Written by Anthony Toto
For a legion of ‘millennials,’ Linkin Park remains synonymous for introducing millions of young listeners to the aggressive yet self-expressive dynamics of heavy metal and hip-hop. Back in 2001, I downloaded a Dragonball Z compilation off Morpheus with “Crawling” in the background and I immediately said to myself, ‘I need to hear that again!’ Days later, I purchased Hybrid Theory. Track after track, Chester Bennington’s pain provided a sense of comfort in releasing my angst through a positive musical outlet. Meteora was released just a few days before my 13th birthday and the CD itself didn’t leave my walkman for an entire year. Seriously, my mom even drove me in the pouring rain just to get my copy. For weeks, I couldn’t wait to see the premiere for “Somewhere I Belong” during an episode of MTV’s now deceased Making The Video. Even as my tastes delved into different subgenres of metal, I eagerly anticipated Minutes To Midnight as I quenched the same feeling of inspiration that I felt when I listened to their previous albums. Not even joking, a snowstorm hit New Jersey during the day of its release (notice a pattern here). Regardless, a friend of mine picked me up and we drove through dangerous weather just to get the album.
Focusing on Minutes To Midnight for a second, this album represented an interesting transition for Linkin Park as the music world had changed drastically since the release of Meteora. Mainstream ‘rock’ listeners turned to groups like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, so the halfway mark of the band’s career saw them pursue an electronic direction. Considering Linkin Park’s stature, this level of popularity often carries a ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ stigma with so-called ‘fans’ and critics waiting to rip them apart for trying something different. The following LPs A Thousand Suns and Living Things substituted metallic guitars for layered synthesizers and this drew a very mixed reaction among longtime listeners. Whenever I talk about music with my friends (both casual and die-hard music listeners), Linkin Park tends to garner the loudest response. In fact, I can’t say any other rock band from my generation, aside from blink-182, receives this type of reaction or opinionated point of view. I most often hear my friends say, “Oh, they haven’t released anything good since Meteora. They need to make another Hybrid Theory. If they release an album like their old stuff, I’d buy it.”
Fast-forward to 2014, Linkin Park just released its sixth full-length album The Hunting Party. Personally speaking, I respect the band’s ambition for taking creative risks, but hearing them come full circle and return to their roots feels authentic. ‘Old’ Linkin Park fans could rejoice; The Hunting Party recaptures the fire of its earliest material yet doesn’t falsely attempt to create Hybrid Theory 2. Simply stated, Linkin Park delivers some of the best performances of their career by resurrecting the heaviest elements of its past. Dare I say, some songs even cross punk and progressive territory considering the time changes and eclectic selection of guitar tones and electronic samples.
Surprising to say the least, the songwriting process behind The Hunting Party initially resembled the electronic pop formula heard on A Thousand Suns and Living Things. While promoting Linkin Park’s latest LP, Mike Shinoda explained how the philosophies shifted once he felt disgruntled with the modern state of rock and pop. Shinoda raised an important question, has anyone noticed how mainstream music lacks any sort of aggression nowadays? The likes of Kurt Cobain conveying his heartfelt anger out to the masses no longer exists. Mainstream music lacks balls and both pop and hip-hop artists draw more controversy for media quotes rather than lyrical content. Shinoda challenged his band, especially guitarist Brad Delson, to rediscover their inner youth and translate those innocent moments of excitement and anger into the songwriting. Shinoda detailed his conversation with Delson to Radio.com, “What do you think the 14-year old Brad thinks of you right now? That kid was listening to real heavy metal and shredding in his room all day. That’s the kid you want to impress, to inspire to be a better guitar player.”
To his credit, Shinoda’s overall vision resulted in Linkin Park’s best album since Meteroa. In terms of synchronization, the level of focus throughout The Hunting Party results in a unified energy that demonstrates a band firing on all cylinders. The opener “Keys To The Kingdom” manages to bridge together Nine Inch Nails industrial metal with healthy doses of punk rock and synthesized bass drops reminiscent of Living Things. Once Bennington viciously screams away during the chorus, longtime listeners will recall the emotional delivery heard on vintage tracks like Reanimation’s “Pts.OF.Athrty.” From here on out, The Hunting Party fully shifts into a visceral guitar driven album focused on relentlessly pounding away at the listener.
The album’s first major highlight is “Guilty All The Same.” No questions asked; this is the best Linkin Park song since “Numb” (considering “Numb” is the last track on Meteora). Prepare to start a circle pit; Delson and Shinoda’s duel guitar harmonies gallop with the up-tempo rhythm section while Bennington’s chorus recalls the grandiosity of Iron Maiden or modern Avenged Sevenfold. Don’t shake your head at this comparison, the musical complexity of this single will most certainly appeal to both older listeners and the current generation of kids inspired by A7X’s instrumental prowess. When Bennington sings, “You’re guilty all the same/ Too sick to be ashamed/ You want to point your finger/ But there’s no one else to blame,” it’s hook is so immense yet doesn’t feel nostalgic considering the band still manages to push itself performance wise. Better yet, hip-hop icon Rakim’s masterful wordplay delivers hard-hitting rhymes over a few measures of vocabulary excellence.
In terms of shocking the listener, major props to Linkin Park for pursuing both hardcore punk and thrash metal territory on “War.” Truth be told, I’d love to see them further explore this dynamic on future releases. Summoning their inner Metallica and Minor Threat, it’s easy to picture Bennington’s word initiating chaos during a live performance, as this will amplify the crowd’s energy by a ten fold. The metal community loves to knock Linkin Park’s music, yet this song’s metal credentials are undeniable. Think about it for a second, what other borderline metal acts receive mainstream radio airplay? Instead of hating on their success, give them credit for being one of the few artists to introduce unfamiliar listeners to heavier styles of music. Even though this song only clocks in at 2:11, “War” is the most passionate performance on Hunting Party as you could hear the band revel in excitement while playing in this sort of atmosphere.
Tracks including “All For Nothing (Featuring Page Hamilton from Helmet)”, “Wastelands,” and “Mark The Graves” combine the distorted chord progressions of Meteora with the softer verses and delicate choruses heard on Minutes To Midnight. Fans of either album will enjoy hearing those dynamics fervently revived in a modern context, rather than rehashed to sell listeners on nostalgia. For the fans into A Thousand Suns and Living Things, “Until It’s Gone” is comparable to “Burn It Down” considering it’s reoccurring use of synthesized melodies, amplified guitars, and Bennington’s delay effect on his vocals. Even as they crank up the amplifiers, The Hunting Party doesn’t lack a signature Linkin Park ballad. The simplicity behind “Final Masquerade” demonstrates a modern pop structure and melody that screams major radio airplay among the likes of “What I’ve Done” and “Shadow of the Day.”
The Hunting Party’s main highlight features System of a Down’s Daron Malakian on the track “Rebellion.” This collaboration is a BIG DEAL considering the popularity of both acts during the 2000s. My mind is blown away by the notion of a singular track merging the tastiest elements of Toxicity with Hybrid Theory. Once Malakian kicks into a frenetic System style guitar riff, the subconscious of my 13-year self screams in excitement hearing such a natural chemistry unfold between these two genre-defining bands. Drummer Rob Bourdon deserves credit for holding down such a solid groove behind a rapidly progressive musical landscape. In terms of Linkin Park’s overall catalog, “Rebellion” features the finest guitar leads of Delson’s career. Keeping up with Malakian’s unorthodox complexity, Delson exceeds previous musical limits by expanding his repertoire and stepping up his game as a composer. In fact, I can’t imagine a fan of ‘old’ Linkin Park not smiling when Bennington shouts, “Rebellion/Rebellion/We lost before the start” before Shinoda follows up with a thought-provoking chorus.
My only letdown off Hunting Party is “Drawbar” featuring Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine. Believe it or not, this instrumental is strictly piano driven (doesn’t that sound awkward?). Instead of infusing Morello’s signature riff-heavy crunch into Linkin Park’s repertoire, ambient synthesizers serve as the fundamental background throughout “Drawbar.” If you’re going to jam with Tom Morello, I’d love to rage along to the track. Considering how I thought “Drawbar” could top “Rebellion,” the song left me feeling empty. Back in the day, Linkin Park morphed a blueprint established by Rage Against The Machine into groundbreaking success, so this collaboration caught my curiosity considering how I wanted both worlds to collide. Maybe a future jam session will combine “Testify” with “Faint?”
From a production perspective, The Hunting Party is the loosest album of Linkin Park’s career. While previous efforts were laden in top-notch studio production, this latest LP captures the aura of a band performing live in unison. More than ever, Linkin Park demonstrates a commitment to one another, in terms of professionalism, that played a major role in developing a massive fanbase. No question, the ascending energy level on each track demonstrates a vendetta to produce top-notch material from top to bottom. The group sounded content with A Thousand Suns and Living Things, yet The Hunting Party outdoes it predecessors by getting back to the basics once again. Rightfully so, the band spent the last decade reacting to an erratic music scene. Rather than rest on laurels, Linkin Park took risks in order to expand their repertoire as musicians. The Hunting Party benefits from a music industry resembling a wild west nowadays. Considering the popularity of Linkin Park worldwide, they could pursue any musical direction without adhering to industry standards. Nearly fifteen-years after the release of Hybrid Theory, it’s so refreshing to hear them recapture those sonic elements that captivated millions of listeners. Still carrying the flag for borderline metal listeners, The Hunting Party will invigorate a new generation of listeners to discover the endless possibilities of rebellion when heavy metal is unified with hip-hop.