Linkin Park is as likeable a band as they come. They’re not afraid of going the opposite direction of where they’re expected to go, as proven by the experimental A Thousand Suns and this album, The Hunting Party, where they go back to basics. Not to the sound they originated from, but the ones that inspired them to make music, music that has captivated a global fanbase of 60 million. They are pioneers and innovators in the presentation of their work, collaborating with video game studios for music videos and even their own games. The interactive part of music is a forte of Linkin Park it seems, and I expect that maybe, just maybe, they’ll make a Virtual Reality project someday. Not everyone likes their music, but if this is a sign of things to come, then what a positive step forward it is, even though as an album it fails to soar to the same heights of their previous ones.
The problem lies with the back to basics philosophy in that it veers from the established and honestly superior cinematic, effects-laden sound that makes up the majority of their album lineup. What you’ll get is less innovation and more revisiting a much-loved but dated-feeling sound. If you like the first third of The Hunting Party, then it’s likely that you’ll love the rest of the album. But if you’re used to Linkin Park’s usual epic feel, then everything will feel like a step back, a failure to iterate on the tried and true formula.
Setting aside how good the overall album is reveals the delightful progress Brad Delson has made in his craft. He is no longer just part of the background, doing the expected things from his guitar. He and bandmate Rob make for half the face of The Hunting Party, the other consisting the ever-effective duo of Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda. Mike and Chester haven’t changed a bit compared to their recent albums, which isn’t a bad thing. But the most noteworthy aspect of this album’s production must be the prominent use of guitars and drums. Things feel heavy and condensed as a result, the drum part already expected from Rob. Brad is the surprise here, really showing off that he has what it takes to lead an album. Again, he’s used to fading to the background, so more time in the limelight will improve his craft. There’s nothing particularly superior to the crowd of similar guitarists to note.
The negative aspect of refusing to innovate is it tends to not stand out as much. Linkin Park thankfully enlisted the help of several noteworthy figures in present-day rock, although I’m having a hard time seeing what help Tom Morello gave for “Drawbar”. Iconic rapper Rakim lent his hand to the debut single “Guilty All the Same”. The best collaboration and without a doubt the best track of them all is the scintillating “Rebellion” featuring Daron Malakian. There, Mike Shinoda also raps with wisdom even beyond his current level of experience, refusing to go over the top while being steady in his delivery. It’s moments like this that the album soars back to the heights of Hybrid Theory or Meteora. But they don’t happen that often, unfortunately, even when sections of tracks are counted. “All for Nothing” recalls the earlier days of Mike’s rapping, until the bland chorus ruins it all, while “Guilty All the Same” would have been closer to average if it didn’t have the magic of Rakim.
It is the one-step-back mentality that might entice fans weary of the band’s recently softening sound back to the game. This is in fact their heaviest album since the Hybrid Theory/Meteora days and while there is nothing unique about it, The Hunting Party represents a quantum leap in ability for the underappreciated Brad Delson and another welcome showcase for powerhouse drummer Rob Bourdon. From the unrelenting majority of the songs to the little breaks in between and the setting of the sun at the end with softer tracks like “Final Masquerade” and “Until It’s Gone”, Linkin Park only treads territory other bands have for ages, and in a much superior manner.