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Linkin Park continues to experiment in 'Living Things'

By Russell Axon
On June 27, 2012

It’s been almost 12 years since Linkin Park’s debut album “Hybrid Theory” was released. Fast forward to their newest release “Living Things,” and the band sounds unrecognizable.

Despite what many detractors say, that’s a good thing.

The ensemble’s fifth studio album sees them continue to experiment with new sounds and styles, under the co-guidance of legendary producer Rick Rubin and band emcee and pianist Mike Shinoda.

Rubin, who has produced all of the band’s albums since their 2007 entry “Minutes to Midnight,” continues to encourage the group to branch out, effectively steering them away from the alt-rock/hip-hop hybrid sound they established on their first two albums.

The effort isn’t as strong as the band’s previous album, “A Thousand Suns,” where each song flowed into the next one flawlessly. The unified sound of “Suns” is dropped in favor of the experimental theme of “Things.”

Not to suggest that these experiments are unsuccessful.

The overall sound of the album is a hard-edged electronica. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that either Daft Punk or Skrillex helped writing a handful of tracks with the band.

The album’s best tracks, “Roads Untraveled” and “Skin to Bone,” incorporate industrial, classical, techno, prog and pop elements into two unique pieces.

It’s difficult to think that such a hodgepodge of influences could be successfully harmonized into a single song, but the band makes it work. Their unconventional methods take hints of the familiar to create something fresh.

The band is able to blend all these seemingly disparate sounds together nicely, but certain tracks feel like they almost forget to write parts for guitarist Brad Delson and bassist Phoenix.

Songs like “In My Remains” and “Castle of Glass” are heavy on vocal and instrumental effects, but light on recognizable instruments.

DJ Joe Hahn is mostly relegated to his sound effect pad, which he uses well on the instrumental “Tinfoil.” What little scratching he does is turned down; hopefully, that won’t be the case on future endeavors.

Drummer Rob Bourdon continues to play the role of the band’s unsung hero. He is consistently able to distill complex, hip-hop-inspired beats into powerful rock ‘n’ roll drumming filled, with intricate trills and subtle flourishes.

He also incorporates other genres into several of the album’s tracks, specifically the punk snares on “Victimized.”

The real star of the album is Shinoda. His raps have become increasingly more sophisticated with each album, and his flow has a great old school rhythm to it. Standouts include “Until It Breaks” and “Lies Greed Misery.”

Shinoda also shares much of the singing duties with vocalist Chester Bennington, who’s hit-and-miss on this album.

Some songs see Bennington explore his range, as in the powerful “Burn It Down,” but other songs sound like he’s going through the motions, such as the depressing “Powerless.”

After five albums of screaming though, it’s impressive that Bennington’s voice still functions at all.

The duo’s songwriting skills have audibly improved since their debut, which was essentially 12 variations of an emo kid screaming about his trust issues.

That worked well for them back then, but the band has clearly decided not to rest on their laurels, and they’re all the better for it. Their writing is much more visual and metaphoric, packing stronger and more complex emotions

They occasionally fall back into bad, old habits on a couple songs, but none of them are true misfires.

The band’s aim is true on this album. While they slightly miss their mark, the results are still innovative and energetic.

Fans waiting for the group to return to their “Hybrid Theory” sound may be disappointed, but those searching for something fresh should listen to “Living Things” now.

Grade: B

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