Linkin Park – Twenty Years of Hybrid Theory

It’s the year 2000. I’m in sixth form and by the quirks of being in a group of friends that are trusted by the staff we somehow have our own common room. Of sorts. We have tea and coffee making facilities, a sofa, some hastily re-upholstered stools, and a bunch of rails of costumes for various school drama costumes of years gone by. We also had a CD player and three CDs on steady rotation. Top of the Pops 2 compilation, Papa Roach – Infest, and most pertinently for this article, Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory.

It’s 2017, Birmingham England. An entirely different group of friends this time, and we’re all eating burgers. United by a fellowship of being work colleagues we’re getting a hefty discount from a former colleague who’s moved on. We’re on the way to see Linkin Park. Little did we know we’d be watching the last gig the band would ever perform before the tragic suicide of Chester Bennington.

I could say I’ve ardently followed Linkin Park through all of those 17 years but it would be a lie. I’ve always loved Hybrid Theory above the rest of the discography and I always will. I remember taking home that CD from our common room and copying it to mp3 to play on my PC and also onto minidisc to play on my portable minidisc player. It would be another year before I got an mp3 player and another year or two after that I’d pick up my first ipod. To say I played that album a lot would be an understatement. Between that and Infest it would be my bus journey soundtrack for a good 12 months maybe more.

The harder sound was like nothing I’d heard before, being much more fluent in the strains of classic rock such as Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. The dual vocalists with a screamer who could actually sing and a rapper was a revelation. It made Limp Bizkit look like last decades news let alone yesterdays, and I was completely hooked. This predated internet access at home so I only knew Linkin Park in the bubble of music I was already aware of and it was so completely different to everything else I was amazed. Who were these guys? Where did all that anger and angst come from? From the moment Papercut hits it’s 10th second I was in.  It got me interested. With interest.

The interplay of Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington captured me and the post industrial rock rap scratching was so of the moment it felt like I was listening to something cool and contemporary for almost the first time. Don’t get me wrong I was aware that Shinoda wasn’t the best rapper alive. I’d heard enough of the NWA, Tupac and Biggie to know that he had some way to go. The complete fit with Chester, a guy with serious vocal chops as well as a hefty scream just felt right. As an intro to a debut album it doesn’t rip the doors off and burn the barn down. It’s a sneak peak into what the rest of the album will deliver. A roadmap into what the band could do, what the sound would be, and a wee taster for the main course that was to follow. In splitting the album up between a few of us FaultineSocial writers I’ve claimed the first four tracks. Why? My favourite has always been Points of Authority. Why? Who knows?

In truth I remember it being my favourite on my first few bus journeys all those years ago and unlike other albums from other artists I’ve never changed my mind. Don’t question a knowledge that deep and ineffable.

One Step Closer is apt as it takes you one step closer to the core of the album. The light and shade, the slow build, the continuation, the embellishment of the style. It is eminently suitable and it begs you to join in. Not the best on a bus journey but I often mouthed along which I’m sure didn’t help my street cred any at the time. The stylised record scratching that answers the refrain of “shut up when I’m talking to you” sounds a bit twee now but was awesome and novel and fun back then. A sudden ending and you’re into With You. More scratching answering heavy bass strumming and then an ethereal vocal line before Chester growls and groans the main lines. Great soundscape and texturing which leads us into story time with Mr Shinoda. It’s a dialogue between the calm of Mike and the rage of Chester and it’s awesome. Now my favourite. Points of Authority has the best opener for me. It’s tension that slowly builds, pulling you into the track with a kind of suspense and anticipation. It’s got the choral element in the chorus interspersed with Chester throated screamed vocals and the guitars replicating an almost musical scratching rather than a DJ slowly ruining a bit of vinyl. It breaks after the half into Mike’s best rap of the album before plunging back into the sing song cadence of Chester blasting out some of his longest and hardest notes. We couldn’t finish the track without some classic dj riffing using the vocals and the sudden end that feeds us magnificently into the stand out, best known, single of huge repute, Crawling.

I’m not trying to be a hipster picking the track before the peak, I genuinely always loved the prequel to the main act before it was apparently a thing to do so. Then again I love Cure for the Itch too so I’m no authority (excuse the pun).

Part one by James Clinch

If you asked the aspiring rock and metal millennials of the late 90s and early 00s to cast their minds back to that dim and distant past and pinpoint an album where they became fans of the genre you’d probably be hard pushed to find one more popular and memorable as ‘Hybrid Theory’. 

The album was not only hugely influential in that it was a pretty good example of the much-maligned rock-rap nu-metal crossovers that dominated at the time, but it clearly struck a chord with an upcoming generation of music fans. Sure we were all exposed to alternative and rock albums of a higher “musical pedigree” that preceded it, but those were your dad’s records. ‘Hybrid Theory’ was uniquely ours; as corny as it sounds and for all the flak the band caught, the memories the record evokes are enduring.

 It wasn’t until I listened to the album again recently I realized that the lyrics from every song were buried deep in my grey matter. Considering that I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch last week, I’ll take this as a testament to the album’s clear impact and influence.

Normally the middle of a record can take a downward turn; a musical sag as the better material runs out after a strong opening. However, ‘Hybrid Theory’ contains one of the most listenable middles in rock albums; and of course, contains ‘In The End’; the Linkin Park track that everyone knows the lyrics to.

‘Crawling’ is a dark and powerful hymn to paranoia, self-loathing, and Chester’s various addictions that he struggled with for much of his life. It showcases some really nice dynamic range, from low, guttural whispering to a tortuously raspy vocal fry. 

The raw punchy dissonance of ‘By Myself’ is another great expression of rage by Chester; pretty much every track on the album is an expression of rage though so why deviate from a winning formula.

‘Runaway’ is another angsty anthem with an almost disco tempo, an upbeat track set to the usual downbeat lyricism, showing that Chester can sing softly as well as scream. There’s a really nice call and response feel which showcases Mike very well. In fact, just in general, the dual vocalist dynamic that Linkin Park used throughout their careers worked very well. Was Shinoda the greatest rapper ever? No, but he didn’t need to be; the contrast between his and Chester’s styles is just in part of that Linkin Park DNA, a core element to their sound.

Then of course the middle of the album rounds off with perhaps the most well-known track from the band, certainly amongst a large cross-section of the population. Turn on any mainstream radio station or music TV channel in the 2000s and you can bet you’d come across ‘In The End’ and its trippy Salvador Dali-esque, LSD Induced music video, complete with flying whale. It’s an absolute Linkin Park staple and unites music fans from across the auditory spectrum.

The record was criticized as a testament to mediocrity, forgettable outside the singles that were played on the radio at the time, but for those who grew up on ‘Hybrid Theory,’ it’s nestled snugly in the recesses of our earliest musical memories. Perhaps one of its greatest strengths is those big singles, ‘In The End’, ‘Papercut’. They still stand up today and have an almost universal appeal even to the younger generations.

The debut album and Linkin Park as a whole also acted as a vehicle for the rise of Chester Bennington, a prolific songwriter with a vocal ability that bordered on virtuosic; only with the benefit of hindsight do we realize what a special musician Chester was. ‘Hybrid Theory’ gets the accolade of springboarding Chester’s career which spanned two decades and was the genesis of some truly exciting and interesting music.

Coincidentally a couple of days before I wrote this a young child of about 7 or 8 was dragging his mum around the supermarket confidently belting out ‘One Step Closer’ with particular emphasis on the ‘shut up when I’m talking to you’ part. Maybe it’s something about Chester’s screaming, fuck off attitude that appeals to kids who are just learning to express and vocalize their emotions. In any case, it’s easy to see why this record spoke and continues to speak to that young man and others his age no matter their generational affiliation.

Part Two by Theo Wildgoose

It’s 2010 and I’m thirteen years old. I’m at my first ever concert. I’m with three friends from school and I’m standing in the middle of the NEC along with sixteen thousand other people and due to myself not having a growth spirt yet, all I can see is a Korn logo on the back of the hoodie in front of me. The first band I ever saw live was Linking Park and being in that arena that night, although I could not see much, was amazing. It was an experience that changed my life and spawned my love for live music. To see a band perform the songs I had been indulging myself in my bedroom was something I had never witness and a feeling I have longed for ever since. I have attended hundreds of shows since then, from ten people at a Hardcore show in a basement all punching each other in the face to Bruce Springsteen at Wembley stadium. Live music has always been a part of my life and always will be, but the passion all started with a Linkin Park gig.

The first of the four closing numbers is a track that does infact showcase probably the entire identity of the Nu-Metal genre. “A Place for My Head” highlights everything desired to create a Nu-Metal track. The passionate Hip-Hop inspired bars, the turntables spin, the solid drum grooves, and a syncopated guitar lick in the verses that transitions into a huge and clean rock chorus is the perfect recipie. Although I feel the chorus on this track is its weakest point, the characteristics show just how unique this band was in the year 2000. The breakdown in this song is also every modern metalcore band’s dream. A hard, aggressive, and powerful mosh section that sees a vocal build like no other at the time. The singles from this record did not just show artistic moves from the band to purposefully gain mainstream exposure, this band had crafted and blended sounds so well that even the lost and average track sounded like nothing else that was happening at the time within the music industry.

Next is an amazing song, a song that grooves and flows so elegantly that I’m genuinely memorized with each listen. With a Hardcore inspired guitar and drum groove over the call and response vocals to introduce the track, “Forgotten” is this albums hidden gem. The initial furious impact of the track keeps the momentum of the album at full speed, even so late into the record. But the contrasting ideas in each section of the track, again, show just how tying influences and different creative motions in each section together was so effortless for them. As the energetic introductions move into the verse the whole atmosphere changes into a section that could be on a Mobb Deep album. Two completely opposing sections,  that somehow linkin Park can make perfect sense of and combine so naturally.

The penultimate track “Cure for The Itch” is essentially just an interlude. I hate Interludes with a passion, always have, and always will. This track does however highlight the sampling aspect within the record and shows the electronic aspect in tune fashion. I mean, this is a metal album with a pure and raw electronic sampled interlude that gives prominence to the sampling and constant turntable use incorporated in this memorizing debut. The instrument usage and smoothness of this interlude once again shows the broad and educated range of influences within this band. The confidence they had to use interludes such as this one so late in the album shows their artistic vision was majorly ahead of its time.

The closing and final song, on the original release of this record, “Pushing Me Away” brings this record to an end in an ideal fashion. This is a great song full of life and heartfelt aggression. The sudden ending gives the impression that there is five more songs like this to come. No element of this track is displeasing. Again, everything is there to captivate a fan of music with guitars and the melodies display an ideal example of songwriting and proove that Linkin Park made this music with ease. Furthermore, it shows undeniable evidence that the band had more in them to give and this was just the beginning of their creative conquering of the alternative music realm.

Hybrid Theory is now twenty years old. Twenty Years is a tremendously long time, but for music, this unique and bold to stand the test of time so strongly is a statement within itself. The influence of this record has run deep into the modern age. Bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, Motionless in White and Architects would not have been molded as people and inspired as young musicians without this record being the soundtrack to their youth. What this band did on this record was incredible and has never been recreated. The fact its sales surpassed ten million units says enough but the long-standing impact it has on listeners, old and new, will remain in people’s memories for a lifetime.

Lyrically this record is also so honest and showed people just what lyrics should be, raw and powerful. Chester Bennington never truly recovered from his childhood troubles and suicide was his only way of finding peace, but Hybrid Theory was the world’s first insite to the singers’ fragile and damaged mind. Although his demons were crafted into catchy melodies and hooks, the pain in each line was distilling when examined. Chester was living in his own pandemic, his struggles with mental health setting the tone for the lyrical content throughout the record. His emotional pandemic scattered over the hip-hop beats and rock guitars was a sound like no other and Hybrid Theory was just the start of the singers’ open letter of pain.

To conclude, Hybrid Theory is a record like no other that made an impact at a time where the music industry and the alternative world really did need an injection of creativity. It defined a generation and united listeners of music, it was an ideal gateway drug for people to discover a whole new world of listening material. This band’s legacy and the impact of this album will live on forever.

Part three by Rob Kent

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