Over the past two years, Linkin Park have been the rock band everyone loves to hate. Or maybe theyíre the rock band everyone just plain loves ó after all, theyíve sold eight million copies of their Grammy-winning debut album, Hybrid Theory (Warner Bros.). But their runaway success has spawned an enormous backlash in the commercial hard-rock world ó the place where they got their start ó for two basic reasons. One, they ended up selling at least as many albums to pop fans as they did to rock fans: call it the Bon Jovi syndrome. Two, they did it by embracing hip-hop, a cliché hard rock was already trying to distance itself from in late 2000, when Hybrid Theory came out alongside Limp Bizkitís Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Interscope).
MC Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn are more than just the hip-hop guys in Linkin Park ó together theyíre the backbone of the band. Their roles go beyond the requisite rapping and scratching to include an impressive variety of sampling: electro drum loops, dreamy keyboard lines, and expansive sound collages all figure prominently in their arrangements. That versatility allows them to explore new-wave and trip-hop backdrops that are off limits to most rap-metal acts. But the other stars of the show, singer Chester Bennington and guitarist Brad Delson, keep things firmly rooted in rock: Bennington is an angst-ridden sex bomb with the pipes of Stone Temple Pilotsí Scott Weiland, and Delson is a worthy heir to the aggro-guitar legacy of Limp Bizkitís Wes Borland.
The Linkin Park formula is an ambitious one, and it paid off big time when "In the End" did the unthinkable for a hard-rock song in this day and age, going all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. And regardless of how commercial Hybrid Theory is, itís only fair to admit that the band earned their pop crossover stripes the hard way. The song is no power ballad, and Benningtonís chorus is far bleaker than your average Top 40 fare: "I tried so hard/And got so far/But in the end/It doesnít even matter." Its despairing piano hook is a shrewd Nine Inch Nails homage, and Shinodaís hip-hop verses add an element of catharsis to Benningtonís brooding. The pieces of the puzzle are all familiar, but theyíre integrated into something new.
Last month, the Linkin Park phenomenon entered a new phase with the release of their second album, Meteora (Warner Bros.), which sold more than 800,000 copies in its first week. If all those fans wanted more of what they liked about the band the first time around, then they got it: the disc is structurally identical to its predecessor, with the same stylistic benchmarks comfortably in place. Which means that despite the groupís crossover success, the album is more rock than pop ó a notion theyíll be out to prove on Metallicaís Summer Sanitarium Tour, which stops by Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday July 6.
The first single from Meteora, "Somewhere I Belong," starts off with a whisper: the low-frequency flutter of a backwards sample followed by a pristine electric-guitar melody. Shinoda and Bennington trade lines during the verses, acknowledging over a relaxed groove that stardom hasnít solved any of their problems. Delsonís guitar wakes up when the chorus hits, and Bennington unleashes his trademark wail: "I want to find something Iíve wanted all along/Somewhere I belong." The music may not have evolved much since Hybrid Theory, but at least the guys sound as if theyíd finally discovered hope.
The Linkin Park backlash shifted into high gear when they hit the road with OzzFest 2001. They hadnít even crossed over to pop radio yet, but the headbanging hordes were already carping that they couldnít possibly be considered a metal band ó new, old, or otherwise. Yet Hybrid Theory was clearly the work of a group who had learned well from Korn and Limp Bizkit, and they rock even harder on Meteora. Whether or not new metalís glory days are in the past, thereís no denying the power of a full-blown rager like "Hit the Floor." "One minute youíre on top/Making your heart stop," screams Bennington, and Shinoda finishes the cautionary tale: "You think you won/And then itís all gone." They keep the samples to a minimum, allowing bassist Phoenix and drummer Rob Bourdon plenty of room to swing on the discís heaviest groove.
"Somewhere I Belong" and "Hit the Floor" both show up early on an album thatís front-loaded with rockers. On the upbeat opener, "Donít Stay," Bennington and Shinoda emerge from shattered romance with a sneer: "Forget our memories/Forget our possibilities/What you were changing me into." "Lying from You" finds them in the same situation, but the beats are more ponderous, and this time Bennington directs his anger at himself.
The only real problem with Meteora is that it sags in the middle. The bandís angst starts to repeat itself by the time "Easier To Run" kicks in, and the tempo starts to drag around the same time. A tasty riff from Delson canít save the leaden "Figure.09," but Linkin Park never sit still long enough to let their missteps hurt much: none of the songs exceeds four minutes, and the whole album clocks in under 40. They get back on track with the funk-metal tantrum "Faint," which boasts a live string section and some forceful screaming by Bennington.
The violins take center stage on "Breaking the Habit," a live drum íní bass workout that finds the group at their most experimental. The songís obvious precedent is the masterful Korn ballad "Alone I Break," which flirted with the same kind of gentle melodies and electronic rhythms but didnít quite earn its creators the pop crossover they were looking for. "I donít know whatís worth fighting for/Or why I have to scream," croons Bennington over the trackís hiccupping pulse, all but ensuring it a spot on the pop charts.
Shinoda and Hahn take over at the end of the album, starting with the bandís purest hip-hop move to date, "Nobodyís Listening." Built around a zany Japanese flute loop, the song abandons rock instrumentation in favor of a stream of introspective rhymes from Shinoda and a quick chorus from Bennington. Hahn plays a fragmented solo on "Session," a down-tempo electronic interlude thatís more imaginative than its title implies. They call everybody else back in for the closing "Numb," a tuneful anti-authority rant with a keyboard hook that recalls "In the End." Linkin Park arenít exactly breaking new ground here, but itís hard to fault them for sticking with what works.
OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, the two most popular songs on modern-rock playlists have been "Somewhere I Belong" and "Bring Me to Life," the smash debut single from Little Rock upstarts Evanescence. The funny thing about "Bring Me to Life" is the uncanny resemblance it bears to Linkin Park ó that is, if Bennington were a girl with a thing for Christian rock and Tori Amos. "Wake me up inside/Call my name and save me from the dark," sings Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee, and sheís got company: thatís guest vocalist Paul McCoy, of the unheralded Louisiana band 12 Stones, yelling back at her in the Shinoda role. Theirs are starmaking performances reinforced with enough squealing guitars and spooky piano melodies to make rock radio safe for melodrama again.
Lee doesnít need a background singer on the rest of the first Evanescence album, Fallen (Wind-up). She and her primary collaborators, guitarist Ben Moody and keyboardist David Hodges, share Linkin Parkís enthusiasm for programmed beats, but the rap-metal posturing on their first single is an aberration. On the opening "Going Under," the band work up a ferocious Zep groove, and Moodyís explosive guitar solo complements Leeís defiant wail. The chilling piano ballad "My Immortal" has the discís quietest moment but also perhaps its most bombastic: "These wounds wonít seem to heal/This pain is just too real," coos Lee, sounding as if she were on the verge of tears.
It makes sense that Evanescence are signed to Wind-up, home of fellow churchgoing Southerners Creed. Little Rock is a hotbed of the Christian-rock underground, so much so that Hodges left the band after recording the album because he didnít want to play for secular audiences. Lee and Moody have yet to hire a new keyboardist, but they did recruit local luminaries Rocky Gray (guitarist of the prominent indie-metal bands Living Sacrifice and Soul Embraced) and John LeCompt to complete the touring unit. (They used Hollywood session musicians, including ubiquitous drummer Josh Freese, on the disc.)
Gray gets his lone songwriting credit on "Tourniquet," which is both the darkest and the most explicitly Christian song on Fallen. "My God, my tourniquet/Return to me salvation," Lee sings over a menacing mid-tempo riff that comes from Iron Maiden via Papa Roach. Throughout the album, the band evince subtle trad-metal tendencies that go well with the goth overtones of Leeís vocals and Hodgesís keyboards: the half-time thrash of "Haunted" is more Pantera than Korn, and the choir that shows up on that and three other tracks is downright Wagnerian. The emergence of a bold frontwoman like Lee in the modern-rock boysí club is reason enough to celebrate the groupís breakthrough. The way Evanescence, like Linkin Park, have discovered their own voice by combining so many disparate influences is icing on the cake.