I write with a heavy heart that Chester Bennington of Linkin Park was found hung today July 20th, 2017 apparently a victim of his own battle with his demons. Chester wasn’t the best singer in the world. He had a powerful voice and knew how to scream and channel emotions into his music but he was unique in that he overcame a troubled youth and found a way to connect his lyrics to a powerful branch of restlessness that is not only universal but can probably only be described as “the struggle”.
Linkin Park came to me at the turn of the century, and sounded like the future. “Hybrid Theory”, their first and best album was a turning point in music as it held distinct hip hop influences as well as Japanese rock, and post metal breakdowns. The mighty combination of superstar DJ Mr. Hahn backing up some monstrous beats to talented and competent emcee and guitarist Mike Shinoda rapping alongside Chester Bennington’s pained and highly emotive voice proved to be exactly what a rising generation of youth was looking for. “Hybrid Theory ” their debut album, found me in the beginning of my freshman year of High school (9th grade) and took me by storm. I remember borrowing the album from a friend at first to listen to it and immediately realizing I needed to own my very own copy. The production present on every track was immaculate and the seamless combination of rapping to singing to screaming was a welcome change of pace for my adolescent tastes and lifestyle.
Initially introduced to the world via a simple but genius guitar hook coupled with some intense lyrics and what is now a cringe worthy screaming breakdown that is almost impossible to listen too without residing in the head space of younger mindset (shut up, when I am talking to you), Linkin Park’s first single “One Step Closer” was not only a certified hit, it was the big bang birthplace of nu-metal and rap rock and inspired countless kids to start tuning guitars in garages around the world. The international success of Linkin Park cannot be understated, when I label them a voice of a generation, I do not do so lightly. A global phenomenon, the lyrics and pathos found in such tracks as “Crawling” or “runaways” “a place for my head” is impossible to ignore. While the maturity of what I labeled as “the struggle” is questionable, the anti-authority, get out of my face mentality is a near universal constant and Linkin Park commodified and commercialized something incredible lucrative. The sad fact is, the pain and experiences that caused the birth of some of those songs, is in fact something we all go through to some extent, and listening to “the struggle” brought to life in such a dramatic and almost operatic way is fulfilling and in a perverse way satisfying.
“Papercut” kicks off the album and shakes the listener out of apathy, very quickly you will pick up on the diverse Japanese animation influence and the hard metallic edges of the music which are smoothly transcribed over clean vocal hooks and record scratches. The banter between rapper Mike Shinoda and Chester is palpable, the rapping isn’t major league but it uses vocal techniques such as whispering and changing inflection to the beat to make the most of the verse and really deliver the message. Meanwhile Chester sings the crap out of the chorus. He isn’t the most accomplished singer in the world, but he has a powerful vocal instrument and reaches and holds out some powerful notes, which on the record are layered meaning you get double the effect. What I mean is, as he holds out a note, he sings a response into the chorus, all of this may seem elementary to a music buff, but effectively this gives the song the same effect as a punch to the face.
Finally I want to talk about their epic ballad “in the end”. Hip Hop and grandiosity were once strangers, the idea of applying rap lyrics to a song wasn’t always just there. Let me take you back to High school, when I first borrowed the album to listen to, I can still remember the feelings that overcame after my first listen to “in the end”, a haunting tale of desperation and loneliness, “the struggle” was defined for the first time for me in stark easy to understand language, and all of a sudden life and death became something more than abstract concepts, they became real. The tune uses a simple keyboard chord progression that is repeated before the rest of the band comes in, which really adds to the haunting effect, while the lyrics, both of the rap verse, and the epic chorus, chronicles the story of somebody facing finality and concluding the nihilist philosophy, we are insignificant, nothing matters, in the end, the greater picture, the large scheme of things, everything. By using such a wide brush to paint such a pretty picture Linkin Park touched me, and millions of people around the globe. The song was also almost buried on the album, a deep cut, the eigth powerful cut on an album of heavy bangers, after first listening to and falling in love with the track, I shared it with friends. I remember the first time I shared the song with someone who had never heard it before, watched as they visible felt the emotion from the song wash over their face and react to its message and haunting instrumentation. I remember that moment because before I knew about better music, or music in general, that was the moment I first realized that I wanted to do this. I want to share music with people who have never heard or experienced the life changing moments this music has awakened in me.
Now reading this post, most of my audience will have already listened to Hybrid Theory at least once or twice, yet I am writing this post as a tribute to Chester Bennington, let my review of his life changing impact stand as a requiem to whom I will call the voice of a generation. These songs hold up, the band may have gone on to evolve and grow up beyond the “shut up when I am talking to you” lyrics of their first album, but this music sparked a movement and made an impact in a moment of time that was ripe for them to make a statement. Linkin Park may not be the most popular band in the world, while they are incredibly popular, they have their detractors and critics, however no one person no matter how articulate can ever take away from the impact and the power their music had on a generation of kids and musicians who simply put, had never listened to anything like them before.
Hybrid Theory is an amazing album, it deserves recognition and Cognizant Machine is proud to include this entry in the music that has changed my life. Chester, you will be incredibly missed, while I can’t approve of taking your own life, through your music you made me aware of the weight of being you, and the things you went through. Before you I had no words to describe “the struggle”. After you my life was irrevocably changed and I learned that I want to share new music with the world. I am not a musician, but introducing the world to a feeling through words, can have an impact. I want you to know that you were and continue to be wrong, in the end, you mattered. You did your job here on earth, your addictions and demons may have swallowed your life, but you still left a lasting impact on the planet.