Reflecting On: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

Rock music wasn’t in rotation in my life in any form heading into the fall of 2000. Several years prior, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with hip hop, a discovery that would change my life forever. And when I say I only listened to rap music at that time, it’s not an overstatement. The genre infused its way into every part of my life as I made my way through the bowels of high school.

Nevertheless, I stayed abreast of music trends at large via a variety of music mags, MTV, and this thing called the internet, which had recently entered my own home. While I can’t recall the precise moment that Linkin Park entered my life, I remember a slow wave building its way through the halls of my high school. Almost overnight, Linkin Park was the band that everyone was listening to. 

You can buy or stream Hybrid Theory on Apple Music.

It was around this time that I received my first burned CD from a classmate – a copy of Hybrid Theory downloaded from Napster in which every song was out of place and mislabeled. Thus began a new era of my life, both in terms of the music I consumed and how I consumed it.

Hybrid Theory didn’t expose me to mainstream nu metal or send me headfirst into the genre. I was well aware of the movement thanks to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn, but none of those bands held my attention. What set Linkin Park apart in my eyes was their much more focused execution of hip hop elements. Mike Shinoda could actually rap. The band actually took sampling and programming seriously. It wasn’t embarrassing, and it helped bridge a divide for listeners like me.

That debut album stayed in rotation through my final years of high school and served as a small stroke of common ground I could share with some of my classmates, none of whom had any interest in rap at the time. It also opened the door to other guitar-driven bands I would soon come to love like 12 Stones and Evanescence. 

The sense of common ground Hybrid Theory created wouldn’t last long. During my first semester away at college, I met some new friends that were in an actual rock band. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I attempted to make pleasantries, telling them that I, too, had an interest in rock music. I listened to Linkin Park.

*Insert record scratch* And not the good kind.

As it turns out, Linkin Park wasn’t cool. But I quickly learned of some new music that was – music born out of the east coast underground scene, spearheaded by the likes of At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. Never mind that Glassjaw’s debut, which was created to “destroy Adidas rock,” was produced by Ross Robinson, who also manned the boards for Korn’s first two albums. This was new. This was cool.

As I began exploring a completely new style of music and diving into new bands like Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, and Underoath, I still couldn’t shake Hybrid Theory’s hold on me. In the spring of 2003, I purchased Linkin Park’s follow-up, Meteora, at a local Wal-Mart and listened in secret, hoping none of my new friends would find out. There was something perfect about those albums, something that sonically coalesced in a way that captured everything I was feeling. Something about Chester Bennington’s tortured voice that felt familiar.

It was in the four-year gap between Meteora and Minutes to Midnight that I finally moved on, finding a plethora of new bands that scratched that existential itch. To this day, 2003 to 2007 still stands as possibly the most influential period of my life in terms of music discovery. But it also stands as the period in which I became a snob. By 2007, the nu metal genre as a whole had become maligned and forgotten as a new wave of scene bands entered the mainstream. Who had time for Linkin Park? Not me.

Not only did I not follow the band through their ensuing years, I became the person that scoffed when people brought them up in conversation. By this point, I was writing for various music magazines and websites and couldn’t afford a dent in my reputation. Linkin Park belonged to the masses.

In 2012, I had moved to a new city and was invited by some people to attend a Linkin Park concert. In an effort to kindle some new friendships, I agreed to go. But only as a credentialed member of the press. I was there to take photos and document for PopMatters, not to have a good time. To read my ensuing article today is to read the words of someone conflicted. Because that night, front and center of the stage, I was transported back to those days in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was more than an album I listened to. It was a friend I could talk to.

It was that night that I rediscovered Linkin Park, and most importantly, the overpowering presence of Chester Bennington. And I’m so glad I did. I’m not here to tell you how Hybrid Theory changed the world or saved rock music. It did neither. But it’s impossible to deny the impact of an album that went diamond, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in the United States, and created a following unlike any we’ve seen from a guitar-driven band in the past 20 years.

These days, the conversation around Linkin Park and that debut album have come full circle, perhaps partially due to the tragic passing of Bennington in 2017, but almost certainly due to the collective recognition that Hybrid Theory has managed to stand the test of time. When I listen to it today, I’m struck by the foresight the band had in terms of genre mixture. In a time when the idea of genre has dissolved nearly completely, Hybrid Theory sounds not all that out of place.

Twenty years later, my favorite song is still album opener “Papercut”. A few days ago, as I sat parked in my car outside a Starbucks, waiting for the song to end before I turned off the ignition, I was nearly overcome with emotion during Chester’s repeated bridge of, “The sun goes down / I feel the light betray me”. There’s something about that line that hits different today, especially when considering the band’s final single, “One More Light” – a song about the deep pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. 

That idea of light and its finite existence serves as fitting bookends for the band and an era they helped define. It’s also a reminder of those moments of discovery, when music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else can at a time when we need it the most. I’m thankful for the moment Hybrid Theory provided all those years ago and that it still holds meaning in my life today.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Remembering Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

To the best of my memory, my first real feelings of depression surfaced sometime in early high school. By the time a friend handed me a burned copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory during my junior year, I had already acted upon impulses to harm myself. It was a strange and very lonely feeling – a presumed weakness in myself that I didn’t want anyone to know about. Words like “mental illness” and “depression” had never crossed my mind.

I share this because Chester Bennington’s lyrics on Hybrid Theory were the first to vocalize what I was feeling at the time. Maybe I wasn’t weird. Maybe I wasn’t crazy. Maybe I wasn’t alone.

The memory of this turning point made the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide all the more devastating. Depression is not biased and is not deterred by fame or status. It is a crushingly cruel disease that is far too often too easily hidden.

Like many others, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linkin Park lately, finding reminders of how deeply those early albums impacted me. In some ways, it’s odd that Chester’s voice became so meaningful to me. As an avid hip hop listener, I was initially attracted to the band because of Mike Shinoda’s rapping. While Shinoda’s voice gets the most airtime on those early albums, it’s Bennington’s painful howls that deliver the greatest impact.

Linkin Park would prove to be a gateway for me into heavy rock music. Chester’s screams weren’t grating – they were comforting in their familiarity. Those words and that voice encapsulated feelings that I hadn’t been able to vocalize. A few years later, I cried in my car on a campus parking lot after purchasing Meteora from a local Wal-Mart on the day of its release. I can still vividly remember hearing Chester’s cries on the chorus of “Somewhere I Belong” for the first time that day:

“I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain ’til it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong”

My interest in Linkin Park faded after Meteora as I began discovering a variety of new bands that also spoke my language. Having not paid the band much mind for several years, I attended one of their shows in Indianapolis in 2012 with a few friends who were big fans. That night, standing at the front of the stage with my camera, I was in awe of the band’s performance and reminded of how much Chester’s words had meant to me.

Listening to those songs over the past week have resulted in complicated feelings. I’m pained by the loss of someone whose struggle is so near to my own and many others. I’m frustrated in my lack of progress in my own battle with depression. I’m hopeful that, just maybe, there’s still light at the end of this dark tunnel. I’m thankful that Hybrid Theory was placed in my hands that day back in 2000.

Each time these kinds of tragedies strike, it’s a stark reminder to love those around us and talk to each other, even when it’s painful and uncomfortable. Remembering the music is easy. Reaching out for help or offering an ear can often be much harder.

So many of us were impacted by the words and songs of Chester Bennington –  it is truly a tragedy to lose him so soon. Rest in peace, Chester.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Issues – Issues

issues

Before you’ve even read a word of this review, you’ve likely already made up your mind about Issues. The Atlanta-based metalcore newcomers are undoubtedly one of the most polarizing scene bands in recent memory, and there’s a good chance you’re reading this to confirm a stance that you’ve already taken.

In truth, there may not be a conclusive answer about the aesthetic legitimacy of Issues just yet. But does their self-titled debut full length at least offer us a conclusive answer about who the band is?

Once again, the answer is a bit tricky. Their debut Black Diamonds EP picked up where the core members left off after their departure from Woe, Is Me, with a dash of nu-metal and hip hop elements thrown in for good measure. Issues is a whole other animal, rife with influences from post-hardcore, nu-metal, R&B, hip hop and pop, all blended together in a furious mix. The results are quite conflicting.

At their best (“Sad Ghost”, “Stingray Affliction”, “Never Lose Your Flames”), Issues find a wheelhouse for combining their sounds in a way that sounds fresh, exciting and pleasing to the ears. At their worst, (“Late”, “Life of a Nine”, “Personality Cult”), the band sounds over processed, amateur and pandering to a few too many audiences.

The rest of the time, Issues is somewhere in the middle – not necessarily heavy, but too aggressive to come across as strictly pop. Instead, they waver back and forth, never putting their foot down, inevitably leading to awkward transitions and corny breakdowns that seem to only come as a reminder that the band is signed to Rise Records.

To say that there’s a little something for everyone on Issues would be a bit misleading. Instead, the final product is more akin to the idea of too many cooks in the kitchen. Tracks like the R&B/pop-rock inspired “Tears on the Runway Pt. 2” transition awkwardly into the faux-heavy sound of “The Settlement”.

Other tracks like “Late” have the gall to revive the Nintendo-core sound that we all agreed to forget ever existed, while “Old Dena” brings back the uninspired nu-metal DJ interlude courtesy of Tyler “Scout” Acord. These moments almost parallel the feel of any number of mixtapes your friend made for you in high school.

So Issues is bad, right? Well, not totally. Whether you like his style or not, the consensus on clean vocalist Tyler Carter seems to be a relatively positive one. Even in the midst of the most convoluted moments on the album, Carter is able to right the ship with some of the catchiest hooks and fantastic melodies you’re likely to hear this year.

Take “Mad at Myself” as an example – the track is a messy one, filled to the brim with the aforementioned over-compensating genre-blending. However, Carter’s croon is undeniably memorable as he delivers one of the best choruses on the album. Even as he sings atrocious lines such as “I got this old girl, I know she’s trying to play me / She’s like a Honda, these days I drive Mercedes”, you’ll find yourself singing along once you’ve recovered from a heavy facepalm.

As the album wears on, Carter begins to outshine screamer Michael Bohn on nearly every track. Bohn starts off ferocious on opener “Sad Ghost” with the lines “Standing in front of this bed with some matches, watch it burn / I’ll pray my body burns, too”, and has scattered moments to shine. Unfortunately, so many of the songs cater to Carter’s pop/R&B style that a large number of his screams feel forced into place.

So what’s the consensus? Issues excels by attempting fresh new sounds, and the band deserves credit for trying something different, even when it falls flat. There are moments in which the band sound polished enough to stand alongside metalcore giants like A Day to Remember or Of Mice & Men.

The other side of the coin includes all of the usual suspects. Issues often comes across as cheesy, both in its lyrics and its sonic execution. There’s room for experimentation in this genre, but not by experimenting with everything at once. What results are a few gems when everything works right and a few duds when it all comes crashing back to reality.

If nothing else, Issues is fun and will have you singing along to its syrupy hooks well into the summer. If the band wants to stick around and rise above the rest of the now incomprehensively large pack, they’ll need to pick a sonic identity and stick to it.

For now, it seems fitting to consider their debut the good kind of bad. Or maybe the bad kind of good. How’s that for ambiguity?

3/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Of Mice & Men – Restoring Force

of-mice-men-2014

Of Mice & Men’s Restoring Force is the most accessible metalcore album you’ll hear this year. How that sentence reads to you should tell you everything you need to know about whether you’ll enjoy the record or not.

Of Mice & Men have been a household name on the post-hardcore scene since their inception, thanks in large part to the notoriety of frontman Austin Carlisle and the near-constant drama and lineup changes that have plagued the band during their five years of existence.

Not to take anything away from the band’s music – they do the sing-scream-breakdown metalcore thing as well or better than most bands. Scene hit-maker Joey Sturgis manned the helm for the band’s first two records, and it shows. Along with standout clean vocals from former-member Shayley Bourget and a steady progression in screams on the part of Carlisle, the band’s music has been pretty okay, but not noteworthy or groundbreaking enough to push them ahead of the over-saturated pack.

Enter David Bendeth. The award-winning producer has a collection of platinum records under his belt with an eclectic list of artists, but is best known in the punk scene as the man who launched Paramore into the stratosphere with Riot! and added the poppy polish necessary to help bands such as Mayday Parade (Anywhere But Here), All Time Low (Nothing is Personal) and A Day to Remember (What Separates Me From You) on their quest to cross over.

When Of Mice & Men headed into the studio with Bendeth, one thing was crystal clear: The band is ready to do more than play the main stage at Warped Tour.

One listen to Restoring Force certainly verifies that the band got what they paid for. The drums are loud, the guitar riffs are crisp and the choruses are anthemic. The album borders on an arena-rock/nu metal hybrid at times and, save for Carlisle’s now suddenly controlled screams, Restoring Force sounds radio ready.

The addition of Aaron Pauley has also lent itself quite well to the band’s new direction. The previously unknown bassist struts his soaring vocals, taking the lead on three of the album’s 11 tracks, nearly stealing the show completely. If it seems odd that Of Mice & Men’s newest member is introduced by carrying the weight of the band’s crossover potential, pay no mind. This is how hits are made.

Not to be outdone, Carlisle shows off a few new tricks as well. He channels the melodic yelling style of Oli Sykes on “Break Free” and shows signs of fight on opener “Public Service Announcement”. What made Carlisle such a noteworthy vocalist in the past was his passionate, guttural screaming style, which lends itself well to the heavy side of post-emo hardcore, but has little place on a polished rock record such as Restoring Force. Instead, he finds himself playing it safe on most of the album, never quite reaching the point of desperation that pushes him over the top.

Herein lies the great dilemma of Restoring Force. The album is quite pleasing to the ears and, clocking in at just over a half hour, is a fun and easy listen. But is this the best album that Of Mice & Men can deliver?

Consider that scene counterparts Bring Me the Horizon entered the studio with Bendeth in 2012 before unleashing last year’s Sempiternal, an album that pushed the boundaries of metalcore and transformed the band from predictable to original and forward-thinking. Somehow, Of Mice & Men exited the studio with the exact opposite kind of record.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or inventive here. Restoring Force is a loud, polished rock record that sounds accessible and may very well propel the band to new commercial heights. It’s certainly within the band’s right to make this kind of move and even desire said outcome. However, we as the listener have the right to feel that the band is selling themselves short, even if you don’t want to call it selling out.

Restoring Force is all about taking a stand for what you believe in, regardless of the naysayers. Ironically, fans of the band are put in a position to take a stand on what they believe about artistic integrity. Have Of Mice & Men taken the easy way out and the low road to high charting success, or are they simply playing to their strengths by creating a damn fun rock record?

Ultimately, that’s up to listeners to decide for themselves.

 ?/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Issues release new single “Never Lose Your Flames”

issues

Post-hardcore act Issues has released the new single titled “Never Lose Your Flames” from their upcoming self-titled album. The album is set to release on February 18 on Rise Records. You can check out a lyric video for the new song below:

Issues is preparing to hit the road on the American Dream tour with Of Mice & Men and Bring Me the Horizon before taking their show on Warped Tour this summer. Pre-order options for Issues are available here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck