Review Summary: Make no mistake – this is the record that Linkin Park know they should have made seven years ago.
There was a time when the incomprehensibly thick Minutes to Midnight
threatened to swallow Linkin Park whole. Laughably self-absorbed on an artistic level while retaining the intellectual breadth of a roadside billboard, the album ended up being remembered more for its criminal underuse of Mike Shinoda than for its parent band’s efforts at hauling themselves away from a severely outdated nu metal sound. Acutely aware that they were on the brink of a spectacular implosion, Linkin Park doubled down and managed to put together 2010’s A Thousand Suns
, a fatalistic thesis of unconstrained experimentation and giddy Shinoda-Bennington interplay that stands to this day as their most expansive and thrilling work. The comparatively pedestrian Living Things
followed two years later, and it dutifully rode out what remained of its predecessor’s success, indulging in electronic grooves and strangled guitar lines in a thinly-veiled attempt at merely keeping pace with the times.
If there’s anything that we’ve learnt from all this, it’s that Linkin Park are at their best when they embrace their wildest impulses. They also seem to have realized as much, as proven by their decision to do away entirely with the first batch of demos that were crafted in between breaks on the 2013 Living Things Tour. "It needed to be visceral,” explained Shinoda in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "We need to weed out a lot of the soft, emo kind of approach to our music, and we need to weed out anything that feels aggressive for aggressive's sake.” To achieve these goals, Shinoda and co. chose to return to the alternative rock template which they had first showcased on Minutes to Midnight
; thankfully though, all similarities with that ill-fated album end there, as nearly everything about The Hunting Party
points to a desire to right the wrongs of the past. Make no mistake – this is the record that Linkin Park know they should have made seven years ago.
Album opener “Keys to the Kingdom” is the sound of six rejuvenated men scything down the zeitgeist of Living Things
, with the song’s distorted introduction coming off as a seemingly deliberate attempt at throwing off unsuspecting listeners. “I’m my own casualty!/I fuck up everything I see!/Fighting in futility!
” screams Chester Bennington, as drummer Rob Bourdon lays down an earth-shattering drum groove all around him. Second track “All for Nothing” in turn storms out of the gates with a series of walloping guitar licks that eventually lead into a series of call-and-response vocals between Bennington and Helmet's Page Hamilton, who turns in a solid shift here. Then there’s the gritty “War”, which picks up where Living Things
’ “Victimized” left off and throttles by on a coarse combination of speed and power before disintegrating into a bristling, chewed-up bridge that's as sharp as it is raw. The album’s middle third is even better: the Daron Malakian-backed “Rebellion” is perhaps the best cut on the entire record, with the former System of a Down guitarist choosing an angle of attack that is strongly reminiscent of Mesmerize
-era SOAD. “Wasteland” is equally as essential, with the song deriving much of its strength from Bourdon’s tribal fills and the effortless swagger that has now become Shinoda’s calling card.
That being said, not everything on The Hunting Party
works out completely as planned: “Until It’s Gone”, for instance, sounds like what happened after a label representative turned up uninvited at the studio where Linkin Park were working and told them that they needed to put a made-for-radio single on the album. Both Bourdon and guitarist Brad Delson, who up to this point have performed every song with a knife between their teeth, suddenly find themselves having to play with the handbrake on. And the less said about Bennington’s shambolic lyrics (“I thought I kept you safe and sound/I thought I made you strong/But something made me realize/That I was wrong
”), the better. Elsewhere, Tom Morello’s performance on “Drawbar” turns out to be nothing more than a red herring, while “The Summoning”, a full minute of chewed-up samples, drum fills, and ambient noises, does nothing but bleed off some of the album’s hard-earned momentum. Worst of all perhaps, are the numerous moments of perceptible hubris on the record: just prior to the start of “Guilty All The Same”, for instance, Shinoda can be heard telling Delson to “Put the heavy shi
t there” – it’s one thing for a band to have the guts and desire to attempt a stylistic change; it's another thing entirely for them to be so far up their own asses about it.
But when all is said and done, Linkin Park have ultimately acted in a way that both surprises and delights. While it’s worth noting that the album’s staying power is slightly suspect (it’s only been about a week since the stream dropped and already its share of thrills feel like they are starting to run a little dry), to harp on that seems rather churlish. A little over two years ago, it seemed that Linkin Park probably had just enough going for them to stay alive, but after proving here that they can create multiple slabs of widescreen hard rock that manages to push their boundaries while still maintaining the overall integrity of the band, I wouldn’t be surprised if history ends up remembering The Hunting Party
as the most important album that the Agoura Hills outfit made for themselves.