In the wake of the tragic passing of lead singer Chester Bennington, fans around the world are coming together to celebrate the incredible legacy of Linkin Park. The impact of their music on the hearts of millions of listeners, as well as their massive influence on fellow bands, is absolutely undeniable. Much of the conversation surrounding the band’s legacy will deservedly focus on their first two albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, which redefined rap-rock music for a new generation of listeners, bringing a fresh spin to a subgenre which had grown stale and tired before their arrival. However, any serious evaluation of Linkin Park’s career cannot ignore the significance of what happened after those two albums, and how every release since that point only added to the band’s stature as artists.
After finishing touring in support of the massively successful Meteora, Linkin Park was a band adrift, struggling to find a future direction. While the band initially started working on their third album in 2003, shortly after Meteora’s release, those sessions were scrapped completely as the band members pursued various side projects. Mike Shinoda fully embraced hip-hop on Fort Minor’s album The Rising Tied, while Chester began laying the groundwork for his band Dead by Sunrise. When Linkin Park eventually regrouped in early 2006, they began the long process of rediscovering their collective identity. Mike Shinoda summarized the feeling amongst the members at the time, stating, “We were looking back at the things that we had done in the past… and I think we just figured that we had exhausted that sound. It was easy for us to replicate, it was easy for other bands to replicate, and we just needed to move on.”
After spending fourteen tireless months in the studio, recording dozens of tracks and struggling through numerous delays, Linkin Park eventually did move on. The resultant album, Minutes to Midnight, was a bold reinvention that demonstrated the band’s unwillingness to take the easy way out. Unlike so many of their nu metal peers, Linkin Park refused to continue imitating their original sound on album after album, and Minutes to Midnight featured different genre elements on virtually every song, from stadium-sized alternative anthems (“What I’ve Done”), to tender ballads (“Shadow of the Day”), to politically charged hip-hop (“Hands Held High”), to some of their most intense hard rock to date (“Given Up”). Even “Bleed It Out”, the sole track that replicated the rap-rock song structure which dominated their first two albums, took a markedly different sonic approach with raw, stripped-back production that captured the feel of a live performance. Linkin Park made it clear that they had no interest in being pigeonholed by their past work, and the album was a dramatic turning point, setting the band up for continued relevance in the rock world right as many of their contemporaries began to lose steam.
This, above all else, is the story worth telling about Linkin Park. They were a band that came up amidst a hugely successful trend of rap-rock and nu metal, reinvented the style to define it for a mainstream audience as no other band quite had before… and then, against all odds, transcended their original style completely to become a lasting powerhouse in rock music for nearly two decades. How did they do it? Quite simply, by embracing the elements that always made them stand out from the pack. This was a band that started their career as a hybrid, blending different elements of the music they loved in unexpected ways, and imbuing even their most intense rock moments with an emotional core straight out of pop music, and a swagger derived from hip-hop. So when they came to an artistic crossroads, they simply chose to follow those same instincts in whatever direction they would take. Linkin Park were fans of music before genre, and this open-mindedness shines through in a discography that consistently gets shortchanged for its sheer musical diversity and ambition.
The career arc of Linkin Park lays waste to the misguided notion that commercial success and artistic ambition are fundamentally at odds with each other, and that a band must remain toiling in underground music scenes to truly continue to push itself artistically. On A Thousand Suns, the band created a bold conceptual framework centering around themes of nuclear war and social inequality, delving further into electronic experimentation than fans of their original style would have ever thought possible. Living Things reconciled the experimentation of A Thousand Suns with the rap-rock core that had driven their original success, creating an infectious blend that felt simultaneously fresh and distinctively familiar. And on The Hunting Party, the band focused in studio improvisation and raw aggression, creating their most intense and visceral album to date.
That brings us to One More Light, Linkin Park’s final album with Chester Bennington, released only two months before his passing. While the album’s move towards electropop did sharply divide the band’s fanbase, it also exemplified the band’s continued willingness to push the boundaries of their sound, even ten years after Minutes to Midnight. Regardless of one’s opinion of the album itself, it is perhaps fitting that the band’s run with Bennington came to an end with an album that once again challenged and divided the band’s fanbase, arguably more than ever before. Most bands that have sustained their careers as long as Linkin Park wouldn’t dare to take a risk that big seven albums in… indeed, many of their peers from the nu-metal scene are still touring off of nostalgia and making new music with a sound largely unchanged, if they are even making new music at all. Linkin Park had every opportunity to play it safe and make clones of Hybrid Theory and Meteora until the day they called it quits, but instead they decided to push their audiences and themselves time and time again. This is perhaps Linkin Park’s greatest legacy, and it is one worth celebrating.