Last week, Linkin Park released One More Light, their seventh studio album, assuming you don’t count their two — yes, two — remix albums. One More Light marked yet another sonic shift for a group that, to their credit, were always ready to reinvent themselves. The Southern California band got started in the late ’90s as a trio of Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, and Rob Bourdon, who established their dynamic sound when Chester Bennington joined in 1999, after years of failing to break through the major label system. Originally called Xero, then Hybrid Theory, they eventually changed their name to Linkin Park and released their major label debut album, Hybrid Theory, on Warner Bros. in 2000. The album included hard-hitting singles like “Crawling,” “In The End,” and “One Step Closer.”
Along with Nickelback, Linkin Park are one of the more critically derided bands of this century. Part of that backlash was a reaction to the level of success that each band achieved while crafting an aesthetic that didn’t need to seek out any kind of critical respect. People genuinely liked the music without having to be told that they should like the music. Linkin Park came up during the height of nu-metal alongside bands like Korn, Slipknot, Disturbed, and a number of other groups that channeled anger and frustration into a sound that worked on rock radio and was pop enough to fit in with VH1’s video countdown. That particular moment was crucial for young people, myself included, who didn’t listen to this music with an initially skeptical ear, and considered these artists to be our contemporary mainstream rock stars.
After the success of Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park took a slightly different path and released the remix album Reanimation that was a rather strange, backpack rap version of their debut album, featuring guest verses from Black Thought and the Alchemist. The album showed that even if Linkin Park were definitely mainstream, there was part of them that sought to incorporate sounds of the underground into their music. Next came Meteora, which solidified Linkin Park as one of the most ubiquitous rock radio bands of the early 2000s, with singles like “Numb” and “Somewhere I Belong.” They rode the success of that album into another rap-crossover project: the Collision Course EP, featuring Jay Z, which spoke to the peak of the ’00s obsession with mash-ups.
That moment eventually passed, and Linkin Park shifted along with the times, taking a more somber route on their 2007 album Minutes To Midnight. Already touring arenas, the band leaned more into that stadium rock scale in the 2010s by also incorporating additional elements of electronic music and seeking out collaborators who could help them do so. Linkin Park are well known for having collaborated with Steve Aoki, but the fact that Owen Pallett contributed strings to their 2012 album, Living Things, isn’t spoken about nearly as much. Casual observers might think Linkin Park are still stuck in early-aughts nostalgia, but unlike many rock bands that double down on the same sound and just endlessly ride it, Linkin Park fully embrace new styles with each passing release.
In a recent interview, Chester Bennington addressed critiques of Linkin Park’s ever-shifting aesthetic, and to put it mildly, he’s frustrated by it. “When we made Hybrid Theory, I was the oldest guy in the band and in my early 20s. That’s why I guess I’m like: ‘Why are we still talking about Hybrid Theory? It’s fucking years ago. It’s a great record, we love it. Like, move the fuck on.’ You know what I mean?”
Linkin Park have kept afloat by constantly looking for new ways to change their style and not opting to simply remake the same song over and over again. In an attempt to chronicle some of that growth and change, we ranked the 10 best songs across the band’s catalog.
10. “All For Nothing” (Feat. Page Hamilton) (from The Hunting Party, 2014)
Over the years, the chemistry between Linkin Park’s frontmen — singer Chad Bennington and rapper Mike Shinoda — started to recede from the forefront. The shift could stem from the fact the group started to move into more full-blown arena rock that lent itself less willingly to their original rap-rock hybrid. “All For Nothing,” from their 2014 album, The Hunting Party, makes a strong effort to correct that balance. The album returned the group to their rock roots, even employing Helmet’s Page Hamilton on this track. But here Shinoda uses his confrontational tone (“Wanna skate and play it safe/ But this is take a shot time/ You waiting for a purpose?/ I already got mine”) to remind listeners what he’s always brought to the band. The song backs down to a pounding metal charge, but that opening verse takes us back to the early days, when Shinoda was the real face and voice of the group.
9. “Burning In The Skies” (from A Thousand Suns, 2010)
After the sonic departure of Minutes To Midnight, Linkin Park returned three years later with A Thousand Suns, an album that is often cited as an example of the band bringing more electronic-music elements to their established sound, but it’s arguable that the tendency to mash up genres has been a prevalent aspect of Linkin Park’s aesthetic since Hybrid Theory. Where previous experimentation dipped into electronica and even turntablism, A Thousand Suns used those elements to inflate the band’s sounds to new heights. “Burning In The Skies” blurs those lines, as Bennington’s lead would’ve certainly been too mellow for the band’s first two albums. But then the chorus hits and carries with it a force that wouldn’t disappoint older fans. A fine line to walk, and one that this decade they’ve certainly missed on occasion, but here they found a great middle ground.
8. “Heavy” (Feat. Kiiara) (from One More Light, 2017)
Since their 2007 album, Minutes To Midnight, Linkin Park have been constantly reshaping their place in the musical landscape. Sometimes, that leads fans to unexpected places. That’s what we got with “Heavy,” from the band’s latest album, One More Light. The song opens with maybe the softest introduction of any major Linkin Park single, so when Bennington’s voice arcs toward the echoing chorus, the singer Kiiara, who last scored an EDM hit with “Gold,” reclaims control over the chorus. The duet between the two is a rare juxtaposition for a band that often just relies on Shinoda’s aggressive raps to counterbalance Bennington’s hyper-emotional platitudes. On “Heavy,” Bennington finds an equal partner to that anguish.
7. “In My Remains” (from Living Things, 2012)
Released in 2012, Living Things felt like Linkin Park’s biggest musical departure at the time. “In My Remains” doesn’t feature as much of the electronic-music influence as the rest of the album; instead the band comfortably sinks into their stadium-rock skin that they started to shift into back on Minutes To Midnight. That sense of communal togetherness was great as the band continued to reach massive crowds and can be heard in the song’s closing echoing chant of “One by one, one by one.”
6. “Numb / Encore” (Feat. Jay Z) (from the Collision Course EP, 2004 )
Even before Girl Talk essentially perfected and broke the entire genre of mash-ups, the early 2000s were full of strange rock, pop, rap, and R&B crossover moments. While pop music today tends to favor the monogenre in order to satisfy the algorithms that drive music discovery, and someone like Katy Perry can have a Migos feature, it was a novel moment when Jay Z and Linkin Park came together in 2004. “Numb / Encore” took Linkin Park’s second-biggest song, mixed it with a Kanye West-produced deep cut from Jay Z’s “retirement” album, The Black Album, and made it into a Top 20 hit. Part of that was the combined weight of the two artists at the time, but more importantly, by adding the backing track of “Numb” to Jay Z’s peak nimble flow and writing ability, the two artists made a good song into an arena anthem. That right there is what made the combination such a strong one: Both acts were the poppiest versions of their respective genres, and that fact allowed them to be a little bit more open to the weirder musical experiments of the time.
5. “Crawling” (from Hybrid Theory, 2000)
Linkin Park never got more Linkin Park than in the opening lines of “Crawling,” where Bennington belts out, “Crawling in my skin/ These wounds they will not heal/ Fear is how I fall/ Confusing what is real.” That level of graphic emotional angst helped polarize the band early on in their career as they were entering the mainstream. For many fans of Linkin Park (myself included) who discovered the band in their preteen or teenage years, that kind of lyrical bluntness didn’t register as something to mock, but instead it tapped into a feeling that we couldn’t quite verbalize. The phrasing might be rather clunky and obvious, but the band opened an emotional door for younger fans who might’ve been dealing with their own personal struggles.
4. “Shadow Of The Day” (from Minutes To Midnight, 2007)
Minutes To Midnight arrived in 2007, more than four years after Meteora and nearly three years after Linkin Park released that unlikely Jay Z collaborative EP Collision Course. Mike Shinoda ventured off on his own for a bit with Fort Minor and even got a gold record out of it; meanwhile Chester Bennington started his own band, Dead By Sunrise, so there was a good question of where exactly Linkin Park would be after this hiatus. The album’s opening songs, especially the fan-beloved “Bleed It Out,” sounded like an even heavier version of Linkin Park, but that took a hard right on the track “Shadow Of The Day.” By 2007, Linkin Park were one of the biggest bands of the 2000s, and instead of sticking to their nu-metal roots, they leapt into arena rock. Few bands are playing to more than 15,000 people a night, and “Shadow Of The Day” offered a path for a band that understood there are ways of self-expression that don’t require turning the knob all the way to 11.
3. “Somewhere I Belong” (from Meteora, 2003)
Even if album sales dipped, Linkin Park perfected many of the ideas that surfaced on their breakthrough debut Hybrid Theory on Meteora. Electronic experimentation increased, the dynamic between Bennington and Shinoda stepped up, and there were subtle hints at the various sounds the band would take on in the future. This can be heard in “Somewhere I Belong,” where a wave of surging guitars foreshadowed the fuller rock sound that’d be found in rest of their discography. Bennington and Shinoda’s lyrics often find them struggling to locate their correct place in the world, which might be lost when their music was at its most aggressive. But that juxtaposition is classic Linkin Park in simply being unsure on the ground they have to stand on, but confident to move forward.
2. “Breaking The Habit” (from Meteora, 2003)
One of the reasons that Linkin Park continue to endure years after the initial wave of music they arrived with crested and fell was that it’s hard to find another band that sounds exactly like them. Their commitment to contemporaneous electronic music allows the band to constantly shift with the times, even if they can always fall back on their mix of rock and rap-core. “Breaking The Habit” best exemplifies that contrast, when the keyboard and the guitar riffs are ping-ponging between each other alongside tweaked DJ scratches. That foundation establishes an atmosphere that would only be heard on a Linkin Park song, but then as Bennington starts singing, the track snaps into a breakneck metal pace. The constant shifts and turns combined with Bennington’s lyrics give the song an emotional weight that might be overwrought for some, but is the perfect level of intensity when every dark feeling makes the world feel like it’s about to fall apart.
1. “In The End” (from Hybrid Theory, 2000)
The soft keyboard melody that opens “In The End” is a fairly innocuous start to what is still Linkin Park’s most iconic song, 17 years on. It’s a fragile opening to a song that eagerly places the weight of the world on its shoulders and really goes for it, reminding us why Linkin Park were often mocked in their early days for that melodrama, self-seriousness, and lyrical bluntness. That chorus (“I tried so hard/ And got so far/ But in the end/ It doesn’t even matter”) is overwhelming, but that burden makes Linkin Park so endearing, because they understood how to plunge emotional depths without putting on airs of meekness or turning down their volume. “In The End” peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts, making it Linkin Park’s most successful single ever, but it also helped define and give a singular identity to a band that had just broken into the mainstream. A little extreme and emotional, sure, but a band doesn’t fill stadiums with subtle gestures.