One day, when Linkin Park rapper and multi-instrumentalist Mike Shinoda was working on the follow-up to their 2012 record Living Things — an album that had pop-friendly sensibilities, subsequently went gold and was their fourth LP to reach Number One on the Billboard 200 — he had a personal revelation. “Dude, what am I doing?” he asked himself. “I’m doing the exact same thing!” So he began writing heavy music.
“It needed to be visceral,” he says with a laugh. “We need to weed out a lot of the soft, emo kind of approach to our music, and we need to weed out anything that feels aggressive for aggressive’s sake. We’re not 18-year-old kids making a loud record – we’re 37-year-old adults making a loud record. And what makes a 37-year-old angry is different than what made us angry back in the day.”
That mindset permeates the five songs off Linkin Park’s sixth record, The Hunting Party, that Shinoda played Rolling Stone at a recent listening session in New York City. Tracks like avant-metal jigsaw riffs of “Keys to the Kingdom” and the punkish “All for Nothing” indeed sound like Linkin Park at their angriest and most adrenalized. It’s undeniable Linkin Park at their most pure, since they produced the album, other than one track, themselves.
“Until It’s Gone” kicks off with the sort of warbling synth effect that was the group’s calling card on their 2000 breakthrough debut, Hybrid Theory, but builds into a brooding, textured gloom rocker that reminds listeners, via singer Chester Bennington, that “[you] don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” “Wastelands of Today,” produced by Rob Cavallo, boasts a similar message – that there is “nothing left to lose” – over a herky-jerky big rock riff. And the final track he played, “Rebellion,” uses a speedy riff and a jackhammer-fast drum line that splits the difference between hardcore and disco that, together, charges toward a chorus with the message “Rebellion – we lost before we start.” The album, which will contain 12 tracks, isn’t finished yet, but Shinoda is working on mixing it this week in advance of its June 17th release and the band’s summer tour.
Around the time Shinoda began working on the new direction for the group, beginning with “All for Nothing,” he realized that it might not be the most commercial direction for the group to be taking at this point in its career. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, shit. Rock radio’s not gonna play this, are they?” he says. So he consulted with his manager and a radio rep at his management company and they confirmed his fears. “They said the bottom line is, this music is gonna have a real hard time living on rock radio,” he says. “It’s kind of a bad move. We can’t rely on a home run at radio. But I’m always up for a challenge. Besides, I believe in the music.”
The inspiration behind the about-face Linkin Park are making on The Hunting Party – following the generally lighter approach they’ve taken on recent records – was a general malaise Shinoda was feeling toward indie music. “I was trying to find something to listen to one day, and it wasn’t there,” he says. “And it kind of pissed me off. I like indie music. I like indie pop. But at a certain point, I feel like that box had been checked and checked again.”
Shinoda underscored that he likes groups like Chvrches, Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys and his comment is not a dig at them. But as far as the music he wanted to listen to at that moment, he found himself turning to the sounds that inspired him before Linkin Park — groups like Refused, Helmet and At the Drive-In — and a few that predated his interest hard music, like Inside Out and Gorilla Biscuits. “I was thinking, what albums predated nü-metal,” he says. “Without these albums there wouldn’t have been Linkin Park.”
As a nod to their inspirations, Linkin Park invited some of these artists to play on The Hunting Party. Helmet vocalist-guitarist Page Hamilton sings on “All for Nothing,” System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian appears on “Rebellion” and rap icon Rakim appears on “Guilty All the Same,” a song that is available for streaming now. “I got on the phone with Rakim and explained our M.O. and told him how rock music has gone in this direction that we, at this moment, don’t feel comfortable following,” Shinoda says. “He responded by telling me how his experience in hip-hop has been similar. Because rap music is so poppy, he can’t see himself making those kinds of records. It was at that moment, we realized we had a lot in common and I knew the song was gonna work.”
Similarly, the band members took the ethos of the bands that inspired them and, rather than go on a nostalgia trip, tried to “modernize that aggression sonically,” to use Shinoda’s words. “Keys to the Kingdom” opens with an affected, robotic-sounding voice yelling and then manages to make some disjointed-sounding riffs work. “I wanted you to listen to the song and be disrupted at regular intervals,” Shinoda says. “I wanted that to be jarring or distracting, just kind of fuck you up.”
This approach was especially difficult for drummer Rob Bourdon who ran himself ragged trying to keep up with the music. “It’s probably the hardest stuff he’s ever played on one of our albums,” Shinoda says. “He had to physically work his way up to it. He had to go running, lift weights, work with a trainer.” Then with a laugh, Shinoda says, “He eventually went to a chiropractor because he threw his back out playing drums. I don’t want to put the guy in the hospital, but it was fun for both of us to make something that was challenging to him. And he definitely feels that at the end of the day, he’s a better drummer for it.”
What they came up with, Shinoda reports, is their heaviest record to date. And as he says that, he also realizes the implications of such a claim. “We didn’t make the heaviest record of all time,” he says. “I’m very aware that there are super, super heavy bands out there that make music that is really, really gnarly.” He laughs. “We didn’t make a Botch record. We didn’t make a Meshuggah record. We made a really loud and aggressive Linkin Park record, maybe the loudest we’ve made.”