The fastest way to turn a room of people against you once you’re handed the aux cable for your iPod is by playing Nickelback. Specifically, play Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.” A near-inexplicable rage washes over the faces of the people you thought were your friends as vocalist Chad Kroeger wails, “Never made it as a wise man.” You might not live to hear the second line.

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There’s something about the Alberta-based band that causes this rage. They’re hardly the first band to be hated so universally — Limp Bizkit? Hootie And The Blow Fish? — but Nickelback has earned a type of hatred so potent it’s hard to fathom what they did that was so terrible to the public consciousness.

Nickelback started out as a mid-90s cover band in Alberta, because of course they did. They recorded their first album of original songs, Curb, in 1996. When Curb came out, the band consisted of Chad Kroeger and his two brothers Mike (bass) and Brandon (drums), as well as Ryan Peake on guitar.

Curb was not a good record by any measure. It was messy and it was disorganized, raw and disheveled. Still, it had an energy and a determination that would draw at least a couple of A&Rs into the band’s orbit.

By 1998, the band lost Brandon Kroeger, found a new drummer, and independently put out its second album, The State. This album was a good capstone to the post-grunge era. It was unpolished and anxious, loud and paranoid. You would be hard-pressed to say it was a great album, but you couldn’t deny that it was interesting. Interesting enough, at least, that it landed Nickelback a major label deal with Roadrunner Records.

The songs on the album didn’t reinvent the post-grunge wheel: They sang about distrust and drama, about lacking a sure-footing. Musically, it sounded like the angst of the late 90s. Here it mirrors Bush; there, it imitates The Foo Fighters.

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Its lead single, “Leader of Men,” is to date the most serious song Nickelback has ever recorded. It’s a song about insecurity for a period marked by doubt. It’s also a testament to a time when Kroeger and company were on the path to something compelling — an investigation, maybe, of their own flaws. “I am not a leader of men,” sings Kroeger, “since I prefer to follow.”

Interesting ideas flicked on and off through the rest of The State. There’s the anxiety of “Breathe.” The aggression of “Worthy To Say.” The album showed tremendous growth over its predecessor – enough to earn the group a Best New Group win at the March 2001 Juno Awards.