Review Summary: Linkin Park are on a pill that's tough to swallow.
I’m probably not speaking for myself when I say a lot of us have dipped into the sound of Hybrid Theory, the super-record decade starter, which saw Linkin Park achieve immense success through their materializing and angst-filled nu-metal power. It also opened the doors to heavier music for amateurs. In a way or another, quite a lot of people could relate to Bennington’s lyrics, intensified through harsh screams and raw vocals, as well as Shinoda’s chest-pumping raps, which all together formed the essential signature sound which the band is highly known for even to this day. While this sounds all so terrific and makes complete sense, Hybrid Theory represents both the gift and the curse of Linkin Park.
Their third studio effort was enough proof that their career was compromised from day one. Minutes to Midnight was bombarded by critics and angry fanboys from every side, one of the reasons being that it was simply too different compared to their debut. Other, more justified opinions concluded that it was a failed attempt at adjusting their sound to the mainstream wave of the modern world. Simply put, it was an album full of cheesy hooks and songs bound to reach nothing more than heavy airplay. Basically, it was going nowhere fast.
Therefore, you don’t need high education to figure out Linkin Park were in need of a different direction, and their destination needed to be anywhere except the radio. Where exactly have they landed with A Thousand Suns remains a mystery, because it is hard to comprehend whether the step they have taken leads them somewhere in particular. Nevertheless, the band has taken some serious risks that will most likely aid them in either reaching a higher ground or burry them even deeper into the vast unknown that had been awaiting them since Meteora.
These theories are rather insignificant if you listen to A Thousand Suns, which is Linkin Park’s most dynamic album to date. Instead of focusing on a definite genre, the sextet has tried to plug the cables into fifteen different sources and try to get a little power from each. In other words, there’s plenty of diversity and the aim for a larger audience is at least interesting to hear. From the down-tempo enigmatic “Burning in the Skies” to the AFI influenced gang-vocaled “The Catalyst”, there’s equilibrium between electronic arrangements and stripped sounds (“The Messenger”). If you’re having any doubts, Mike lays down the gauntlet and reminds you this isn’t a copy and paste record of their former selves, as he briefly refers to a line from Hybrid Theory in “When They Come for Me” (“I am not the fortune and the fame, nor the same person telling you to forfeit the game.”). The song has an oriental vibe, which perfectly fits Shinoda’s aggressive rapping - it is a clear sign he’s back to his Fort Minor-self as he leads the way into the abyss. The circle is never complete until you hear Chester joining Mike in the electro-reggae piece “Wretches and Kings”, both vocalists singing in completely unfamiliar tones.
For the sake of sounding unfamiliar, boundaries between rock and electronic music are quickly shaken in the absolute highlight of the album: “Blackout”. The song aims to contrast Bennington’s raw vocals with the electro-pop synths and piano loops, forming a systematic chaos and a dynamic sound - nothing more than a win.
On a side note, if you actually took the time to approach this record from start to finish, you might have noticed that it has loads of twists and turns that articulate Linkin Park’s goal to keep the listener wondering what’s coming next. Well, they didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. To be honest, songs like “Robot Boy” or “Iridescent” fail to keep the listeners on their feet. It takes a while for the punch to kick in, and by the time it’s there, you’re already skipping to another track, which is unmistakably either an interlude or a main focus on Chester, Mike and Joe. The absence of the rest of the band members is rather inexplicable, and is most likely the central flaw behind the charisma and overall attraction of A Thousand Suns. Some songs feel incomplete and sound more like jams rather than actual full-length tracks - “Robot Boy”, a serious contender for heavy airplay, yet it feels like a hit and a miss, an experiment instead of an actual song – without the presence of Delson, Bourdon or Phoenix. While Minutes to Midnight seemed to push Hahn into the background, A Thousand Suns is replacing the word “sextet” with the word “trio”.
Since the album is meant to be considered a “journey” [highly debatable], the presence of interludes is somewhat justified. The fact that there’s a ridiculously huge amount of interludes is, however, not justified, the reason being that they sometimes don’t work. An introduction to this album was obviously necessary, but it most certainly didn’t require an interlude afterwards. Not to mention that “Empty Spaces” doesn’t even blend properly into “When They Come for Me” or that “Fallout” has absolutely no reason for even existing. Simply put, some of the interludes are unnecessary and they don’t really connect the songs in an appropriate manner, which damages the overall flow of the album.
In the end, A Thousand Suns is not bad. A Thousand Suns is good. A Thousand Suns could have been better. A thousand times better. If they wish to pursue the tradition of focusing on one or two members on each of their future albums, Linkin Park better change the name and start from scratch. The potential is there, but not even the brainchild [Shinoda] behind these sounds is able to unlock it without the help of the rest of the team.
Nevertheless, the conclusion is that Linkin Park seemed to have taken at least half a step forward, which is already miraculous considering the immense pressure on their backs. While they seem to be on a pill rather difficult to swallow for most of their fans, they are aiming to write distinct music and expand their horizons, rather than taking the safe and beautifully paved road back to heaven [Hybrid Theory]. If that’s not something to at least appreciate, then don’t even bother picking this up. Truth is, they are a tough act to follow, and it will be interesting to hear what they have in store for the future.