Review Summary: This is what happens when men in their late 30's get angry.....very angry.
I've been a Linkin Park fan ever since I happened to discover the head banger that was 'Numb' and the pure adrenalin driven, fist pump inducing 'Faint' on a friend's MP3 player. That was 5 years ago. I wasn't the hardcore loyalist who kept tabs on the group from their early days. I'd never heard of Hybrid Theory and Meteora wouldn't have rung a bell at that time. I arrived at the party after everyone had left; I was initiated late, but boy was I hooked once I got there. I went on a LP binge - album after album was devoured, songs were played on repeat and I was more than happy to go for the ride. Ever since, I've closely followed the group - from their coming of age record 'A Thousand Suns' to the please all electronic infused, pretentious rocker 'Living Things'.
Linkin Park have managed to stay relevant and they will continue to do so if their latest offering is anything to go by. While a number of the band's peers, born of the same sound and angst that defined the nu-metal landscape in the late 90's, have fallen into the wayside, Linkin Park have chugged along. They kept evolving and changing; while most of their material hit the mark, others were futile remnants of too much experimenting. Nonetheless, they're one of the biggest acts on the planet today and to reinforce their 'rock' credentials, they serve us up with some raw heavy and in your face blitzkrieg in the form of 'The Hunting Party'.
When the album was announced, I was excited as any other fan but I wasn't sure what was in the offing. Do they go back to their roots, do they do an electronic rock record or maybe, just maybe, we would get Linkin Park's definition of a pure rock album. With this band you never know. The interviews came in thick and fast. Heavy and hard. Linkin Park like you've never heard them before. Time to go hunting they said. We obliged.
The Hunting Party does indeed live up to its billing. It is heavy,and then some. Mike Shinoda and co. are on full cry on this album. No half measures, no weak punches, no pretentious frivolity masquerading as a rock record. No, this is full throttle stuff. It might seem like a throwback to their early days and in parts it does but the album stands on its own - heavy riffs, furious drumming and verses spewed about with venom; this is not the album you would have expected after Living Things, and if their disparate work is anything to go by, you really shouldn't be surprised either.
Most of the album is very good and the misses are few and far in between. I'll delve into the album highlights first.
"Keys to the Kingdom" opens the album and right away we are thrust into the headlights. There's no calm before the storm. You are bombarded straight away with a melange of hard hitting by Rob Bourdon and screaming vocals by Chester Bennington. The song is no holds barred and the lyrics are brash and angry. Chester starts with an angst driven verse over underlying drums. The guitars then kick in and Brad Delson joins the party in some style as Mike interjects his own lines in between. This song wouldn't sound out of place on Hybrid Theory, albeit a slightly bolder and more mature version of it. It's good fun and sets the tempo for the rest of the album.
The second track, "All for Nothing", features Helmet frontman Page Hamilton who gives a really solid performance on the chorus. He joins forces with Mike and Chester to concoct a truly anthemic tour de force. You'll have your head banging in no time. One of the standouts on the album.
"Guilty All the Same", the lead single has a raw edge to it - from the brilliant intro with crunching guitars and rhythmic pounding of Rob's drums, it's pure adrenalin all the way. There's an old school metal feel with the fierce notes and heavy strings that accentuate the song. There's no drop in intensity. The instrumentation is spot on. My only grouse is Rakim's presence on the bridge. The song could have done without his lines just as well. That doesn't take away from the fact that this is Linkin Park at their finest.
What happens when you have guitar legend Daron Malakian collaborate with Linkin Park? "Rebellion" is what you get. It's heavy as heavy comes. The intro hooks you right off the bat and it gets even better from there. Daron's signature sound is all over this track, with urgent drumming and hard riffage working in tandem to punctuate the smooth lyrical canvas that Mike creates. Chester drops by to have his say, screaming out his lines and juxtaposing the contrast between Mike and him. System of a Down fans would certainly approve.
For all the pandemonium and chaos that is served, the penultimate track, "Final Masquerade" serves to calm things down. A fine rock ballad played over some wonderful lush instruments; this slow, uplifting, mid tempo track has Chester baring it all as he delivers his lines in a way reminiscent of 'Shadow of the Day' off 2007's 'Minutes To Midnight'. There's a certain joie de vivre to this song.
This leads to the album closer - the quite brilliant "A Line in the Sand" which clocks in just a shade over six and a half minutes. It starts on a slow and brooding atmospheric note, with Mike doing the introductions on this one. It has a haunting feel with Mike's voice setting us for something ethereal and that's until Rob Bourdon decides to say hello. Normal service resumes. As the drums kick in, you'd be reminded of the high octane 'Victimized' from their previous album but not for long. With some brilliant guitar work and complex instrumentation, the song veers towards uncharted territory. It catches you off guard. The intensity on this song is hard and yet you can't help but feel a semblance of calm in the midst of all the chaos. It is brimstone and fire, but there is something restrained about it all; like the field of battle at the end of the day. This is going straight to the upper echelons as one of Linkin Park's best. The band has surely come of age and they have absolutely hit the mark with this one.
The rest of the album isn't entirely bad but it offers us some of their weaker efforts. Some miss the target completely, while some get lost in the loudness and abrasiveness of it all. It's not for lack of trying but maybe a case of experimenting too much.
"Until It's Gone" is the soft rocker on the album which begins with Chester crooning over a mid tempo harmony textured with synths and soft riffs that slowly build to a gentle explosion. This isn't a bad song; in fact it has a nice lofty feel to it. It just happens that this track is constrained by the album's own boundaries and it feels seemingly out of place. It would have been a better fit on 'Living Things'.
"Wastelands" is a case of what could have been. It hits hard at first but then fizzes out along the way. While a mean rap verse by Mike accompanied by some marching notes creates an industrial rock feel, 'Wastelands' is eventually pulled back down by a weak middle, mostly owing to Chester's chorus. The interplay doesn't pay off this time. At least we get to hear Mike firing away like there's no tomorrow.
"War" is the little punk rock piece halfway through the album. It plays out like a distant cousin to 'Victimized'. Fast and furious, the song is urgent and unrelenting, almost an anthemic chant. Chester is at his grittiest and spews out fire in this 2 minute mini hurricane. The track is on neither end of the spectrum; it isn't amongst the best on the album nor is it in the rotten basket. It takes its own place on the list - a little gem in the rough.
"Mark the Graves" has some interesting instrumentation, with the intro sounding like something straight out of Serj Tankian's personal vault. Chester puts in another heavy duty performance and while the song does come off different and much better than anything from their previous album, it still doesn't hit the lofty heights set by the other brilliant tracks in the album. It's either a hit or a miss; fans are going to be divided on this one.
"The Summoning" and "Drawbar" wind up the 12 track list. They're just instrumental fillers and not much to write home about. The Summoning wouldn't sound out of place as the opening track on 'Meteora', but here, it's just an exercise in futility. It doesn't serve as a transition from one song to another, or any other purpose for that matter. The biggest let-down happens to be Drawbar. With Tom Morello as featured artist, naturally my interest was piqued. After his great work on the Pacific Rim soundtrack, I was expecting some guitar wizardry along with Linkin Park's ingenuity to conjure something special. I expected heavy riffs and total carnage, instead I was greeted by gentle piano strings and a meandering track that was headed nowhere. The album thus is effectively cut to 10 real tracks but that shouldn't deter you. This is still a very good record and if you're a fan of hard and raucous music, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen.
Lyrically, the album manages to hold its own. There are some inspired verses and a real maturity that shows in the song writing. Linkin Park have stepped up their game and while there are a few sappy moments along the way, there's no denying the bold new direction they've taken; fraught with risk and danger, but they still come out trumps. There's no countdown on this one, no waiting for lift off, no pre flight checks. You're sent into orbit straight off. Boom. Just like that.
This is their definitive rock record.
Linkin Park have truly arrived.