When I first listened to a six-song sampler from The Hunting Party back in April, I described the new music as “some of [Linkin Park’s] most electrifying and aggressive sounding tracks to date” and predicted that the album would “polarize the fan base” upon its release on June 17th. At the time I was making those statements without an inkling of how the second half would sound, but after my recent experience with the band’s latest record as a whole, I can safely say this is one of Linkin Park’s bravest and brashest sounding records to date.
Of course, with a record as talked up as The Hunting Party has been, one would hope the album lives up to the hype. For much of 2014, Linkin Park spent their time in interviews unabashedly lamenting the current state of rock music, expressing their hopes to bring back the aggression to the genre. On The Hunting Party, they have unequivocally backed up those statements.
Rather than taking the easy route by making a ‘back to the roots’ album, Linkin Park has taken the road less traveled by purposefully pushing their music in new directions, crafting a brand new musical identity that brings back an edge and ferocity that had not been seen in their music for almost a decade. This iteration of Linkin Park is fresh yet familiar, mature yet aggressive, well-crafted yet jarring. While there may be the occasional nods back to their Hybrid Theory past, the band spends most of the new album’s 45-minute running time introducing you to a wiser, bolder, and more in-your-face Linkin Park. While A Thousand Suns may have introduced fans to the introspective and wildly creative side of the band, The Hunting Party shows Linkin Park moving way from their pop leanings and studio polish, opting instead to crash alternative radio’s tea party with a take-no-prisoners approach to rock music.
Take the early punk rock-influenced “War” for instance, a track so abrasive, unexpected, and out of left field that you could easily forget this was Linkin Park. This is an act that the band repeats on numerous occasions throughout The Hunting Party, continuously creating sounds and styles that seem foreign in the Linkin Park soundscape. Another example is the genius “Mark The Graves”, where Chester sings over a constantly evolving instrumental, complete with guitars reminiscent of the band’s 2007 Minutes to Midnight. The band jumps into a time machine for the 80’s-tinged stadium anthem “Final Masquerade”, which contains one of Chester’s best melodic vocal performances to date. Lastly, the epic album closer “A Line In The Sand”, which clocks in at over 6 minutes, has Chester channeling Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue vocally, with the track managing to sound like an amalgamation of all that the band has learned thus far, combining all of their talents and abilities into one truly hard-hitting track.
The letdowns are few and far between. I certainly would have liked to see more of a prominent contribution from Tom Morello on “Drawbar”, whose talents feel restricted on this song which never truly takes off. It feels more like an outro to “Mark The Graves” than a standalone instrumental. Some of the songs feel like they could use an extra 2 to 3 minutes of fleshing out to truly achieve their potential. These bite-sized songs still hit their mark, but some end abruptly and leave you wanting more. That could be construed as a good thing to some.
What’s perhaps the most interesting about this album is how the songs are tied together. Pieced together by interludes (at times Muse-Esque, at times comical, and at times completely random and unexplainable), the album actually seems to increase in experimentation as it progresses. Much like with LIVING THINGS, the album’s strongest part is its second act (beginning around “Rebellion”) where the band throws their gloves off and completely jumps into uncharted territory, with a series of songs that offer their biggest surprises since A Thousand Suns.
I went into the listening process for this record expecting that with all the interviews and the band’s boastful claims that this album could never possibly live up to the hype it had generated. But instead, the band’s conscious decision to innovate rather than replicate has paid off. It completely surpassed every expectation I placed upon it. That’s not the hype or hyperbole or superfan in me talking either. In fact, I tried to be as critical as possible, but even with healthy skepticism I still found myself blown away at certain key moments. It has been days since I first heard the record, and yet my appreciation for The Hunting Party has not worn off. This is an album that challenges both hard rock radio, and their biggest “hard rock critics”. It’s well-performed, well-composed, and while it might not go down well with the fans of the band’s more pop-oriented sound, it will however win them plenty of new fans in hard rock circles alike.
If you’re looking for a truly blistering and full-throttle hard rock experience, you need not look any further than The Hunting Party. Linkin Park has made an honest statement with this record, and while it may be hard to believe this is the same band, believe the hype: this is Linkin Park at their technical finest.