It’s funny how hard Christians sometimes try to justify media. It’s there with every form of entertainment, but it seems especially present with music. This may manifest itself in the form of questions like “How much profanity is too much in this song?” but more often, in manifests itself in our counter-arguments to the blaringly obvious objections that level-headed Christians bring up to some of our favorite songs. As I think back to before I started thinking with a more Christian worldview, and when I failed to scrutinize my entertainment and look at things in terms of what is good and not just what would get me sent to Hell, my justification for Linkin Park is one of the most embarrassing things about my inconsistencies in that part of my life. Things like “Life isn’t a basket of roses” and “David talked about the negative stuff in life, too!” (I address these kinds of arguments in this post). I’d better prepare myself, though, because Linkin Park fans are going to need those ever-failing arguments more than ever.
When Linkin Park released their debut album Hybrid Theory back in the late 90’s, it was easy to brush off their anger and rebellion. After all, they were teenagers. But it’s been about fifteen years, and this album is quite a bit more aggressive than the last three at least. Lyrics such as “You’ll get what’s yours” and “You’re guilty all the same” dominate this album. Instead of contemplating deeper issues, like some of their previous work (A Thousand Suns is a concept album about atomic warfare, for example), Linkin Park flings verbal nukes in all directions, reminding everyone that, lest we should forget, they are always right, and their accusers always villains concocted from the deepest depths of Satan’s Hell.
Of course, there are some attempts made at balance. Two, to be precise. Two songs on the whole album admit some semblance of responsibility and guilt. Take out two instrumental tracks, and one song dealing with the abstract instead of a person, and the remaining nine songs drive arrogance and self-righteous fury so much that by the time they’re done it’s not just beating a dead horse; the horse was dead a week ago.
There may not be as many attempts to justify them this time around, though. Why? Because there’s not much reason to. The music isn’t all that great, even being forgiving for the lyrics. Chester Bennington screams until you wonder why you started listening to Slipknot again, and when the tunes aren’t atonal and hinting at hardcore, they’re repetitive and forgettable. Only three songs on the entire album made a three or higher (out of five) rating, and those are halfway through the album.
I was more forgiving when I listened to their last two albums, because I was hopeful. Hopeful because they were broaching serious topics, opting for less (though still present) teenage angst, and creating a really cool musical niche by combining their rap-rock roots with electronics. This album, as a whole failed on all fronts, both as lyrical rhetoric, and as musical art.
1. Keys to the Kingdom – If you hoped that the song would get off to a good start, you’ll be disappointed. The screaming is ridiculous and doesn’t really flow with the Linkin Park sound, and even though the guitars are pretty cool, the song just doesn’t work. That’s not the mention the handful of F-words, including a repeated one in the chorus. The song wants to be an anthem of sorts, but it’s anthem about throwing away the “keys to the kingdom” and being your “own casualty.” In short, it celebrates giving up all semblance of self-control. Not exactly inspiring. 1/5
2. All For Nothing – One of my favorite tunes that I’ve heard Mike Shinoda sing to date, and one of the most melodic tracks on the record. But the 2 F-words and the typical indignant Linkin Park (“And no I’m not your soldier, I’m not taking any orders/I’m a five star general infantry controller, need a lesson, let me show you.”) ruin it for me. 1/5
3. Guilty All the Same – With some really cool bass and a pretty fantastic melody, this song had promise, but it doesn’t pan out. It’s been more than ten years that Linkin Park’s first album, but they don’t seem to have grown up much. Reminiscent of several songs from their debut album, this one continues the angry teenage angst vibe by lashing out at the person supposedly pointing the finger. Arrogance, indignation, and self-righteous pomp aren’t exactly prime for feeding a Christian’s mind. 2/5
(Track 4, The Summoning, is an intro track)
5. War – Ironically, this is probably the least accusational track on the album, dwelling on the brutal and unforgiving nature of war itself instead of exes, parents, or otherwise vague vilified people. But it doesn’t really matter much, because the song itself is more atonal than your three-year-old son banging on the piano while screaming bloody murder, and even more painful to listen to. 1/5
6. Wastelands – There’s lamenting your current less-than-ideal conditions. Then there’s wailing about how the entire world is drowning in a post-apocalyptic mess. No, that’s not a teenage girl. That’s a Linkin Park song—this one, as a matter of fact, and the forgettable melody can’t even make me hesitant about passing on over it. The song could have left room for hope, were it not for the lyric “And your hope turns into fear.” Someone needs to give Chester Bennington a Snickers. 2/5
7. Until It’s Gone – Chester’s softer singing combined with a return to the rock/keyboard instrumentation that made their last two albums so good is just the thing that this album has, to this point, been lacking. It even takes a step away from the arrogance and self-righteous rage of the record to admit that “Yes, I can make a mistake. And I did.” I think this one’s a keeper. Seven songs in and it’s the first one on the record, but you take what you can get. 4/5
8. Rebellion – It’s sad that we had to go through six songs before finding the first good song on the album. But two in a row is a good way to start making up for that. The tune of this one, with its outrageously melodic-yet-heavy guitar leads that would rival Avenged Sevenfold, not to mention brilliant harmonizing between Shinoda and Bennington, makes this a brilliant track. It also asks some interesting questions, being less of a song really about rebellion, and more of a song asking wannabe rebels if they really know what it’s like to be abused: “We are the fortunate ones/Who’ve never faced oppression’s gun/We are the fortunate ones/Imitations of rebellion.” 5/5
9. Mark The Graves
Keeping a pretty decent melody, this song ultimately suffers from Bennington’s over-enthusiasm for screaming on this album (seriously, dude. After every song, you’re starting to sound like a chainsaw). It’s still pretty good though, and like “Until It’s Gone,” it makes admission of wrong, perhaps making some attempt at balancing out the arrogance and indignation. 3/5
10. Drawbar – This is a pretty cool instrumental song featuring Tom Morello. I really wish it was longer, but it’s pretty cool for what it is. 4/5
11. Final Masquerade – It’s nice to have an attempt at a softer ballad after having our ears shredded for a half an hour, and the guitars in the chorus are catchy, but after hearing the same six or so notes repeated over and over again with little variation, it’s hard to like this song very much. It also fails to really say much of anything, just repeating lines about sunsets and “the final masquerade” without ever really talking about anything meaningful, which is kind of sad considering these songwriters have broached serious topics like anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II (Mike Shinoda, as part of his side project Fort Minor) and atomic warfare (the album A Thousand Suns). I’d think they could do better. 2/5
12. A Line In The Sand
After an album mostly full of overly conventional music hinting at hardcore that’s ultimately, well, junk, Linkin Park breaks form by opting for a harder hitting track instead of the typical closing ballad. With that said, it returns to the egotistical finger pointing that defined far too much of this album, ultimately making me far less optimistic about the band’s future music than their last two albums left me. 2/5