There are many accolades one associates with American rock outfit Linkin Park. Apart from being among the best-selling bands of the 21st century, this six-time Grammy-winning band is credited with having sold over 100 million records around the world.
Still, the statistics pale in comparison with the band’s legacy in our consciousness: For children of the ’90s, Linkin Park was an outlet for angst, frustration, heartbreak. The band was a willing conduit of one’s coming of age. Its range of themes, bending of genres, powerful riffs, and intense vocal interplay, gave a voice to generation after generation of young adults. And as its audience grew, so did Linkin Park’s music.
Straddling the rebellious and the reflective since a quarter of a century, the band has provided a robust soundtrack in our lives, often giving us an opportunity to scream out what pains us.
Twenty-five-years ago, Linkin Park was formed by three high school friends from Los Anegles — Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, and Rob Bourdon, before Chester Bennington joined them on lead vocals duty. Legend has it that Warner Bros’ A&R executive was not too excited about the band’s rock-meets-hiphop identity, instead asking them to focus on being more pure rock. If that was not enough, there were prompts from the label to side-line Shinoda’s rapping predilection so that Bennington to helm a more rock-sounding record.
Destiny, of course, had other plans. Unflinchingly committed to their concept for the album, the band held its ground and its members, to record what went on to be one of their most historic records: Hybrid Theory.
Amplified power chords, a guttural bassline, and frenetic rapping set the tone for the most heartfelt of lyrics to be screamed out throughout the album. Hybrid Theory’s overwhelming success spawned a generation of musicians who were inspired by the same nu metal sound, and generations of fans who took to the unabashed back and forth between Bennington’s rock vocals and Shinoda’s rap style. If the vocal chemistry between them defined the band’s sonic palette, then the rest of the instrumentalists’ role bolstered Linkin Park’s identity in ways that impacted us listeners rather subliminally.
Over two decades have passed, yet even today the opening piano riffs of ‘In the End’ — Linkin Park’s most successful and recognisable song — serves as a clarion call for frenzied head-banging, even as fans sing along to every single word of the chorus. Bennington sounds hurt, angry even, as he oscillates between painful realisation and outright screaming; only to be ably punctuated by Shinoda’s energetic rapping. And the piano riff has over the years evokes a Pavlovian response from fans who only need to hear the chords before taking over vocal responsibilities.
If the riffs were instantly recognisable, so were the guitar-playing formulae. Opening with simple chords before the powerful guitars kick in — almost prepping the fans to start jumping along to the riffs. Accustomed to the drop C# or D tuning that as was typical of nu metal bands of the time, Linkin Park’s songs did not hesitate from lyrically and melodically going to deeper, darker spaces. The band presented vulnerability as an accepted state of mind and being, giving vent to so many college-goers who found validation through their music.
‘Numb,’ from their second album Meteora, is one of their most famous songs, and fittingly acquires cult status because of how instantly relatable it is to young adults; a crushing plea to parents about their overvaulting expectations. With lines like “I’m tired of being what you want me to be/ Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface / Don’t know what you’re expecting of me / Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes,” the song is a cry for help and acceptance from parents that resonates with youngsters across generations. No wonder then that two decades on, the song remains firmly in the consciousness of the latest generation of college-goers the world over.
Despite making their debut at the time of nu metal oversaturation, Linkin Park has successfully managed to silence their critics by taking their sound in newer directions. The band was not afraid to go against the very formula that heralded them into superstardom. Traversing rock, metal, rap, hip-hop, industrial, and electronica, the band frequently played with their sound as if one were manipulating an equalizer. In the album Minutes to Midnight, for instance, Shinoda sings lead on three songs, whereas their concept album A Thousand Suns took a decidedly electronica turn. Bennington once described What I’ve Done from Minutes to Midnight as being a fitting goodbye to the Linkin Park sound of the past as the band moved towards rawer drums and guitar tones, and trimmed down vocals. The song opens with the lyrics: “In this farewell / There’s no blood, there’s no alibi…”
Yet the one farewell that the band struggled with was Bennington’s, who died by suicide two months after the death of his dear friend and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell in July 2017. His death cast uncertainty over the band’s future with Shinoda admitting that the feeling of replacing Bennington, would not sit well with him. His passing has certainly altered the balance within the band, and left a gaping hole in the creative processes of the band members. But as is the case with many rock bands that lose their frontmen, the remaining members do experience an uneasy sense of moving on without seeming to move on too much.
Earlier this year, Linkin Park released a remix of ‘One Step Closer,’ revealing that there would be more remixes to come, drawing inspiration from their 2002 remix album Reanimation. It appears that Linkin Park is taking slow steps to rebuild themselves. One cannot help but be drawn back to their song ‘Waiting for the End’ from 2002’s A Thousand Suns: “What was left when the fire was gone / I thought it felt right but the right was wrong / all caught up in the eye of the storm / I’m trying to figure out what it’s like moving on.”
We can only hope that the band finds the same strength, inspiration, and expression that they have provided generations of youngsters, in their process of resurrection.
Updated Date: June 29, 2021 08:02:45 IST
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Gulzar saab once said, and I quote, “True love-making is when the actors on screen and the audience forget about the naked bodies."
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