A huge new music set from one of nu-metal’s megastars
Like many people who were in their mid-teens as the 1990s ticked over to 2000s, I love Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park’s debut. Chester Bennington’s immense vocal skills leapt out of the speakers, the music sounded big, brash, and catchy AF. The band had their hooks in my mind from the first listen, and aside from a couple of albums that felt phoned in, I’ve been a fan ever since. I don’t believe there’s a day that’s gone by when I haven’t listen to at least one LP song.
Hybrid Theory was an album that was very much of its time, but still sounds good 20 years later. To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the band did a deep dive into their archives, and have assembled a huge set with over 80 tracks, many of them rare or previously unreleased.
But should you buy it? Well…
This set is, in my opinion, aimed at people who are already fans of Linkin Park, so I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this review then that’s who you are. This set comprises six discs. The first two you will most likely already have: it’s the original album, followed by the Reanimation re-mix album (a mixed bag). There are a ton of remixes and live tracks sprinkled elsewhere in the set, but none of them were particularly surprising or noteworthy for me. If you want live LP tracks, get Live in Texas, and watch the DVD. (They’ve also released other live albums, but I’d rather listen to the studio albums.)
If you didn’t buy LP singles as they were released, then there will be plenty of tracks that you might not already have. The set contains many songs that were originally released as b-sides. “High Voltage”, “Step Up” and “My December”, for example, were all songs I picked up via the band’s early UK singles, and are all songs I still listen to. The songs on disc five, the LPU Rarities, were more rare, I believe, previously only available to members of the band’s fan club (or on bootlegs). The best new (for me) song in the set is “She Couldn’t”, which I think is a genuinely solid LP song and I’ve added to my every-day playlist.
For music completists, or LP obsessives, it’s a set that will certainly appeal. Those interested in the process of music making and production, or who want an insight into how the band evolved its sound from inception to final record, will find the many demos and early versions of songs included in the set will rewarding, offering an interesting glimpse into the band’s songwriting and evolution. For example, we can hear how Chester’s vocals were sometimes given much more focus, as if producer Don Gilmore recognized his power and decided to put him front-and-centre — for example, on “Esaul”, the demo that became “A Place For My Head”. The demos of “In the End”, “Points of Authority” and “Forgotten” are just a few other examples that show how well the band evolved and considerably improved during the studio sessions and final recording. The latter, for example, was vastly improved upon: the demo version lacks the bombast and power of the album version. Maybe the most interesting one for me was the song “Blue”: it sounds like a Linkin Park tribute song, but one that’s not particularly compelling. However, it’s obviously the genesis of the band’s mega-hit “Crawling, so I’m glad they plundered it for parts.
So, yes. These songs are interesting to listen to. Once or twice. Because, after curiosity has been sated and the novelty has worn off, I’m not sure many listeners or casual fans will find much reward in repeat listens. Also, there’s a lot of sort-of repetition. Do we need three versions of “High Voltage”? (Disc 4’s is the best version.)
If you’re familiar with Bennington’s story, or read/heard any interviews in which he discusses his inspirations and favourite artists, there are a number of songs on here you should definitely check out. “Part of Me”, which is a pretty conventional nu-metal song, nevertheless features some Scott Weiland-esque vocals from Chester. (They definitely get penalized for keeping the damned hidden track, though — a 1990s/2000s convention that was really irritating.) “Carousel” also sounds like it has a Stone Temple Pilots influence, and reminded me of Bennington’s contribute to the Queen of the Damned soundtrack. While it has more of Shinoda’s rapping, “Reading My Eyes” also has some STP vocal flavour (and a bunch of other stuff that makes it rather schizophrenic). Meanwhile, “Slip” and “So Far Away” are firmly in grunge territory, with echoes of Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots. The former sounds like a mash-up of songs like “Step Up” with additional vocals from Layne Stayley (RIP). It’s interesting, and only just works, but I can see why it was left on the cutting room floor.
Many of the unreleased and rare tracks are pretty good. It’s always nice to have new songs from LP, and it’s interesting to get more from back then — their sound has definitely evolved over time, and taken on a more polished sheen. Over the last couple of albums, Chester less-frequently deployed his “shrapnel-laced howl”, and Mike Shinoda transitioned to singing more than he rapped (it works very well, too, in my opinion). It’s also, of course, one of the few places to find “new” material featuring Chester Bennington, who tragically took his own life in 2017. (If you still want more, I’d recommend you give Grey Daze’s recently re-released/re-mastered album Amends a try — Chester’s previous band before he joined LP.)
The band was originally called Xero. The final disc in the set is a set of Xero demos, and they’re pretty good and different from what the band would become. In many ways, they’re less consistent in style, tone, pacing, etc. It feels more “rock” and less “nu-metal”. Given how cohesive Hybrid Theory is, it was interesting to hear this really early version of the band who may still have been trying to find their identity. Some of these songs appear in different versions elsewhere in the set, and others contain the seeds of future LP songs — “Rhinestone”, for example, was considerably improved and became “Forgotten”.
So, the $50/£50 question: should you buy the set? To be honest, I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone unless they absolutely must own everything LP releases. I think I would always just go to the studio album if I wanted to listen to Hybrid Theory.
Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory 20th Anniversary Edition is out now everywhere, released via Warner Bros. Records (UK).