I started college right when nu-metal was exploding. It was hard to avoid listening to some of that stuff, and indeed most of my early concert experiences were going to see nu-metal bands like Sevendust, Disturbed, Static-X, Godhead, Staind, Cold, and Rob Zombie (although Rob did play several White Zombie songs as he continues to do). The unfortunate thing was that nu-metal was unavoidable and did make it into lots of traditional heavy metal magazines. It was tough to know quite what to think of the genre, but it flamed out spectacularly in recent years.
I admit it: I did listen to some nu-metal. But I was always a little ambivalent towards a lot of the groups. Looking back, I realize that I was always cautious about the music due to the fact that I did not like listening to nu-metal albums all the way through. I would often have tracks that I would skip. My metal albums were not like that. That, to me, was the principal difference. Metal music was created with the goal of putting out quality albums. Nu-metal was created with the goal of making money.
Musically, there were differences that I noticed as well. Metal was about the riffs. The guitar was a melodic instrument. Nu-metal used down-tuned guitar riffs and utilized the guitar as more of a rhythmic instrument. The vocals were the melody in nu-metal.
Now that I have explained that whole sordid affair, let's look into the metal that I was listening to at the time:
Fear Factory was a band that began to make waves at the time nu-metal was getting off the ground, although their metal roots were far more apparent. That was a band that I enjoyed quite a bit and was the second metal band of whom I bought a shirt.
My enjoyment of Iron Maiden soared. I really don't remember quite when that happened. All I know is that I owned two albums in high school and I suddenly discovered how great that band was and bought five or six more. I even reviewed the most recent album Brave New World for my History of Rock Music class for the review paper assignment. Yes that was a class, yes I got an A on the assignment, and yes I got an A in the class (I was known as the Curve Killer in that class as the professor would curve the tests up to give the student with the highest grade on the test a 100%, the problem was, I almost never missed any questions on the tests).
I bought Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane through a bookstore. I had never heard anything like it. It was dark, cold, and hostile, but I wanted to hear more bands like it. Unfortunately, it took quite a bit of searching to find anything.
It was in college that I discovered Opeth and Dark Tranquillity, going to Homer's one early evening on Halloween. That directly lead me to find albums by groups like Emperor, Moonspell, In Flames, Meshuggah, and more.
Slayer became one of my favorite bands when I received two of their albums as Christmas presents. I had owned one album previously, which I also bought while in late high school/early college. From that Christmas, I was obsessed with the band though. They still rank as one of my favorite thrash metal bands.
I also still listened to a lot of the bands I had been listening to previously: Metallica, Megadeth (even though both bands were putting out disappointing albums), Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, and more. The next leap would not occur until law school.