Yer Indefensible Metal is Olde: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

2000 was fucking weird. We greeted the post y2k rubble with frosted tips and eyebrow rings, with countless pogs and beanie babies smouldering at our backs as we wandered into an age dominated by Britney Spears and Jnco choking hazards. We were free from the tyranny of tied-around-the-waist hoodies, and the US government was hard at work keeping everyone safe from international criminal mastermind Elián González. It was a time of change, and nowhere was this more evident than along the airwaves of mainstream radio, where Santana was taking modern rock artists hostage left and right while Sting dreamt of rain, yele yele. Metal and hard rock were hardly immune to the winds of change, and from the ashes of grunge something wicked their way came. Enter: nü-metal. Fueled by the sonic angst that still lingered in the air and augmented by the forbidden knowledge of rap and hip-hop, nü-metal took the world by storm in 2000, and – for better or worse – the One Album to rule them all was Hybrid Theory, the studio debut of a Californian quintet known as Linkin Park.

Any attempts to explain the appeal and prevalence of nü-metal to someone who didn’t live through its invasion firsthand would surely be futile. Sure, even in its heyday there were plenty of anti-hipsters eager to decry the fledgling sub-genre to anyone not set to Away in their AIM directory, yet those of us who sipped on Surge instead of Haterade saw nü-metal as something more than a particularly loud Hot Topic clearance event. As bands like Adema, Korn and Limp Bizkit claimed the airwaves, they brought with them a sense of genuine aggression unlike anything that had ever graced TRL at that time, and many listeners greeted the prospect of something nü new and heavier than fucking Creed with arms wide open. In hindsight, much of it was garbage, a chugging nightmare of derivative mediocrity littered with more yo’s than a Muppet review. In actuality, most of it was probably garbage – but then again, most of it wasn’t Hybrid Theory.

Don’t get me wrong, most of it was trying to be Hybrid Theory, or at least playing with the same cards. Chunk was in, guitarwise, and amidst all the down-tuned chord abuse you could rely on any given radio discovery to lapse into a (usually) misguided and (almost always) mishandled attempt at rap vocals by the songs bridge if things seemed otherwise safe preceding that point. Say what you will about its longevity and relevance, but for a while nü-metal was new, exciting and different. For some of us, particularly those of us tethered to radio diets of the day, that was all we wanted. Some of us were also just young and stupid, with tastes as seasoned and refined as the nascent century, and to an extent it would be unfair to blame our dismally poor unkvlt standards on anything more than inexperience. No matter what your appreciation for nü-metal may have been, you heard it everywhere… then. Much of it has since been shelved by an aging and ashamed audience, its rein on radio reluctantly relinquished to the more straightforward stylings of today’s modern rock – but then again, again, most of it isn’t Hybrid Theory.

If it seems like I’m building up this album a bit, it’s because it bears being built up and given its due gravity. First and foremost: the riffs. ‘Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Muppet? Riffs on a Linkin Park album? But -‘ But fuck you. From the intro of “One Step Closer” to the – wait for it – downright iconic lead melody of “In the End,” Hybrid Theory was positively infested with earworms. While other acts approached the genre with ambitions as low as their sagged jeans, Linkin Park took nü-metal to a place where the music actually mattered; Hybrid Theory was hardly the pinnacle of known musical prowess, but it was also much more than the red-capped gimmick throwing a tantrum1 that comes to many minds when mentioning nü-metal. The music actually mattered on Hybrid Theory; bastion of virtuosity though it may not have been. Every single track on Hybrid Theory brought a signature riff or rhythm of its own to the mix, and that in and of itself put Linkin Park leaps and bounds ahead of their contemporaries and indeed the subgenre itself.

If few among us would deign to defend the instrumental complexities/lack thereof exhibited on Hybrid Theory, lonelier still must be the camp that defends its lyrical prowess. Though a damn sight better than similar minded attempts made by the likes of Limp Bizkit et al, Mike Shinoda’s rap game was hardly hot fiyah compared to those who could really do the damn thing, and it’s not like the late Chester Bennington was drowning listeners with intricate metaphors and allegorical lyrics – and that’s just fuckin fine, yo. Everyone can’t be Mos Def or Maynard James Keenan, and sometimes we don’t need them to be. Some may content themselves to dismiss Linkin Park‘s lyrics – rapped or otherwise – as simplistic angst of negligible merit, but there was an unadulterated honesty to Hybrid Theory‘s to-the-point malcontent that spoke to and for unsuspecting highschoolers listeners just as much then as it does today. Blunt concessions such as ‘I want to run away/ and never say goodbye’ (“Runaway”) and ‘SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!’ (“Closer to the Edge”) testify to mindsets and moments that many of us may eventually outgrow but can relate to almost universally, nonetheless, and such straightforward conduits of basic human emotion are an impressive accomplishment in their own right.

Whether you view the lyrical headspace of Hybrid Theory as misguided youthful rage or else an unrefined narrative on inner turmoil, history unfortunately suggests that the album’s misanthropic musings came from a place of sincerity far removed from the rest of nü-metal’s clown-panted disastery. The emotional weight that hindsight has lent to Hybrid Theory is enough to bestow a certain sense of significance to the album. And the fact that its songs have unfastened their hooks from roughly zero sets of ears after 20 years testifies to how well they’ve aged so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. Part of Linkin Park‘s identity is irrevocably affixed to a time many metalheads would just as soon forget, and it will always be more trve to hate than to appreciate. Indeed, when I casually posited the album for YMiO consideration over hobo wines and roasted N00b ears at the last Angry Metal Mandatory Fun Team Building Exercise, the fracas that ensued would have made GG Allin blush. There were rabbles of discontent, accusations of questionable credibility and more than a couple Steel pies thrown.2

All of this, of course, only strengthens my argument: you don’t have to appreciate it or even like it, but if you’re old enough to be reading this then it’s almost certain that you are familiar with Hybrid Theory and have some strong opinions and associations of your own surrounding it, and in many ways that’s more than can be said for the vast majority of albums in any genre. For better or worse, Linkin Park left a mark on the world with 2000’s Hybrid Theory, one that has withstood two full decades as of time of writing and which doesn’t appear fated to fade anytime terribly soon. No one ever broke their fingers trying to learn its tablature. Nor did anyone ever need to puzzle for hours over what ‘Without a sense of confidence/ I’m convinced that there’s just too much pressure to take/ I’ve felt this way before, so insecure.’ (“Crawling”) could possibly mean, but everyone had something to say about it at the time and most of us still do. Hate all you want, yo’s, but I’ll not have the time of day for your naysaying nonsense until your debut album is up for YMiO consideration.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Who could have ever foreseen that descriptor taking such a drastic turn of conveyance down the road?
  2. Don’t bother asking, you know exactly what’s in them.
« »