My heart still feels heavy with the passing of Chester Bennington. I was out for a walk when I happened to look down at my phone and saw the news. The air felt like it was knocked out of me, and after reading several articles I began to feel the tears well up in my eyes. In Bennington’s case it was heartbreaking that not only had he suffered from numerous struggles and took his own life, but also the fact that he was one of my artistic heroes.
I, like many people my age, grew up listening to Linkin Park. At this point in life, it is almost impossible to not have heard at least one of their songs (or be unaware of how large a band they’ve become within the music industry). While we continue to see new technical advances and innovative artists/bands, many of us music listeners today are heavily impacted by the art of the 90’s and 2000’s. Our culture at the time was a beautiful ball of oddness that came with new shifts in music. Many of these bands and artists were able to find immense success at the dawn of the internet era, and have in many ways lead the way for new evolutions in music (inspiring many of the bands and artists we love today).
Linkin Park is one of those acts. They burst through the music industry with a sound that captured the youth across the world. Throughout their career the band has released seven studio albums. In honor of Chester Bennington’s life and art, here is a look into Linkin Park’s music and legacy, and how the band sincerely pushed themselves to create their purest work, and change music.
Hybrid Theory & Meteora (2000 – 2003)
Let me say one thing right off the bat about Hybrid Theory that just really impresses me… this is a diamond record. A fucking diamond record. That’s 10 million units, something that legendary heavy bands like Metallica and Van Halen have only been able to accomplish. Hybrid Theory is an incredibly important work; its importance isn’t just that within the world of metal or rock, but I believe it to be one of the most important records of the 21st century.
The album kicked off the nu metal/rap metal sound that Linkin Park would become associated with for years to come. Electric guitar tones that borderline on industrial sounds blended with electronic beats to create instrumentals packed with emotional angst. While Mike Shinoda’s rapping provided a catchy atmosphere to the work, it was Chester Bennington’s singing/screaming that really created such a profound heavy and somber energy to the material. Thinking of the crazy adrenaline and build up in such tracks as “One Step Closer”, “Papercut”, and “A Place for My Head”, really helped to further introduce heavy music into the mainstream. “Crawling”, “Runaway”, and “My December” are key examples of how Bennington was able to capture the emotion and turmoil of life.
Meteora continued with these instrumental sounds, balancing out the use of heavy riff roaring bangers, and stunning songs of rich somber tones. Bennington came out in full force with rage and angst throughout the record, kicking things off right away in “Don’t Stay”. The hyper record scratching and electric vibrant guitar notes presented a pulse-racing intro, packed with vicious screams from Bennington. There’s the ever-popular “Faint”, where Shinoda raps over an electronic infused rock instrumental, the chorus bursting with fiery guitar work and Bennington’s screams. Meteora is also where a lot of fans would discover “Breaking The Habit” and “Numb” (both which came with beautiful music videos). The songs captured Bennington’s stronger side of singing, diving into the waters of pain and loneliness, tapping the root of music that is able to reach deep within someone.
The instrumental and vocal styles used within these two albums would go on to create the foundation for Linkin Park’s image (even as the band continued to progress their style and sound). Some fans have looked at these records as the band’s peak moments in their career, while many haters immediately write off anything that has to do with nu metal/rap metal. These records, however, are much deeper than just their sound (even if that sound caters to their significance). In a cultural sense I find it interesting that fans and haters alike continue to reflect on these two albums so much. I find that this is the case because so many of us came into contact with these works, each album playing a huge part in our taste in pop culture and where we were in life. I remember waking up before school to watch music videos on MTV, and it was impossible to not see “Numb” or “Breaking The Habit” in the morning. If you were like me and either waiting for your favorite rock/metal band or favorite rapper… there was a nine out of ten chance you were going to see a Linkin Park music video.
The other side of what makes these records so important for us who grew up with them, is the fact that they sincerely capture the angst and life of being a teenager. I think the word “angst” gets thrown around a lot in a negative context, but if we look at it as a pure emotion, Linkin Park really grabbed hold of what it was like to be a teenager. Both Hybrid Theory and Meteora captured the frustration and difficulties of this period in someone’s life: feeling misunderstood, rebellion, and attempting to find a connection within the world and within oneself. To a degree we can say that there were other bands and artists able to do this as well, but the lyrical approach that Shinoda and Bennington took were heavily grounded in the day to day rhythm that I think is relatable to all. There was no shock, fantasy, or extreme approach that a lot of other bands/artists pursued, but a genuine reality to the work within the lyrics. The instrumental side of the band’s work also gave a moody sense that reflected how every teenager feels at some point in their life.
It is with all this in mind why I think a lot of us hold these two albums sincerely high and close to our hearts. They helped guide us emotionally, and allowed for a means to connect with art in our time of discovery. From Meteora, the band would begin to radically change their sound over the course of several years.
Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns, Living Things (2007 – 2012)
Linkin Park took four years in between Meteora to present Minutes to Midnight. Many folks probably remember this record for the one song that made its way into the Transformers movie (“What I’ve Done”). Minutes to Midnight would be the first step that Linkin Park would take to abandoning the nu metal sound; this being said, the band continued to hold onto their hip hop elements, whether it was through instrumental beats or Shinoda’s rapping. While tracks like “Bleed It Out” had Shinoda spitting to a catchy rock rhythm, the hip hop flow could still be felt throughout the work. The only time there was any semblance of that nu metal-like vibe was in the guitar chugs that came from “No More Sorrow”. Other than that though, Minutes to Midnight was more of a rock record, coming out with upbeat rhythms that could be found in such tracks as “Given Up”. The LP still held to the band’s ability to create emotionally resonant work, such as in “Shadow of the Day” and “Hands Held High”. In the former, Bennington sung with more of a somber brightness, leaving out the dark angst that came with “Numb”. The album was a step away from the heavy guitar and electronic work that had come with the band’s first two albums, but it would be their following LP after Minutes to Midnight that would push their sound further.
A Thousand Suns kept to Shinoda’s hip hop style and the rock sound, but played around with more of an electronic essence. The hip hop energy really came forth in “When They Come for Me” and “Wretches and Kings”, with work such as “Waiting for the End” taking on a very playful pop approach. Then there was “Blackout”, which presented an industrial EDM style instrumental under Bennington’s singing and screaming. It’s this latter style which would push the band and develop their craft in their next record, Living Things. The album opened with “Lost in the Echo”, kicking things off with a radiant EDM vibe. This continued in “Burn It Down” and “Lies Greed Misery”. The group even played around with some folk-like vocalization in “Castle of Glass”, distancing themselves more from their supposed trademark sound. The album still included heavy elements, the track “Victimized” coming off with punk adrenaline and flavor.
These three albums showed drastically different sides to Linkin Park. It was during these years where some fans began to find themselves torn between the music and the changes that the group was taking on. The instrumental components were surely the biggest differences, but I would argue that thanks to the vocal styles and lyrical approach of Bennington and Shinoda, all three of these records still felt like Linkin Park. It’s tough when you are an artist and have established yourself (sound and style in the case of music). On one hand you know what will please fans, and on the other you want to push yourself and create work that jives with your passions.
Regardless of my own personal taste, I will always applaud an artist/band for attempting to do something different. It takes guts, and in some cases it doesn’t work, and in others it is highly successful. Minutes to Midnight was a transition that still carried a few elements from the first two records, while A Thousand Suns and Living Things really flipped the table over on the band’s style. Those two latter albums were bold steps, entertaining with their energy and still personal in their lyrical approach. They would go on though to provide the blueprints for more work to come.
The Hunting Party & One More Light (2014 – 2017)
Personally, for me as a fan, The Hunting Party was a straight up banger. To this day I still bump this record and its ferocious fun energy. I mean right away with “Keys to the Kingdom” you got Bennington’s rage-fueled screams with a steady drum beat and rock and roll tone. The track burst with Bennington’s vocals and Shinoda’s fast spitting style, presenting a super catchy song. Whether it is screams or rapping, The Hunting Party kept to a rock foundation with strong drum work and vibrant guitars (stronger than what was used on Minutes to Midnight). “Guilty All the Same” and “Final Masquerade” are terrific examples of this core sound that catered to both vocal styles of Shinoda and Bennington. “War” was a standout track, capturing a sincere and brutal punk viciousness and speed. There are less of those somber and angst-ridden songs found on previous works, and instead more heart-racing adrenaline. For those who had been missing out on a heavier Linkin Park sound, this was a killer record. Since Meteora, the band has never attempted to return to that nu metal style, but in The Hunting Party, they tapped into a gritty rock tone that raged and blasted with excitement and wildness.
It would be three years later when Linkin Park would release One More Light, perhaps the band’s most controversial record. There are light elements of rock felt throughout the work, but for the most part the music builds off of electronic pop. When the band released their first single “Heavy”, there began a flurry of comments ranging from all spectrums of approval to distaste. The overall product (in my opinion), is a stunning work. One More Light isn’t your traditional manufactured pop sound that gets churned out thanks to years and years of structure and blueprints, but a sincere testament of emotion.
Other than “Talking to Myself”, this record doesn’t really have too much of that bubbly pop sound. There are traits of it throughout the album, but there is more of that emotional tinge that is reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. The beats dip with shadow and brightness to give off a somber aura, infusing the elements of dark and light emotions. It’s a track like “Battle Symphony” where the instrumental has an incredible upbeat bass, yet the lyrics portray something deeper that blends and contrasts with the brightness within the beat.
It’s smart pop music, that’s the easiest way to put it. One More Light is what you get when artists (rather than a corporate machine) makes music. Songs like “Sharp Edges” take the indie-pop approach to create a gentle rhythm and give Bennington’s vocals and lyrics room to pierce right through. In particular with this record, the instrumentals truly work with Bennington’s singing. The chemistry of the music’s emotions blend with his vocal inflections and storytelling to create a richness and personal connection. The title track is perhaps one of the strongest examples of this success; the song’s minimalism gives space for Bennington’s voice to echo through, and portray a profound story of hope and compassion (with tinges of melancholy). The entire record displays rich emotion, along with strong musical chemistry, making for a work that allows for inner reflection and enjoyment.
These two albums show two distinct sides of Linkin Park. One side has the band playing to a sound which has some similarities to their older work, while one side immensely changes their style beyond anything heard previously. Again, we may all have our own personal opinion on a band’s style (especially if we’ve come to associate our feelings and interests in it), but no one can fault an artist for wanting to expand their craft. The Hunting Party (and more so One More Light), are powerful works that show Linkin Park at some of their best, catering to multiple spectrums of sound.
It’s never easy losing a hero who inspired you. Many of us grew up with Bennington’s vocals and lyrics, some of us growing up suffering (and still suffering) from the same struggles that plagued his life. Linkin Park will forever be one of the most influential bands of our time. As a band, they committed to their desire in evolving their sound. This act was a lot of people’s first loves when it came to music. It became that band that got people to find a way to let go of anger or pain, and find something that gave their lives hope and inspiration. They are a band that touched the lives of millions of people trying to find themselves and make sense of life. Throughout all their albums, Linkin Park have built a legacy to always be remembered by. We have the music forever in our hearts and bursting through our eardrums, Chester’s voice still singing and screaming away.