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In its infancy, the punchy new Linkin Park album The Hunting Party – which entered the Billboard album chart in the top three with sales of more than 100,000 copies – wasn't especially loud or aggressive. A year ago, when main songwriter and vocalist Mike Shinoda started writing demos for the record, they were very much in line with the commercial alt-rock of 2010's A Thousand Suns and 2012's Living Things.
At the time, Shinoda was listening to the popular indie rock of Phoenix, M83, Arcade Fire, and Mumford & Sons, and vibing with the musical flow of today's popular jams. That's when he realized that if he kept going in the direction he was headed, the new Linkin Park record likely would be predictable and possibly derivative.
"That kind of music is everywhere now," Shinoda told Yahoo Music. "If you throw a rock you'll hit a band that plays that kind of stuff. It’s everywhere. If I didn't throw away those songs they would have fit very comfortably on the radio, but I wanted something else. I was looking for something and it wasn't Warped Tour music, emo, or metal. There was this other aggressive kind of thing I wanted to hear, but I couldn't really find. So I made some demos that sounded louder and addressed the sound I was looking for; and the guys loved it, and we took it from there."
The Hunting Party is easily the most aggressive and multifaceted album Linkin Park have released since their second disc, 2003’s Meteora. There are rapid-fire beats, screamed vocals, confrontational raps, industrial effects, and blaring guitars. At the same time, there’s an abundance of melodic singing and harmonized hooks that should prevent the album from alienating old fans. For Shinoda, much of the speed and volume stems from excitement, not rage.
"The music felt new and inspiring to us," he said. "It reminded me of the first time I first heard some of the first bands I really loved. I mean, there wouldn't be a Linkin Park without the influence of bands like Strife, Helmet, and Refused. What those guys did back then predated what we were known for. Our stuff wasn't a copy of their thing, it was just influenced by their thing. So we decided to build this record upon a very specific assortment of influences through the lens of a very specific aesthetic because right now I'm having trouble finding high-energy rock music that I want to listen to and I wish there was more of it."
To augment the authentically visceral tone of The Hunting Party, Linkin Park invited Helmet frontman Page Hamilton to add guitars to "All For Nothing," System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian to contribute to "Rebellion," and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to add parts to "Drawbar." In addition, the single "Guilty All the Same" features rapping by Rakim.
"We knew we wanted to collaborate with different people," Shinoda said. "As we were working, there were times when it seemed like another talent, whether it be another vocalist or a musician, just felt appropriate. It went back to that idea I started from when I was writing those more indie/alternative demos I ended up scrapping. I like to listen to Arcade Fire and Phoenix, but I don't want to make a song that sounds like those bands. So our idea was if a song needs a thing, let’s not estimate it, let’s go to the person that does the thing and ask the person if they'll do it for our song."
It soon became clear that The Hunting Party was going to be a loud, confrontational album, at least for Linkin Park. That being the case, it didn't make sense to write about peace, love, and harmony. So Shinoda and vocalist Chester Bennington reached within and penned songs about personal conflict, political turmoil, and social injustice.
"The kind of aggressive and angry lyrics that we were coming up with for The Hunting Party were more mature than what we would have written to these types of songs 10 years ago," Shinoda said. "When you're 18 and you’re pissed off, you're angry at your parents and your teachers and what you feel people are dong to you. They're not listening to you and you want to have a voice. When you're an adult, you tend to root your lyrics in more mature themes. The kinds of things that piss us off these days are things like human trading in the modern world and how sex slavery actually still happens. There’s arguably more slavery today than there has been at any time in human history. That makes me so angry and disgusted."
Some lyrics are illusive, motivated by personal issues more than generalized contempt. “Most people hear 'Until It's Gone' and read it at face value," Shinoda said. "They think it’s about the idea of not realizing that something is important until you don't have it anymore. There's actually a twist to that, and part of that comes from being a parent. There's the idea that you have to eventually let your children go out into the world and let them be what they're gonna be. We all have kids, so that was new and fresh to us. You don’t know what you have until it's gone. You don't know what your kid might actually be until you let them discover it on their own, without you guiding them."
The abrupt musical shift of The Hunting Party begs the question: Why didn't Linkin Park write this kind of record after Meteora instead of the U2-meets Radiohead aesthetic of 2007’s Minutes to Midnight?
"With Minutes to Midnight we went completely off the reservation," admitted Shinoda. "Our thought process was that if we made another album that was similar to the first two, we would be stuck doing that forever. We started stepping outside of the obvious genres we were playing in. So now, from album to album, our fans know that we intend to push what’s comfortable for us, and what’s comfortable for them, and hopefully everyone will be pleasantly surprised by what we come up with. It really feel like anything’s possible."