When modern rock presented the class of the late 90s, Incubus was the introspective one. Not quiet. Lead singer Brandon Boyd tore into choruses with the same strident abandon that typified the collective known as Nu metal. But while Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park used their vocal aggression reactively, Incubus and Boyd turned inward.
Nu metal is an umbrella term used to characterize a generation of bands that emerged in the 90s. Nu metal is a hybrid, fusing modern urban music–down tuned guitars, hip-hop delivery, turntables, and scratching–and metal. The form was conducive to experimentation and the aesthetic was eclectic. Nu metal was democratic alchemy, and by the late 90s, dark, low rifts and rapped verses breaking into hostile refrains were ubiquitous on any major radio station.
Three years later they were gone.
Incubus was one of the few Nu metal bands to survive the purge of the millennium, and they did it through consistent hard work–the band is constantly either in the studio or on tour–and musical development. There are still elements of Nu metal in the music the band makes today as they still have a DJ. But in retrospect, Incubus treated that genre like the fad it was, more an indication of that specific time in music, not as the character of the musicians.
The title of Incubus’ fifth studio album, A Crow Left of the Murder, is a good metaphor for the band’s longevity. Incubus might wear the colors and assumes the shape of its pedigree, but flies apart.
Incubus is currently on tour supporting the follow up album to A Crow Left of the Murder, Light Grenades–a thoughtful group of songs that reflect the group’s (especially vocalist Brandon Boyd’s) partiality to personal meditation.
As a lyricist, Boyd has a special penchant for apocalyptic imagery: storm clouds, electrical strikes, floods, and general impeding doom. But he almost always uses the graver parts of the natural world to parallel the unforgiving chaos of his personal life. On the opener, “Quicksand” he laments, “Some people fall in to love and touch the sky. Some people fall in love and find quicksand.” Boyd clearly understands the risks of a relationship, but like Herman Melville and Samuel Beckett, he also knows that our only hope of salvation is in the partnerships we create in each other. Light Grenades isn’t high art, but it is one of the strongest rock albums of the past year.
With two radio singles already in heavy rotation, and a presumptive third–“Love Hurts”–waiting, Light Grenades is already a commercial success. The album is also a good showcase of what Incubus does well, which is up tempo, grinding rock songs that build but never quite break–a clever trick that generates tension. The band does struggle with balance occasionally. On several tracks, highly distorted guitars bury Brandon Boyd’s vocal delivery. But while some parts of the record are unwieldy, the vast majority have footing solid enough to take flight.
Ten years ago, Incubus was marginalized as another Nu metal group and anonymous by association. But the band was never satisfied to stay with the flock, and that predilection towards independence made Incubus unique. Ten years later, they are distinctive for a different reason: they survived, a dark bird now alone with the horizon. MTW