Friday, June 27, 2014

The Hunting Party - Linkin Park

Every time Linkin Park has announced a new album, I have awaited in excitement for the what new ideas they've come up with. Some albums were hits from the start, sometimes the new sounds took some time to get used to, but without fail each album has proven to be a solid work from a solid group. This album is among the later group. When the band announced a "return" to a more rock based sound, many fans and listeners, especially those who have been whining for years for the band to return to a Hybrid Theory/Meteora sound, were quite excited for the possibilities the new album would hold. Some of the lead singles, "Guilty All The Same (feat. Rakim)", "Wastelands", and "Until It's Gone" were a fairly indicative of a rock based sound, but not the nĂ¼-metal sound some were hoping for. Instead, the band drew on influences from the 90's such as Helmet, System of A Down, and Rage Against The Machine, and even went as far as to include members from each of the respective bands on different tracks throughout the album. After listening to the album front to back, it is very clear that LP wanted to distance themselves from their last two releases that dabbled in electronic ideas. This release is less layered and definitely more stripped down from previous ones, with the focus mainly being on the guitars and the drums in the forefront of the sound. In interviews leading up to the release, Mike Shinoda consistently described the sound as being "raw and visceral", and with that he was spot on.

While there are a few songs that were on the "softer" side, most of the tracks from "The Hunting Party" are fueled by blisteringly fast drums and gritty overdriven guitars. The album opener, "Keys To the Kingdom", for example, kicks things into the red from the start. Chester gives some of his screamiest vocals to date with Mike bouncing between vocals and rapping, all over an instrumental that is reminiscent of Minutes To Midnight. Everything on the song is filled with passion and aggression, a more raw and unprocessed sound than the majority of the songs on their last 2 releases. Another song from the album that runs in the same vein is "War", a short 2 minute song that keeps up the heat from start to end with a punk feel. Rob Bourdon continues some of his most impressive and intense drum work to date, with the cymbals constantly crashing and the bass pedal working overtime as Brad Delson shreds away on the guitar like never before, getting the spotlight on this song as well as many others throughout the album.

Linkin Park works just as well when they combine fragility with intensity, however. Some of the tracks, such as "Until It's Gone", "Mark The Graves", and "Final Masquerade" blend opposite elements seamlessly, which is what LP is best at. "Until It's Gone" is one of the most powerful songs on the album, thanks to it's simple yet relatable lyrics and the moving instrumental that keeps the edge from the rest of the album but reveals a vulnerability as well. "Mark The Graves" has a bright sound while still retaining the heaviness present throughout the album, brining to mind both sounds from A Thousand Suns and the guitars that were absent from that album. "Final Masquerade" has a ballad feel to it, with the slower tempo and more focus given to clean vocals and melodies. It also has some of the more relatable lyrics, feeling very personal and vulnerable when combined with the emotion driven instrumental.

The guest spots are very interesting to note, because while Linkin Park is no stranger to collaborations, they have never had them on studio albums. The fact that there are 4 different guests is even more suprising, but it made for some varied sounds on the album. "All For Nothing (feat Page Hamilton)", for example, is quite different from LP's sound in certain aspects. Given that it has the vocalist from Helmet, it obviously has a similar sound to that group, but the song also brings to mind The Offspring and other groups of that time. Another song that is very much influenced by the presence of a guest is "Rebellion (feat Daron Malakian)", which immediately brings to mine System Of A Down and their signature guitar sound. The vocals on "Rebellion", however, are very much Linkin Park-esque, and the bridge features some of Chester's throatiest screaming ever.

I always am drawn to album closers, because I think they have to be a powerful track to end the journey the band has taken the listener on. It should be like a summary of what has happened, and perhaps a preview of what is yet to come. "A Line in the Sand" is a fantastic example of a powerful closer, beginning with a dark and brooding intro made even more eerie by Mike's mournful singing that starts things off. This song is one that very much feels like Linkin Park, with a blending of the slow and upbeat, the polished and the gritty, the sorrow and the rage. The synth and ambient noise giving way to pounding drums and roaring guitars is one of the most intense and fist-thumping moments of the album, making you want to just move around. It is definitely one of the stand out tracks, and one of my personal favorites.

My only qualm with this album is the lack of depth, both in the sound and some of the lyrics. Linkin Park has consistently made music that has a very 3 dimensional quality to it, and while it was present on some songs from The Hunting Party, it wasn't always there. The focus on guitars and drums and the lack of the electronic elements resulted in some songs feeling a bit empty. Lyrically, the album felt a bit uninspired at some points. They weren't bad, but I wasn't able to connect with them like I have with their lyrics in the past. Besides that however, I was really pleased with how this album turned out, because I was a bit worried when they announced they were returning to a rock-based sound. They managed to do that without sounding generic or losing their touch.

The bottom line with this album is that it is Linkin Park at it's core. It may not always sound like them, but that's the point. They don't want to be tied down to a specific sound, hence why they haven't gone back to their sound from Hybrid Theory and Meteroa. They are not content with finding one single sound they can master, but instead continue to push the boundaries and explore with what they can do. They will continue to do this until they retire, and that is why I will continue to listen to what they do.

Rating: 6/10

Recommended: A Line In The Sand, Until It's Gone, Wastelands, Final Masquerade