It’s hard to deny that Linkin Park has come out looking the best of all the most prominent nu metal/alt rock acts from the turn of the millennium. While often seen through the same nostalgic lens as their contemporaries, they didn’t become a cultural punchline quite the way so many others did (as an example, this weekend’s 22 Jump Street repurposes Creed’s “Higher” as a nightmarish hellscape unto itself), nor did they peter out entirely, doomed to play the Gathering of the Juggalos until time immemorial. The band has managed to stay prominent by retaining much of their fanbase, by wisely branching out (a la Collision Course, their post-Black Album EP with Jay Z), but mostly by continuing to make a kind of music that was falling out of fashion while transitioning away from some of the more questionable aspects.
The Hunting Party, then, is an album all about transitions, the band seemingly no longer content to carry the nu metal torch. Resident MC Mike Shinoda only appears on a fourth of the album, at least as a rapper, and aside from one inexplicable cameo (more on that shortly), this is far more an alt metal record than anything else. Opener “Keys to the Kingdom” covers Chester Bennington’s loud-quiet vocals in sinister vocoder to start, dabbling in dissonance before getting into the propulsive, hyper-produced drums and clean, soaring vocals for which the band has long been known. Linkin Park can’t be faulted for trying new things like this; their sound is far more layered than it once was, and there’s a texture beyond the relentlessly thick guitar work throughout.
The problem with trying new things, though, is that it’s helpful if they’re new to someone other than the party concerned. While it’s refreshing to see the band set aside the EDM dabbling of Living Things or A Thousand Suns, they try on a lot of hats throughout The Hunting Party, and the vast majority of them don’t fit particularly well. The most obvious instance is “War”, in which Bennington tries his hand at snarling, Black Flag-esque punk vocals, right down to the 1-2-3-4 count off, dramatic pauses before loud exaltations of the titular sentiment, and the abbreviated runtime. But it rings false, in part because of the wah-heavy guitars and mostly because it’s clearly Linkin Park taking a stab at a punk song. Likewise, Helmet’s Page Hamilton appears on “All for Nothing” to yank the album right back into 2001 with a forgettable, would-be anthemic hook anchoring a track that says a lot of things about brotherhood and solidarity without much of it landing.
At least it’s better than sounding like their contemporaries altogether. The most egregious example of this is “Rebellion”, which employs System of a Down’s Daron Malakian in the service of making the most K-Mart version of a SOAD song possible. Malakian just isn’t Serj Tankian, and Bennington’s voice doesn’t fit the style. This, however, doesn’t stop either of them from trying to repurpose that band’s unconventional vocal harmonies in a song that’s strangely forthcoming about the whole enterprise. They even state at one point that “We are the fortunate ones/ Imitations of rebellion.” And then there’s “Guilty All the Same”, the album’s first released single, which features Rakim trying to deliver bars over a song that offers poor support for him. When Rakim isn’t front and center, you have Bennington imploring some unknown powers to “Tell us all again/ What you think we should be/ What the answers are/ What it is we can’t see.” The more the band try to age gracefully, the more angst rock they seem to become, a trend prevalent since Minutes to Midnight the better part of a decade ago.
(Read: The 25 Worst No. 1 Rock Songs)
The Hunting Party is the sound of a band with long-term tenure trying to find its place in modern rock, but its experiments seem more like an attempt to fling every trend from the past decade at the wall to see what might constitute a new direction. (It’s not helpful that “Until It’s Gone”, the single likeliest to explode, is built around a thrumming synth line that cribs rather liberally from Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia”.) Linkin Park have managed to buck both the trends and the clocks in staying relevant, their latest arena tour happening as we speak. It’s admirable that they’ve not just embraced the Nickelback model of reprising their first album ad nauseam, but they’re still a band in search of a new sound. And so, to conclude on the sort of embarrassing idiom that constitutes a great many of this record’s battle cries, the hunt goes on.
Essential Tracks: “Keys to the Kingdom”