Linkin Park – 20 years on

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

With Hybrid Theory turning 20 this year, Andrew Nolan dissects the significance and magic of a band that defined an era; Linkin Park

Having been ever present in the music industry since their inception, Linkin Park are still one of the most recognisable bands today. Covering a wide breadth of genres over the span of their career, their era-defining nu metal sound in the early 2000’s saw them explode into the mainstream, straight from their debut album. This early success set them on a collision course (cheeky) to evolve as artists, as their change of sound and sheer malleability led them to be recognised as one of the most iconic alternative rock bands of the 21st century. Put simply, they were the band for much of their career. 

The album that brought the start of Linkin Park as we know it, Hybrid Theory, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Despite all the changes and the hardships present in the time that has elapsed, the teasing and eventual release of an anniversary special had fans frothing with anticipation, myself included. Seeing the reception given as it released was purely wholesome. A band, having tragically lost a key component in what made them so special, all these years later decide to honour a classic album, and their fanbase still cared. They never forgot. Achieving longevity like this is an incredible feat, no doubt. But why this album? And why Linkin Park?

The core of the band began producing music in 1996, four years before the release of their ground-breaking debut album, under the banner of Xero. Despite locally releasing a four-track cassette sampler in 1997 and garnering enough attention to provide an opening set for System of a Down, they were met with constant rejection from any label they approached. Seeing a need for change, they made the decision to release the band’s original vocalist and used their connections in the label Zomba to reach out for a new member. After some deliberating, and an audition so stellar that the role was filled in that very moment, they decided on the former vocalist of Grey Daze, a certain Chester Bennington. With Bennington on board, the band renamed themselves to Hybrid Theory, and began work on new material. 

The rise of Hybrid Theory may actually be one of the earlier examples of the internet being used to gain exposure, as the material uploaded to their account on saw them receive considerable buzz online. A six-track self-titled EP was recorded, followed up by a nine-track demo to be shipped out to various record companies. While receiving some positivity, granting them a plethora of showcasing opportunities in 1999, they were met with yet more denial. In the face of rejection, Jeff Blue, a fervent believer in the project, left his position at Zomba to join Warner Bros Records in 2000, where they would eventually sign thanks to this connection. Finishing up from a legal dispute, the band would rename again, this time to the familiar Linkin Park.

A debut record often presents itself as the sole chance at a first impression to a label, giving them an idea of one’s marketability and reach. Having signed to a large name, the pressure was on for Linkin Park to provide the first grand look at what they could do. Their debut had to be a success. And, on October 24th, the band released their debut showing to the public, aptly named Hybrid Theory. Within the first five weeks of its release, it sold around 500,000 copies and went gold. The project had finally come together; tour dates were beginning to completely sell out, and singles ‘One Step Closer’ and ‘Crawling’ were getting serious airtime. In its debut year, Hybrid Theory sold 4.8 million copies, and it was one of the best selling albums of 2001. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock performance, in ‘Crawling’, and they were also nominated for both Best New Artist and Best Rock Album. 

The manner in which Linkin Park decided to celebrate its 20th anniversary, while teasing a potential rerelease, is an absolute masterclass of how to honour your beginnings. If you found yourself on at any point during this time, you’ll know exactly what I mean. What appears initially as your standard homepage soon begins to warp and glitch out, before shifting into an image some of the original fans would find familiar. A 32bit remake of the classic ‘A Place for my Head’ plays, as you are brought to the desktop of a computer synonymous with the times. A Windows 2000/XP desktop screen now replaced the website’s homepage, with little interactive shortcuts dotting throughout. Like an email page, where band members relay messages back and forth with the subject header ‘secret project’, artwork from the band’s Hybrid Theory days, and endearing videos of the members acting all-adorable with each other. This is quite a unique, but incredibly rewarding approach; they didn’t just get cryptic on social media, or vaguely tease something relatively obvious, they took you straight back to the early 2000’s. Y’know, when bands like Crazy Town were popular and professional wrestling was still the coolest thing on the planet. Strange, that. 

And what were they teasing? Only an insanely crammed anniversary edition of the album in question. Within it, came a vinyl and CD of the album, their self-titled EP from the 90’s, three CDs of demos and unreleased tracks, and a cassette sampler. It also comes with three DVDs, three art prints (drawn by members of the band), a Bennington poster, a Projekt Revolution ticket/lanyard, and a record book detailing old artwork, recollections, and behind the scenes looks at production. Lads, if you’re going to celebrate an album, that’s how you do it. The anniversary edition serves as an absolute treasure trove for die-hard Linkin Park fans. 

As of 2017 the band has sold over 26 million albums and 31 million tracks worldwide. Their music made waves in pop culture, featuring in multiple of Michael’s Bay’s Transformers movies, How to Train Your Dragon 2, as well as a plethora of video games. Outside of their sales figures, what makes them such a special band, even today?

Looking back on what the band has done, it was absolutely a case of lightning in a bottle. The way they could shift from their original sound, moulding into a multitude of forms, is what allows them to resonate with so many. Even if you’re not a fan of the band, or have never even heard a song by them, I’d be willing to bet that there is a song in their catalogue you would enjoy. Their appeal isn’t limited in generation, either. I have worked with people 10 years my senior who gush over Meteora and the aforementioned Hybrid Theory. My friends and I are steadfast in our love for their 2010 release A Thousand Suns, and I’ve known people whose first exposure wasn’t until Hunting Party, four years later. As time has progressed, so have they, taking and building upon legions of adoring fans along the way. People have built memories around this band, shaping childhoods across a variety of eras. These memories take on a far more upsetting significance now, when thinking about the tragic story of Chester Bennington.

It was the type of celebrity death where you remember where you were when you found out. On July 20th, 2017, Bennington was found dead in his home, with his death being ruled a suicide. Fans of the band and rock music alike came out in droves in mourning, with many distraught by his sudden passing. His impact on the industry was highlighted by the show held in his memory in October of that year, where members of groups such as Korn and Avenged Sevenfold came out to play some of their most famous hits. It’s genuinely distressing going back to some of their earlier songs, given the current context. Listening to ‘Leave out all the Rest’ with today’s context adds a wholly depressing tone to the already bleak lyrics. Bennington’s passing becomes all the more upsetting when looking at some of the often-overlooked events leading into it. Two months before his passing, the band released their One More Light EP. Taking their change of sound in a drastic new direction, the record was slaughtered by long-time fans. This led to a public dispute between Bennington and the fans, causing such an argument that artists like Slipknot’s Corey Taylor weighed in with their defence. It is easy to look back and remember all of the good, but this public back-and-forth being one of Bennington’s last public appearances leaves things on a bluntly bitter note.

Going through old albums, concerts and videos leaves no surprise as to why Linkin Park carry such importance to their fans. Having sound-tracked the lives of millions, inadvertently or otherwise, the band have had a positive effect on so many people, and will always retain this significance in the hearts of listeners.