There's a war going down on the new Linkin Park album, the band's first since 2003 not produced by Rick Rubin. Without the guidance of their bearded generalissimo, these Cali rap-rock commandos go rogue, flinging missiles in all directions. They attack record companies, politicians, rule makers, exes, and anyone else in sight, all the while rediscovering the savage fun of super-loud guitars.
The band has described "The Hunting Party" as a prequel to "Hybrid Theory," their mega-selling 2000 debut, and while the members work in plenty of the pretty synths and electro bits they've explored over the last decade, they spend much of this record pummeling away like back in the day. The aggressive sound fits with the defensive lyrics, and the group arrives reinvigorated, ready for a fight. Mike Shinoda apparently ditched early demos that would have sent Linkin Park further into electronic territory, and given the ferocity of this music, his band mates seem thrilled by that decision.
Why all the raging? That's the existential question all rap-metal bands face — especially the further we get from 1999. Do you tinker and evolve, as Linkin Park has done in recent years, or do you stop apologizing for a sound critics are never going to accept anyway? On "The Hunting Party," Linkin Park go the latter route, and since they self-produced these tracks as they wrote on the fly, the record may represent the core of what this band is about. It's not high art, and it won't land them on any year-end best-of lists, but it will sell a load of copies, and it's just the thing for your next lousy day. Read on to get our track-by-track take of Linkin Park's latest.
1. "Keys to the Kingdom": Quite fittingly, the album opens with hysterical screaming — "No control! No surprise!" — and hammering drums. Then the guitars hit, and Linkin Park are off on a hardcore punk tear, at least for the intro. Shinoda's verses pull things back into nu-metal terrain, and as he does his best to sell Linkin Park's back-to-basics approach.
2. "All for Nothing": The guitars stay heavy, but the drums slow down and swing just enough for Shinoda to bust some nimble rhymes about refusing to obey orders. It doesn't really matter who he's railing against — this is defiance for defiance's sake. That's Helmet's Page Hamilton on the chorus, lending credibility more than anything else.
3. "Guilty All the Same": The fellas are justifiably psyched to have hip-hop legend Rakim on this track, so they preface his arrival with more than a minute of dramatic guitar buildup. At first, the bobbing and weaving riffage suggests a boxer readying for the bell, but then the group segues into quasi-symphonic metal mode, and we're galloping into Bennington's verses. The singer is characteristically vague with his raging, but Rakim luckily focuses the attack, shining the red laser on shady industry types. "The media, the game, to me you're all the same," he spits, truly engaged. "You're guilty."
4. "The Summoning": Exactly one minute long, this staticky interlude is there to build tension for the next track — a grenade with the pin pulled out.
5. "War": When did this become a Bad Religion record? There's no time to ponder the question, as this pacifist punk tirade takes off, delivers its payload, and moves on with stunning efficiency. Linkin Park are in and out in 2:11, and that even leaves time for guitarist and co-producer Brad Delson to wile out on the disc's fiercest solo.
6. "Wastelands": It's wishful thinking when Shinoda raps, "Every phrase a razor blade," though the start-stop guitar crunch and twinkling electronic ambiance help to sharpen this blunt rocker. When Bennington sings of the "wasteland of today," he effectively hedges all bets, delivering one of those timeless and universal declarations of discontent that doesn't have to mean a damn thing.
7. "Until It's Gone": So returns the warped sonar synth effect heard on hits like "Numb," and while it arrives in the opening seconds amid a rush of heavy guitars, "Until It's Gone" quickly turns into a philosophical electro-rock mood piece. The buildup of blips in the bridge hints at a coming bass drop, but then the guitars kick back in, and Bennington belts out his clichéd lyrics for the middle schoolers in the cheap seats who don't know any better.
8. "Rebellion": After a chomping intro riff — maybe the gnarliest guitar part on the record — Linkin Park once again brandish their Euro-metal broadswords and get medieval on our asses. Helping them on their quest is System of a Down guitarist Daron Malikian, and while the song speaks to the anger of being American and having nothing to really rebel against, the band plays with the urgency of insurgents.
9. "Mark the Graves": The band opens with some deceptive U2 atmospherics before gunning it with more punk drums and needling guitars. The nasty and nice bits get about equal time, and the lyrics once again leave us wondering whether we're in the wreckage of a failed relationship or a bombed-out city. Either way, "Mark the Graves" is spacious enough to allow such contemplation.
10. "Drawbar": There's zero irony in Bennington's chest-thumping lyrics, but there's plenty on this instrumental. It's the only song on this return-to-rock record to feature guitar god Tom Morello, and believe it or not, there's nary a riff or power chord in sight. Instead: downbeat piano, shuffling drums, and more of those off-kilter synth sounds. As far as missed opportunities go, this is a lovely one.
11. "Final Masquerade": Synths and palm-muted guitars carry the mid-tempo verses into a head-nodding hard rock chorus. With that, another love affair ends in epic fashion, and there's even a big stadium sing-along.
12. "A Line In the Sand": Whether or not Shinoda means to sing the first verse like Richard Page from Mr. Mister, he and the band take their broken wings and learn to fly again, climbing just high enough to drop bombs on some authority figure—maybe a certain president who instigated a meaningless war—who led them astray. "We laughed at the suns," Shinoda sings in the outro. "We laughed at the guns / we laughed at it all." Funny—he doesn't sound amused.