Linkin Park are a proper rock band again. It’s okay, let out a sigh of relief; nobody’s going to blame you for being apprehensive during the build-up to The Hunting Party, a record the band have openly described as ‘heavy’ numerous times pre-release. They were right, mostly, because the bands sixth studio album sounds like a return to their earlier sound, though not quite the nu-metal of Hybrid Theory, and although at times it sounds familiar it’s a fairly new direction from a band who’ve always been willing to expand their sound, for better or for worse. The Hunting Party definitely falls into the ‘better’ section of the bands discography, sounding like a meatier Minutes To Midnight and a more dynamic A Thousand Suns, really delivering the energy that their fourth and fifth records failed to capture. After what was arguably the bands weakest album in Living Things their sixth is a return to form – raw, uncompromising and powerful.
After the completion of Living Things in 2012 and during the initial writing for its follow-up vocalist / guitarist / producer Mike Shinoda decided he wasn’t happy with how ‘pop’ the first demos sounded, hence the change in style on The Hunting Party, which definitely isn’t a pop record. It’s why the bands sixth LP is heavier than the few that preceded it, aggressive in nature, and it’s also the main reason that it sounds so good – a step in the right direction for the band and a welcome one backwards. Take opener Keys To The Kingdom,which wastes no time, beginning with venomous, robotic yells from vocalist Chester Bennington and then jumps into pounding drums and riffs, an instant highlight. Bennington’s screams of ‘No control! as the track progresses are great, and it’s equally great to hear some real fire in Linkin Park’s music again, with the opener sounding savage and electric, setting the tone well for what follows, although very few songs match the aggression of Keys To The Kingdom. Third track and single Guilty All The Same tries, stretching it out to cover six minutes whilst toying with an experimental song structure, beginning with ninety seconds of building, writhing experimentation and then taking the foot off the gas when Bennington eventually enters. There’s a hardcore feel to it that works well, and the final verse from esteemed rapper Rakim is very good, bringing more than Shinoda perhaps would in his place. Although not featuring on this track Shinoda does play a big part vocally, which may seem odd considering the records primary genre. He takes the lead on All For Nothing amongst other tracks, and his verses tend to be better than Bennington’s, whose cleans still leave a bit to be desired, whilst Shinoda has improved in that department. Production comes from Shinoda and guitarist Brad Delson, and at times it does let the record down slightly, with tracks like Wastelands not sounding as large as they perhaps should in Rick Rubin’s absence.
Linkin Park are a band who’ve always made use of a number of styles and genres, and they throw a bunch into the mix on their sixth LP. Fifth track War has a bristling punk feel to it, as rallying as its title suggests it will be, with a great guitar solo towards the end. It’s a different kind of Linkin Park, and with the song coming in at just over two minutes it speeds by, unrelenting. Rebellion is more manic initially but abates once again as vocals enter the fold, picking up on occasion, ferocious at times, with guest Daron Malakian providing a distinct System Of A Down feel to the instrumental side of the song, which is chugging and technical, although it’s a shame he doesn’t feature vocally.
The Hunting Party has its flaws, and the more forgettable tracks come in the second half. Single Until It’s Gone sounds weak in comparison to the rest of the album and it’s not entirely surprising that the most radio-friendly track is one of the weakest, sounding diluted with an uninspired chorus and verses that seem comfortable sitting back, waiting for said chorus to define the track. Mark The Graves also offers very little, sounding like a Minutes To Midnight B-side, whilst following track Drawbar completely wastes Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello on a meandering post-rock interlude. With the two coming late in the album they do disrupt the flow, as The Hunting Party undergoes a drop in quality, but thankfully it ends with two very good tracks in The Final Masquerade and Lines In The Sand. The former is more of a ballad, sounding like a Minutes To Midnight A-side in contrast to Mark The Graves, brilliantly constructed, climbing for a soaring, inspiring chorus which is one of the records highlights, featuring some of Bennington’s better clean vocals. The latter keeps with Linkin Park’s trend of exceptional album closers; an expansive epic which packs a lot in, beginning with forty seconds of ambience before Shinoda comes in with a melodic, almost spoken word delivery, building to a musical explosion a minute or so in as the track bursts into crashing instrumentation, only to drop off again as Shinoda returns, joined by Bennington as the two share some dual vocals. The closer contains some of the better lyrics on a record which is mostly forgettable in that area, a lesson in naivety and its consequences as Bennington screams ‘Give me back what’s mine!’ with the track matching his aggression as guitars scale and drums crash. The song ends the same way it began, the calm before and after the storm as The Hunting Party ends sombre and haunting, a fitting finale.
Upon the conclusion of any Linkin Park record it’s tough to really say where the band will go from there, and that’s no different here. The Hunting Party suggests that Linkin Park have rediscovered their love for heavier music, and they’ve done enough here to really merit continuing down that path. It sounds more like the Linkin Park I discovered a decade ago, a resurgence of sorts, and I’d say that’s its biggest strength, and although it’s slightly hit and miss at times Linkin Park sound better than they have in years, and that makes The Hunting Party well checking out.
Rating – 7.5/10
Listen to: Keys To The Kingdom / Rebellion / A Line In The Sand