In 2010, Linkin Park was one of the biggest bands in the world. They had put out two iconic albums with 2000’s Hybrid Theory and 2003’s Meteora, quickly turning heads for their unique sound, successfully fusing metal and rap together. Instead of getting painted into a corner as a nu-metal band, Linkin Park wanted to show they were so much more. They started to tinker with their sound, and the result was 2007’s Minutes to Midnight. Despite the album producing hits like “What I’ve Done” and “Bleed It Out,” the record received mixed reviews. Most of the songs were slower (aside from “Given Up” and “No More Sorrow”), there were guitar solos, string arrangements, Mike Shinoda sang more than he rapped, and Chester Bennington sang more than he screamed. Longtime fans of the band weren’t sure how to react. While they easily could’ve abandoned this experiment, they doubled-down on this new sound on A Thousand Suns, and the result was something special.
To be fair, Linkin Park didn’t decide to give up all of their old sound on A Thousand Suns, but they did evolve into the band who they’d be for a majority of the 2010s. Gone are the heavy guitars fused with hip-hop. In its place are electronic beats and interludes, industrial rock vibes, and arguably the best vocal work of the late Bennington.
A Thousand Suns is a concept album that blends political issues with technology, human nature, and the threat of nuclear war. Linkin Park keeps these themes present throughout the album, especially with snippets of speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Mario Savio. The record keeps the story flowing through the use of short songs and interludes that help build up the bigger tracks that drive these messages home, like how “Jornada Del Muerto” perfectly sets the stage for “Waiting for the End” towards the back of the album.
The album’s tone is established on “Burning in the Skies,” a slow-burning track with calming guitars and clean vocals from both Shinoda and Chester. The album takes a darker turn with “When They Come for Me,” which marches along with a tribal drum beat and even features some Shinoda tossing in callbacks to “Points of Authority.”
Now just because there aren’t any crunching guitar riffs on this record, doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of heaviness. “Blackout” gives us some of Chester’s signature screams, which will make longtime fans of the band grin. “Wretches and Kings” features a hard, driving electronic beat that’s like a fire alarm mixed with a Nine Inch Nails song. You also get that nice Chester and Shinoda back and forth that the band does so well. “The Catalyst” is overloaded with electronics, scratchy turntables, drum beats, and Chester and Shinoda’s vocals all perfectly blended together, creating a nice cocktail that served as the lead single of the album.
The second single, “Waiting for the End,” is a song that easily belongs on the Top 10 list of Linkin Park’s best tracks. The song has this atmosphere to it, where you know you’re listening to something special, despite the fact the song is clearly about the idea of death. It’s a song that feels big, but there is an eeriness to it not in the light of Chester’s tragic death in 2017. Especially when he sings “Waiting for the end to come/Wishing I had strength to stand/This is not what I had planned/It’s out of my control.”
It’s tough to listen to Linkin Park today knowing that the band’s lead vocalist is no longer with us and A Thousand Suns stings a little bit extra. After listening to the band for ten years, it was this album that amplified what a phenomenal singer Chester was. While I always loved his earth-shattering screamed vocals, it was in the moments of peace and calm where he shone the brightest.
You have the beautiful “Iridescent,” which opens with Shinoda singing over a piano, before the beat kicks in and Chester sings what might be the most powerful chorus the band has written “Do you feel cold and lost in desperation?/You build up hope, but failure’s all you’ve known/Remember all the sadness and frustration/And let it go, let it go.” The argument could be made that this is Linkin Park’s strongest ballad.
While Bennington impresses throughout the record, it’s the final track, “The Messenger,” that shows he saved the best for last. The only sounds you hear are Bennington belting out every lyric over an acoustic guitar. “When you feel you’re alone, cut off from this cruel world/Your instincts telling you to run/Listen to your heart, those angel voices/They’ll sing to you, they’ll be your guide back home/When life leaves us blind/Love keeps us kind/It keeps us kind,” Chester sings.
The track is the band’s first-ever acoustic song, and it concludes the album on a hopeful note, but hearing this after knowing how Bennington’s life ended, it’s heartbreaking. We lost a great one way too soon. A Thousand Suns is a record that many still view as divisive. There were fans who liked the direction the band was heading in, and there were those who favored the sound of Hybrid Theory and Meteora. Hybrid Theory is a special record that struck a chord with millions of people in a way that not many albums do. There will be more to say about Hybrid Theory when that album turns 20 next month, but A Thousand Suns helped take Linkin Park to another level. They showed they were not going to fizzle out as many rap-metal bands did. Instead, they continued to grow and ended up creating one of the strongest LPs in their discography