Chester Bennington: The voice that carried the angst, rage and sorrow of Linkin Park's music
It is 2001, and I’ve got my hand over a music system subwoofer to feel the thump of a kick drum like never before. It felt like the birth of something. It was growing up. Rap-rock, nu-metal, alternative rock and electronic music — everything was being introduced at once to someone who had appreciated the Backstreet Boys until then.
My introduction to heavy music was Linkin Park, the American band that opened up millions of minds and ears to a new style starting with their debut album Hybrid Theory. It was Chester Bennington’s dark, anguished vocals, Mike Shinoda interjecting with rap verses or lines, that aggressive wide-open guitar riffage from Brad Delson, the blips and scratchings from Joe Hahn and a powerful rhythm system that raised the roof, comprising drummer Rob Bourdon and bassist Dave Farrell.
It took elements from what was existing, which explains why anyone older hated it and called it whiny, spineless music. Rap fans were open-minded enough to dig it — and it was proved in the coming years when LP teamed up with rappers and producers for their remix album Reanimation in 2002 — but metal fans absolutely hated what had taken over the mainstream charts in the next few years. I lived way too obsessed with all the music that came my way after Hybrid Theory to think about what anyone else thought of LP.
By the time Meteora came out in 2003, we were holding a ripped CD in our hands (having graduated from the Hybrid Theory cassette), my brothers and I, standing in front of the music system subwoofer again. We’d already seen videos of their earlier singles, 'One Step Closer' and 'In The End', but watching 'Somewhere I Belong' early one morning and later 'Numb', it was just the next step in a love that has sustained right until One More Light, which released earlier this year to negative reviews due to its radio-friendly pop direction.
No matter what your music tastes have turned to today, Linkin Park — at least their first albums, for most and for some of us, all their albums — were liked with an intensity that reflected how little we cared that others hated it. Bennington went from soft and soulful to unhinged beast mode in a matter of seconds. Linkin Park’s angst, rage and sorrow was always the centre, carried through by a grunge fanboy like Bennington.
After a large gap, when Minutes to Midnight was teased with their guitar-driven single 'What I’ve Done', fans were perplexed. They had marketed their mainstream rock success well, collaborating with rapper Jay Z for a mashup called Collision Course that even led to a once-in-a-lifetime live show together.
Minutes to Midnight, however, was a strange trip for anyone who had loved their first two albums. It began with a punch to the gut with the breakdown-heavy 'Given Up', featuring a foul-mouthed Bennington going into full throat-shredding mode. But then he turned into an introspective crooner on other songs like ‘Shadow of the Day’, ‘Leave Out All the Rest’. Linkin Park were at their versatile best in their career, marrying rap and rock in a way that no band had done before them, earning praises from mainstream music.
In a way, anyone who stuck on with the music, accepted it for it was — heavy or no heavy — never thought if fame and success was affecting Linkin Park’s musical direction. We were still hardcore fans. They never became a nostalgia band like several of their peers, even though plenty of my friends have told me how they haven’t heard the last two or three albums. They missed out the industrial snarls of A Thousand Suns (2010), an album that featured a seething and sorrowing Bennington on songs like ‘Blackout’ and ‘Wretches and Kings’.
When Bennington put his piercing voice to a microphone, it was always magic. Even in his mellower performances of songs like ‘The Messenger’, a real tear-jerker if you have the strength to listen to it on a day like this.
Even if it was packaged in cookie-cutter pop rock, as was the case on One More Light, Bennington had never let go of his angst. When you needed an outlet for grief and a voice for comfort, it’s fair to say you turn to the voice that’s stayed with you the longest. For plenty of us now in our mid-20s, Chester Bennington was that voice, battling his demons, letting us scream with him (or at least trying to) and fighting our own fears and insecurities as they grew. The voice may have fallen silent, for reasons that may remain unknown, but he’s left behind enough ammo in Linkin Park’s songs, in his lyrics, to keep us fighting.