album: Meteora (2003) – This record proved the band were more than a fluke. After their smash debut, they dug deep down a delivered a stunning record with crisp soundscapes throughout. It also set a mark of having the most hit singles on the Alternative Rock Charts.
Deeper Digging on Nu Metal
Tool: The biggest “underground” band you’ve ever heard. Though never having a radio hit, this band kept on keeping on and became staples of what is now known as progressive metal. This appeased the camps that wanted something more complex as well as fans who just want something heavy. If you’re a musician, this band will warp your mind with how amazing they are.
2019 has turned out to be a big year for the band led by Maynard James Keenan: They finally agreed to have all of their music appear on streaming platforms worldwide. And they released their first album in 13 years, titled Fear Inoculum.
Essential Album: Lateralus (2001) – The band’s third record shows them tackling philosophical elements gracefully — with improved power. It also marks the best moments of bassist Justin Chancellor, Tool’s unsung hero. For prog fans, this is a must-get, if only for “Schism,” which changes time signatures every other measure.
Deftones: When this band got their start in the 90s, they were laying the groundwork for nu metal. As the style swept the nation, this band got lumped into the conversation, but just kept going along being their awesome selves. Deftones use of electronics is unparalleled in hard rock and vocalist Chino Moreno’s voice brings subtle beauty to every song they make.
Essential Album: White Pony (2001) – Written amid the band’s increasing drug problems, this record showed the best combination of the band’s electronic tendencies. The riffs of songs like “Change” and “Digital Bath” show a soothing but slightly twisted take on nu metal.
Slipknot: Initially pegged as a forgettable nu metal gimmick, this masked ensemble moved to extreme metal quickly with their 2001 face-melter Iowa. The strongest asset of this band was vocalist Corey Taylor’s genuine singing ability, as well as having an impressive shout for every breakdown section. Don’t let the masks deceive you: there is real genius behind some of this band’s work.
Essential Album: Vol. 3 (2004) – This record allowed the group to flex its muscles stylistically. After two records of high speed ragers, Vol 3 finds the band tackling more mainstream rock stylings with ease on songs like “Duality” and the two-part drama “Vermilion.”
Post Punk Revival
As teeny-bopper bands dominated mainstream attention in the late 90s, most rock and rollers reacted by taking the opposite approach — stripping their music down to its most raw and visceral elements. Though labeled as a post punk revival, this group of bands tend to have more in common with the uninhibited fury of seminal punk bands like the Stooges and the MC5.
The music of this group normally focused on the song rather than the stylish touches, often featuring blemished production and an abundance of loud guitars.
The Post-Punk Revival’s Big Three
The White Stripes: This garage rock duo helped kick open the door for the genre. The combination of Meg White’s primal drumming along with Jack White’s bluesy songwriting and guitar fury gave the band a retro feeling with a modern edge at the same time. This duo’s sonic frenzy hit its peak with the undeniable riff and eventual worldwide sports-chant that is “Seven Nation Army.” In the wake of the band’s implosion in 2005, some of the greatest blues rock of the modern age remains.
Essential Album: Elephant (2003) – This record is the pure, concentrated White Stripes sound. From the opening “Seven Nation Army” to the pleading “I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself,” this record is a combination and muscle and versatility — dig the tender “In the Cold Cold Night” and the seven-minute scorcher “Ball and Biscuit.”
The Strokes: This group of upper-class kids from New York City combined a primal garage rock spirit with the tendencies of art rock from the 70s. The signature of this band was the apathetic yet captivating vocals of frontman Julian Casablancas. This band helped bring the gritty aesthetic of New York City to a new generation of fans. (Related: Read CMN’s look at the history of side projects related to the Strokes
Essential Album: Is This It (2001) – This impressive debut showed the potential of this band to be massive. Everything was lo-fi, but the grooves in songs like “Last Nite”and “Someday” are too infectious to ignore.
The Killers: With the previous two bands taking a garage rock approach, The Killers touched on nostalgia in a different way — through 80s pop sheen. This Las Vegas-based band, led by singer Brandon Flowers, took the synthetic instrumentation of the 80s and balanced it with heartfelt sincerity throughout their lyrics. They were Duran Duran by way of Bruce Springsteen and produced some of the greatest pop rock made in this century thus far.
Essential Album: Hot Fuss (2004) – The band’s first record captured the neon-tinged lightning in a bottle. This record has many fist-pounding choruses under lyrics that evoke the heartache of any Smiths record. Big hit song: “Mr. Brightside.”
Deeper Digging on the Post Punk Revival
Vampire Weekend: This band’s preppy brand of rock owes a debt to Paul Simon’s Graceland period and African guitar pop in general. Ezra Koenig’s stoic choirboy vocals and masterful song arranging skills made him a giant of the indie scene, along with giving him opportunities to branch out and to work with artists as diverse as Chromeo and Beyonce.
Essential Album: Vampire Weekend (2008) – This album could have recieved a pass on boyish charm alone, but the songs ended up being stellar. Tracks like “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” show that beneath the charm is intricate songwriting that is to die for.
The Black Keys: The other blues rock duo on this list separated themselves from the White Stripes due to their integrity and endurance into the 2010s. They also stunned many observers by picking up a few MTV Music Awards for their song “Tighten Up.” Though they’ve kept quiet for the past few years, a reunion seems to be on the horizon for these blues troubadours.
Essential Album: Brothers (2010) – This record is where you should go after the White Stripes because of its bluesy swagger. Songs like “Howlin for You” and “Tighten Up” have the same strut that the originators of blues had in spades.
Arctic Monkeys: This English band became one of the first rock phenomenons to gain popularity through the Internet. Before their debut was released, many on social media were already heralding this band as the next rock giants. As a result, these guys are now seen as one of the main forebearers of rock for the 2010s.
Essential Album: Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) – This record is what you should pick up after getting acquainted with the Strokes. Alex Turner’s depictions of English night life — matched with the band’s power-chord thunder —make for a musical firecracker of an album. Listen to “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”
Unlike the post punk revival, many musicians at the turn of the century decided to embrace a new generation of music fans, play up the image of pop stars and make pop music with a harder edge. This helped expose rock music to a younger audience who weren’t interested in the boy bands and pop divas. These bands normally featured singers with whiny affectations to their voice, along with songs about adolescent angst and melodic, yet simple guitar riffs.
Pop Punk’s Big 3
Green Day: This California band broke onto the scene and practically birthed the pop punk genre single-handedly with their 1994 smash album Dookie. While they spent the late 90s experimenting with their trademark guitar-and-bass dominated sound, the trio had a career resurgence in the 2000s with the political punch of American Idiot. When the other pop punk bands followed Green Day’s lead, they proved they had the staying power to become the elder statesmen of the pop punk genre.
Essential Album: American Idiot (2003) – After being ignored by the mainstream after their first 2000s record Warning, Green Day decided to get daring and made this record their career-refining second act. The album perfectly balances punk rock in the title track with gentle ballads like the 2000s-defining song “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
Weezer: Not long after Green Day’s major label debut, Weezer came onto the scene, sporting a nerdy aesthetic and poppy songwriting. As they moved forward in their career, they branched out — including more heartfelt and raw emotions in their lyrics. At the turn of the century, the band was able to hold onto their stellar songwriting skills and eventually pandering to meme culture in recent years.
Essential Album: Weezer (The Blue Album) (1994) – This record is the epitome of California sunshine by way of Nirvana. Frontman Rivers Cuomo’s lyrics are sincere — with their socially awkward tendencies and nerdy, but endearing, characters.
Blink-182: These punks from San Diego brought the bratty aesthetic to pop punk in full force, with singer Tom Delonge’s trademark snarl and their sing-along choruses. The band also had a great sense of humor in their music videos, which mocked the MTV darlings of the day, while their music was being played right alongside the same artists they were mocking. The band went on to incorporate 80s new wave and the heavier side of alt rock into their sound. With Delonge no longer an active member, the band has kept on making letter-perfect pop punk music into the 2010s
Essential Album: Take Off your Pants and Jacket (2001) – The definition of bratty pop punk. This record speaks to Blink’s philosophy of eternal youth with songs like “Anthem Part 2’s” condemnation of parents and “Reckless Abandon’s” unhinged euphoria.
Deeper Digging on Pop Punk
Paramore: This band started out as pop punk but later evolved into one of the best power pop acts of the 2010s. That was is in large part because of vocalist Hayley Williams’ astonishing range and command of a great hook. With a genre centered around male frontmen, Williams came into the fray and outclassed all her contemporaries through her sheer talent. Though members have come and gone over the years, the band’s sound has retained the same quality while choosing from poppier genres.
Essential Album: Riot! (2007) – This record was the best straight pop and punk rock the band ever got. Songs like “That’s What You Get” show the band’s knack for heartbreak songs while the smash hit “Misery Business” has a killer hook while boasting Williams’ astonishing range.
Panic! at the Disco: This group of heartthrobs out of Las Vegas certainly made an impression with their emo-tinged debut. When two band members left in 2008, frontman Brendon Urie took charge and took Panic! to new heights during the 2010s. They essential evolved into a rocker’s take on pop music, with Urie pulling from influences as diverse as Queen and Frank Sinatra. While the singles from this band are irresistibly catchy, their album cuts are what will keep you coming back for more.
Essential Album: Pretty Odd. (2008) – This record was a shock at the time of release but has aged like a fine wine. Urie and guitarist Ryan Ross’s songwriting skills helped to create a Beatlesesque pastiche throughout songs like “That Green Gentleman” and “Northern Downpour.”
My Chemical Romance: This New Jersey band was quickly lumped into the emo-rock movement of the 2000s, but their pop tendencies have kept them from fitting comfortably in any genre. From synth pop to Queen-esque grandeur to pop punk to alt rock, there was no limit as to what this band could pull off. When they called it quits in 2013, they left behind a stellar discography. Three of their four albums have become landmarks of modern rock.
Essential Album: The Black Parade (2006) – The band’s third record showed them channeling Queen in order to create a sweeping epic about a dying cancer patient. The guitars — along with vocalist Gerard Way’s screams — are on full display from the chaotic “Sleep” to the twisted stomp of “Mama.”
When all the other bands of the 2000s were busy carving out new genres, the world of mainstream rock kept on doing its thing, taking a “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” mentality to the way they functioned. From comeback giants to fresh new faces, these acts were able to consistently play mainstream rock music while rolling with the punches of the sales charts.
Mainstream Rock’s Big 3
Foo Fighters: When Nirvana broke up following Kurt Cobain’s suicide, drummer Dave Grohl stepped up to the plate and put together one of the biggest success stories of the 90s with albums like The Colour and the Shape. This success only blossomed further into the next decade with huge hits like the garage rock of Wasting Light and the merger of hard rock and tender acoustic songs on In Your Honor. With a loyal fan base and an unforgettable live presence, the future of Foo Fighters is as bright as ever.
Essential Album: In Your Honor (2005) – This record launched the Foos into the 2000s. This double record has some of the groups ultimate stadium anthems, but the second disc of acoustic cuts show Dave Grohl’s songwriting genius in its rawest form. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones appears on several cuts.
Radiohead: These British lads proved themselves to be true eccentrics in the late 90s when Britpop ruled the rock airwaves. Once everyone fell head over heels for their 1997 masterstroke Ok Computer, the band ended up redefining the decade with each passing record. Ideal for eclectic music fans who are looking for something more cerebral than the typical rock and roll setup.
Essential Album: In Rainbows (2007) – This record is the most concise recording by the band since Ok Computer. The flow of this record shows everything Radiohead can do, from the synthetic “15 Step” to the unbridled “Bodysnatchers” and the beautiful closer “Videotape.”
Queens of the Stone Age: This bunch of desert rockers rose from the ashes of stoner metal titans Kyuss. This group is the brainchild of frontman Joshua Homme, who works with an ever-changing lineup to suit the music he is making at the time. These guys play rock and roll but with a touch more dirt under their boots.
Essential Album: Songs for the Deaf (2002) – This record takes you on a sultry ride through the desert and Joshua Tree with bluesy seduction. Homme’s smooth vocals along with his silky guitar tone make this an album that will put you in a trance almost immediately. But tunes like “Six Shooter” pack plenty of punch.
Deeper Digging: Mainstream Rock
Coldplay: These guys became the pop rock success story of the decade when they burst onto the scene at the end of the Britpop movement. Though many groups of the era stuck to guitar, Chris Martin’s brilliant piano work became the staple of every pop odyssey Coldplay has ever created. As the decade progressed, the band moved towards straight up pop music, but nothing they can diminish the passion felt on the band’s early records.
Essential Album: A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002) – This album is the closest Coldplay sounded to having the grandeur of other British legends like the Beatles and Joy Division. The band made comforting songs like “Clocks” and “The Scientist” while also showing a dark side on songs like “A Whisper” and “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers: California freak-funk outfit that have been going strong since the late 1980s. The band had struggled towards the tail end of the 90s but found a resurgence in popularity when their estranged guitarist John Frusciante rejoined in 1999. Since then, the group has had a stellar track record, delivering funk flavored rockers while balancing pensive melodic ballads across their recent discography.
Essential Album: Californication (1999) – The band’s first record with Frusciante back in the fray produced some of their most memorable tunes and set the stage for success in the 2000s. The band really took this opportunity to showcase all of their strengths from funk rock (“Around the World”) to ballads (“Scar Tissue”) to epic rockers (“Savior”).
Gorillaz: As Britpop legends Blur failed to gain a firm grasp of the U.S. market, Damon Albarn struck out on his own with his brand of zany alternative rock with influences from electronic musicians like the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk. Albarn also broke new ground on MTV by making Gorillaz one of the first virtual bands — with individual cartoon plot threads and storylines to go with each imaginary band member. As the years have gone on, Albarn has been flip flopping between Gorillaz and Blur, but the live shows put on by Gorillaz are spellbinding.
Essential Album: Demon Days (2005) – This album’s dark concept of the apocalypse helped to reflect the paranoia that the world felt in the mid-2000s. Songs like “Feel Good Inc” and “Dirty Harry” layer infectious dance grooves over lyrics of hopelessness that reflect on the end of the world. If this is what the end-times are going to sound like, it may not necessarily be all bad.
When you break it down, rock was not at its cultural zenith at the turn of the century. As the form waned from the Billboard charts, many of these bands were able to break through into the mainstream. Bands like the Strokes or the White Stripes were never the pinup stars from rock’s glory days, but rather spoke to the ethos of rock’s mentality in the present day.
These groups combined an independent aesthetic with the rock’s traditional anti-establishment attitude.
It’s tempting to look at rock in the 2000s as the genre’s dying gasp, but the mark left by these bands mentioned above is being felt among up and coming bands.
Muse have come up the ranks as a band with a sound that is reminiscent of Radiohead. Harder rock outfits like Badflower have been tinkering with blues-based styles that are indebted to the Strokes, while groups like the 1975 are adopting the synth pop flavors of bands like the Killers. Bands like A Day to Remember — who are known as a metal band — express many pop punk tendencies in their delivery.
When taken on the surface, rock seems to be floundering in an unknown place in today’s music scene. But the key to finding stellar acts is to not chase to find them. The best bands don’t come to you on a silver platter nowadays, so keep your ears open whenever possible to find your own rock gods.
Rock may not be in the spotlight as prominently as it once was in the 1970s, but these bands are the reasons why rock will thrive for generations to come.
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