Coal Chamber: How Nu-Metal Charged The ‘00s Soundtrack & The ‘Sway’ Legends Made History

22 November 2023 | 9:05 am | Anna Rose

“I've embraced what made me which is that scene.”

Coal Chamber

Coal Chamber (Supplied)

More Coal Chamber More Coal Chamber

In the early 00s, a whispered refrain of “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire” coming over the speakers at any alternative club was an indicator that mayhem was about to commence.

We don’t need no water let the motherf***er burn.” The wallet chain-donning masses flew from all corners of the club toward the dancefloor.

Burn motherf****er, burn!” A sea of three quarter-length camo jeans and heavy metal band tees hustled just fast enough to meet the grizzling guitar intro – the phrase repeated, harshly spat. The screeching roar of “Burn!” gave way to a guttural chant, dense metal guitars and crashing drums – the masses now moshing with an aggression they direct to an invisible nothing and no one.

Coal Chamber’s 1997 classic Sway is just one of several unmistakable titles from the self-titled debut by the Los Angeles outfit to have such an effect. Their emergence on the scene and successive global popularity, while gradual, maintained a presence, a particular grip, so solidifying their reputation as anthemic staples for the global alternative masses. Coal Chamber, and many others who emerged in nu-metal mainstream at the turn of the century, have found their way into history; but, as Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara says, it hasn’t been without a lot of hard work.

“It just so happened that we were at the forefront,” Fafara says from his home, “not even in the beginning or the end, but at the forefront of a movement that happened. And we saw it, of course, happening in Los Angeles – but to see it take off around the world, new metal. I mean, it was great. It was great.”

That movement, the band’s lengthy (albeit fractured) tenure, and the universal peak nu-metal experienced from the mid-‘90s to mid-‘00s wasn’t, Farfara says, something Coal Chamber ever imagined would transpire after their conception. “I don't think any band ever thinks in those terms, right? I think you just do your art,” he says. “I think you get together with a bunch of like-minded people; you do what’s influencing you, and then if the rest of the world picks up on it, I mean, it's a great thing.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Mainstream success for pioneering bands like Sevendust, Papa Roach, Sugar Ray, and of course Korn, saw the genre quickly grow in popularity. Fafara notes Sepultura also among those at the forefront of the movement, paying homage to their seminal release Roots. “I think they really embraced something different,” he says. “That compounded on what they were doing. And I just think the movement just took off. It was it was incredible to watch.

“For me, I think the best part was watching our friends out of LA after we got signed, and we were in a van touring, watching them get signed. I found Static X actually in a small little club. And then, you know, we were on the road when System [Of A Down] got signed; we were on the way to San Francisco, and System got signed, and we're all applauding, it was an incredible time.”

Of course, it was Coal Chamber’s initial appearance at Ozzfest in 1996 that would give them attention. Following a second appearance at the festival and a significant worldwide tour with Pantera, Fafara reiterates that those kinds of opportunities weren’t without huge support among the community. “It's really the case scenario of, any band that has any kind of longevity or has made any mark that there's always someone there that has brought you up, it's very rare, you're gonna go in and make it on your own.

“Most of the time a band is going to take you out [on tour] first, that first band that takes you out, or that first big band that takes you out, that's really what breaks you open. It's very rare that a band just comes out, breaks themselves open on their own.”

Fafara continues, following a brief look further into music history where he cites the respective successes of Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses. “I'm just saying that it's interesting to see where this is years later. There was a period of time when nu-metal was almost a dirty word. But all of those bands have certainly the biggest fans around the world right now.

“Korn, Deftones, System Of A Down, Disturbed – all of them from that genre, they embrace it and say ‘we are’ or ‘we aren't’. And they have obviously things to say about that. And I see all of it in the news. I've embraced what made me which is that scene.”

If Fafara has ever had a reputation for being, shall we say, bristly, talking to him now, his being so candid and forthcoming, that could easily be mistaken for confidence and sincerity. Those can only mean two things – Farafara knows his craft, and he’s very good at it. He understands the business of reputation and of honest perseverance. Staying true to what you love and what you believe in, Fafara says, is the best course of action when you in this, or any other genre.

And as for the future of Coal Chamber, whether the band will continue to grow within this genre or, as Fafara puts it, “embrace this other youth culture that they're doing”, he won’t say, because he only ever lives in the now. “[In] any art that I'm involved with, I try not to look to I,” he says confidently.

The most exciting future Coal Chamber has, which Fafara is quick to note, is the band’s upcoming Australian tour with fellow nu-metal masters Mudvayne. “That’s the only future I know,” sys Fafara. “Apart from that, like, ‘how am I going to stay relevant? Are we going to do any [new] music?’ We don't do any of that we just remain ourselves, do what we're doing, [and] hope people are along for the ride until we're done with it.

“And to be honest with you now, and it sounds strange, but we're just now gearing up getting ready for the real ride. Like, yes, yes, we were on tour with Sabbath and Pantera we did a tonne of Ozzfest, blessed to do songs with Ozzy [Osbourne] be managed by, we call her the queen, Sharon Osbourne, I mean, blast all of that. We are just now like getting ready for the real ride the real run, the real 10, 15 years left of the band.

“So, as far as the future goes, All I know is that I'm coming to Australia in February, and I can't wait. And secondly, like I try not to think about anything other than that. If you don't [live in the now] you miss life. I've done that. I've done that for 30 years. ‘What's the next tour? What's the next record?’ I'm past that. You know what I mean?”