Linkin Park : A Thousand Suns

14 Sep

Given the amount of Linkin Park albums I own, it’s strange to think that their latest release A Thousand Suns is technically just their fourth. For ten years they’ve been offering honest music to the world but I feel like this may be their truest, and clearly the most risky, endeavour to date. Though their fan base is strong and loyal, there are more than a few that have been a little disenchanted with their projects over the last couple of years. They didn’t like their departure from the established ‘Linkin Park style’ on Minutes to Midnight and I have read my fair share of nasty comments regarding A Thousand Suns. Those particular fans want some 2001 Nu Metal, heavy on the angsty rap-rock. What they’ve failed to notice is that those six men have grown up, techniques have been developed and new ideas formed. No artist wants to paint the same bowl of fruit for his entire career, so why should they become stuck in a loop just to appease the few. The many stay true and support their experimentation. The old albums aren’t going anywhere, we can always stick them on and remember why we fell in love with them to begin with – as well as the ever-changing hairstyles. I say that with love, of course.

A Thousand Suns was tough going to make. Each member was constantly searching for new music, instruments, sounds, anything to enhance the album. They’ve said that they weren’t so much making an album as destroying one. One listen to it and you can get an idea of what they mean – the collection of noises and samples, all so strange and new yet perfectly fitting. Vocals are distorted. Beats are chopped and changed, overlapped and echoed. The entire album is an experience, a little taste of the madness that must have filled that recording studio.

The songs do seem to be fuelled with political messages, but the accompanying booklet tells us the record is simply following a personal story. We’re taken on a journey through pride, destruction, regret and hope as they repeat in a vicious cycle. Reading that prior to listening does shape your interpretation and helps you see their viewpoint. But it can read differently from person to person, as with any piece of art. Whether you see a greater meaning or something a little closer to home,  there is passion and strong will behind the lyrics and music.

The album opens with the gentle pulsing of ‘The Requiem’. There is something behind it, something building. It works its way along steadily until we’re met with a choir of harmonies, performed by the entire band. Chester enters with lyrics from ‘The Catalyst’, but his voice has been changed and made mechanical and unnatural. This sweeps easily into ‘The Radiance’, which simply features an unsettling quote from Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project. If anything sets the tone of destruction and a world not being as it should, it’s this. We moves on to ‘Burning in the Skies’, and before Mike can proudly spell out just why they did this album the way they wanted to in the lively, Bollywood-laced ‘When They Come For Me’, comes another ominous track in the form of ‘Empty Spaces’ – an uneasy eighteen seconds of crickets, shelling, shouting and the distant sounds of war. Hope is soon to follow with ‘Robot Boy’ and Chester’s assurance that you should “hold on, the weight of the world will give you the strength to go”.

Another of the short songs is ‘Jornada Del Muerto’, Day of the Dead. Mike’s vocals are fuzzy as he sings – I’m lead to believe – “lift me up, let me go” in Japanese (“Mochiagete, tokihanashite”), gradually growing more humanized as the music intensifies. This bleeds into the powerful ‘Waiting For the End’, then we’re back into both familiar and unfamiliar territory. ‘Blackout’ opens with a drum beat, soon joined by Chester’s rapping on the verses and screaming of the chorus over a chunky beat. Mike comes in to sing the bridge over a softer track. This role reversal was something I’d personally dreamed of them doing and it was perfectly executed. They both fill each others’ shoes quite well. The political theme comes back in ‘Wretches and Kings’ with the help of activist Mario Savio’s “Bodies upon the gears” speech which both opens the song and builds it up towards the end. Chester’s quick verses and the chants of “hey!” really amp up the track.

Martin Luther King Jr. provides the words on ‘Wisdom, Justice and Love’. His recording is played alongside simple piano but all is not as it seems. As he fervently speaks, “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice..”, something is changing. His voice is being altered and distorted. His very human speech ends in a repetition of the song’s title in a voice that’s no longer his, but a muffled and warped one. This unnerving we are left with is put at ease by its succeeding track, ‘Iridescent’. For me, this is one of the stand-out songs. It starts off gently with a piano and will be pumped up and stripped back again before it’s ending. Again, Chester and Mike’s vocals are incredibly beautiful when layered over one another. 

Fallout’ is the reverse of ‘Wisdom, Justice and Love’. Mike’s vocals begin robotic as he repeats the chorus from ‘Burning in the Skies’ as the effect is slowly lessened. Many songs on the album run on to the next. Since it’s telling one story, and so much of the music weaves together seemlessly,  it makes perfect sense to do so. It keeps the whole thing running smoothly. We slip easily and unnoticeably from sorrow to hope, pride to destruction, just as we do in life. The first single, ‘The Catalyst’, follows on from ‘Fallout’. This has a fast and punchy beat, heavy on the scratching.  We hear the full group backing vocals again with their shouts of “no!”. Mike and Chester alternate with the lyrics before the raving techno kicks in and changes the song up completely. The lyrics are repeated again as more aspects are added, constantly building up before it’s brought back to a basic piano and softer dance beat. It’s high energy and a clear choice for their first release, with an explosive music video directed by Joe Hahn.

The album is wrapped up in a most unexpected way with ‘The Messenger’. Simple guitar is all that accompanies Chester. There are no effects or layering added.  The whole thing is stunningly natural and exposed. Some harmonies are added from Mike before the song’s end.

And then it’s all over. Our journey’s come to an end but we know the cycle will continue even after we’ve shut off the radio.

A Thousand Suns is a leap forward for musicians’ integrity. They made the music they wanted. They were free to experiment. There were times when the demands and expectations of others may have weakened their will, but they stood together and created a powerful record. They had to do what they believed and trust that the fans would accept it and keep an open mind. Listening to Hybrid Theory, or even Minutes to Midnight, after this album just shows the progress they’ve made. The strides they’ve taken in the world of music. They’re constantly evolving and changing, as all great artists should and must. I can only imagine what their next release will bring.

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A Thousand Suns is now available to buy in record stores and on itunes.

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