Review Summary: Linkin Park before they sucked.
Sure, I mean they've only sold maybe 60 or so million albums now, but there was a time when Linkin Park, first named Xero and then Hybrid Theory by the time of this album's release, was just a little upstart band too. And even though listening to Xero's EP was a strange kind of ear-raping experience I never plan on reliving, Hybrid Theory's self-titled EP from 1999 is actually a remarkably refreshing album by Linkin Park standards. In fact, this is probably the one Linkin Park release that holds up today much better than anything else they've ever released, and that certainly does say something.
Obviously the first impression based on title alone is that it would presumably sound like the better-known Hybrid Theory LP, when in reality its style is quite a bit different. The three rock tracks (Carousel, And One, Part of Me) have deeper post-grunge stylings than anything else Linkin Park have ever done, specifically through a deep, deliberate sound with an added rawness partially from the lack of excessive production glitz. The bass is notably not distorted to anywhere near the extent it is on later releases, letting it produce the very low and clear thunderous tones in the background without sounding exactly like the guitar this time. And while poor Chester is given practically no opportunity to really shine vocally anywhere on the album, it is interesting to hear him use the full raspy effect of his voice in a much deeper, non-eardrum-shattering tone that he never went on to use elsewhere. It doesn't particularly stand out from the music much at all, in fact it almost blends with it, and it isn't senselessly angry (or whiny, thankfully), but it is certainly is a lot more pleasant through headphones.
As said though, only half of the songs on the EP are actually enough of rock songs to even feature Chester on them. As such it's not particularly streamlined, but in a way, this approach is also one of the best things about the album, allowing Linkin Park's two most talented members, Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn, ample time to show off almost entirely in their own realm for a good chunk of the album. Even if Hahn's own track, "Technique", is far too short at less than 45 seconds in length, he collaborates most evidently on the segments spearheaded by Shinoda, like "Step Up", "High Voltage", and the end of "And Me". On songs like these especially, Hahn manages to prove that he could still spin up a great track back in the day before they saw their big break, and even Mike puts out some of his best rap verses with Linkin Park to date, nailing some excellent flow in his lyrics at certain points even when he does sound noticeably younger and less experienced.
But of course, it is still Linkin Park so it still lacks in the same areas you'd generally expect it to. The musicianship in particular is as unamazing as it's always been, never exceeding basic expectations or writing anything that someone who's only been playing the guitar for about a week can't master. The rock songs have an awfully similar sound to them as well, a problem that's always plagued their albums, though it is at least far more bearable here with only a few of them to digest. But all in all, even with their general lack of good, non-generic songwriting ability still more than evident, this is at least from that era of Linkin Park's music when it isn't such a horrible distraction because it's actually relatively catchy and enjoyable.
And ironically, it's the EP they released in the days before they were putting out Diamond-selling records that does this the best. Unlike Hybrid Theory LP and Meteora, which grow old once the thrill has worn off and then never really recover, Hybrid Theory EP I've found to be enjoyable even today as well as the only Linkin Park album I don't have to struggle to listen through. Its far less pretentious songwriting and emphasis on individual members' specific strengths actually make it a pretty solid album without quite as many of the major flaws of their later releases. It's certainly no masterpiece, but if you really wanna hear the best the band has to offer (and most likely ever will at this point), Hybrid Theory EP would by and far be your best bet.