Sound — 7
Linkin Park have been at the forefront of modern rock since taking the world by storm with their full-length debut album "Hybrid Theory," and have been known for pushing the envelope with their unique approach to rap-rock, which was never quite like the more brutal nu-metal of contemporaries like Korn or Limp Bizkit, instead relying on more modern hip-hop undertones, with the rock elements of the band acting more like hip-hop keyboards and beats rather than guitars, basses and drums. The band's material since "Minutes to Midnight" has diverged from this a bit, focusing more on tight pop songwriting, an attempt at a concept album ("A Thousand Suns") which divided fans deeply with its heavily electronic sound, and a rather undercooked electronic pop record with "Living Things."
Since the last few albums have been deeply divisive with fans of this once-venerated band, people who have longed to hear the band return to a more "conventional" style may approach this new album, "The Hunting Party" with a dose of caution. And they'd be right to do so, because the album most certainly isn't "Hybrid Theory" or "Meteora." It isn't "Minutes to Midnight," "A Thousand Suns" or "Living Things" either, though.
Instead, "The Hunting Party" attempts to recapture some of the hard-hitting rock sound the band had once been known for while bringing a few new elements to the table. The most notable addition to users on this site would be the guitar riffs and solos, the latter of which guitarist Brad Delson had traditionally shied away from throughout their career. The album also makes use of guest performers like former Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello ("Drawbar"), System Of A Down guitarist Daron Malakian ("Rebellion"), Helmet frontman Page Hamilton ("All for Nothing"), and rapper Rakim ("Guilty All the Same"). These guests are utilized in different ways, from Morello's calming guitar arpeggios to Page's direct vocal delivery. Rakim does a very convincing rap in "Guilty All the Same," while Daron delivers the guitar goods in "Rebellion," making the track sound like some kind of long-lost collaboration that wouldn't have sounded out of place if it had come out alongside "Hybrid Theory" and "Toxicity."
But even the individual members of the band get a bit more breathing room on this record. Rob Bourdon's drums pummel every bit as hard as any other metal drummer, and while his playing is simplistic, it remains tasteful. Brad Delson stretches out with several guitar solos, which are also quite simplistic when compared to other contemporary guitar players nowadays, but it still feels nice to hear him spread his wings a bit. I think people might be expecting to hear some Petrucci-esque shred, but in reality his solos are more like a mix of Hammett and Malakian. Dave Farrell's bass playing locks in with the low end, Shinoda's rapping and singing are just as great as they've ever been. Joe Hahn seems to be a no-show on this album, though his presence is still felt in the ambient bits of tracks like "The Summoning" as well as various samples and programmed bits between the songs. Chester's vocals are as potent as ever, and he makes great use of all aspects of his singing, from the effected screams that open the album on "Keys to the Kingdom" to his powerful clean singing on tracks like "Final Masquerade."
Many of the songs on the record sound like veritable hits-in-waiting, as this is Linkin Park, and they haven't quite capitulated on their usual songwriting values: strong melodic choruses with simple rhythms and melodies. This has proven to be a double-edged sword for the band, as it results in many very catchy tunes that will get stuck in your head for days, but also shows the band having trouble with the amount of variety being displayed. Many of the choruses do sound quite samey, and it can be hard to get past this lack of variety.
Even so, some of the songs have some very interesting twists and turns you might not expect from LP, like the very heavy yet melodic "Mark the Graves," which features not one, but TWO Delson guitar solos, and a very unexpected melody, making it my favourite track on the album. The second single "Until It's Gone" shows the band playing around with 3/4 time and a more conventional approach to their songwriting, something that wouldn't have sounded too out of place on their recent records, but gave it a heavier-hitting punch. "War" is the closest thing to a punk song the band has ever released, and "A Line in the Sand" features some of the band's most impressive instrumental work to date.
Overall the sound of this record is a step up from "Living Things," which I felt to be a bit limp in comparison with their first two records, though it lacks the variety of "A Thousand Suns," my personal favourite LP record. Solid record, even if it doesn't quite compare to some of their past material.
Lyrics — 8
Linkin Park's lyrics have often been a point of contention for fans and non-fans alike. While the band's lyrics have often dealt with themes of depression, angst, anger, and the like, they've often found ways out of their pigeonhole. On "A Thousand Suns," rather than whine about personal issues, the lyrics were largely based on primal fears and apocalyptic themes. This record has a bit of a different theme from their past records as well, and shows its anger in a different way than their first two records. While the lyrics are less personal than their early records, it's no less hard-hitting, with many references to war and fighting (even going so far as to use this as the theme for most of the song titles: "War," "Rebellion," "Mark the Graves") but there are moments that don't quite fit the theme, like "Until It's Gone" and "Final Masquerade," which are definitely songs about losing something important to you. But they're presented in a bit more of an abstract way than the lyrics on "Hybrid Theory" or "Meteora."
Every vocalist on the album brings forth their best performances. One of the best qualities of this band has always been the vocal performances, and this album is no different. Mike's singing is very smooth and sultry, while his rapping has been evolving steadily from the band's early days. Chester has surprisingly carried very little of his stint as Stone Temple Pilots' lead vocalist over, focusing more on the harsher elements of his vocals, screaming and shouting many of his lyrics. Even the two guest vocalists on the record make for a very interesting sound. Page's gang-chanted chorus in "All for Nothing" hits hard, and Rakim's rap on "Guilty All the Same" sounds fresh and convincing.
Overall Impression — 7
While this album might win back some of the fans that felt disillusioned with the band's lighter, more pop-oriented material from recent records, this album is in no way a retread of old territories. While it may not sound entirely fresh from cover to cover, there's a lot to be found in this record that's been missing from their sound in a while. It's not quite as heavy or musically inventive as their early albums, but it's a lot less lazily conceived than "Living Things" or "Minutes to Midnight," a pair of albums I feel sound maybe a little too much like mainstream pandering. While many might disagree with my assessment, I'd still put "A Thousand Suns" above this record. That puts it right about smack-dab in the middle in terms of quality. It's far from the best Linkin Park album, but it certainly isn't their worst. The songwriting is solid, as it always has been, they haven't compromised their work ethic by borrowing songwriters or producers when they weren't needed, and their instrumental chops are only showing improvement. This is definitely a step in the right direction for a very divisive but clearly talented band.
While some of the songs do fall a bit flat on my expectations ("Wastelands" and "Final Masquerade" being two tracks I just haven't gotten into yet), some of the songs on this record count as my favourite LP tracks in a long time, especially "Mark the Graves" and "Keys to the Kingdom." Had the album displayed a little more variety, especially in the chorus melodies, it could have been a contender for my top 10 albums of this year. But it's still a very decent release for a band that has disappointed a large amount of their fanbase in recent years.
This is definitely a solid album, and I do recommend that you find a way to hear this album before buying it. Many fans may be tricked into thinking this to be a carbon copy of their first two records based on the hype, but this is a very different beast. Your mileage may vary, but if you're expecting anything totally un-LP-like, like progressive metal riffs or 10 minute epics, you're gonna be disappointed. It sounds like Linkin Park, even if that doesn't really hold the same meaning it did when their first two records were carbon copies of one another.
Solid album, it'll still divide some critics, it might win back some fans, it might even attract new fans who were waiting for something like Brad Delson guitar solos (people like myself!), but if all you're looking for is a good slab of LP to slap in your CD player, this album is no worse of a choice than anything else they've come out with.