Sunday, September 12, 2010

Album Review: Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (4/5)

I've never considered myself a Linkin Park fan. I enjoyed "In the End," but never gave them much thought after that. But yesterday I saw that their new album A Thousand Suns was available to preview on MySpace, so I decided to give it a go. And I actually quite liked it. So this morning I downloaded and listened to all the band's major hits, and then I wondered why I'd never paid them much attention before. I suppose I was turned off by the rap/metal label, as I'm not really into either. But their music isn't really that, or at least it isn't anymore, having turned into dark, melodic, layered rock.

The album has 15 tracks, but 6 of those are interludes, so there's really only 9 songs over a fairly compact 48-minute running time. Sings a distorted female voice over the introduction, "The Requiem": "God save us everyone while we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns for the sins of our end, sins of our tongue, the sins of our father, the sins of our young." "The Radiance" follows with a snippet of a speech by Robert Oppenheimer, director of the World War II project to develop the atomic bomb, in which Oppenheimer quoted Hindu scripture in reference to his and others reactions to their achievement ("'now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds' I supposed we all thought that, one way or another"). These brief tracks set up the first song, "Burning in the Skies," a bracing piano and guitar driven song that isn't quite as epic as this setup would lead you to believe, but it's decent.

"Empty Spaces" contributes briefly the sounds of a battlefield before the second song, "When They Come for Me," an ominous, beat heavy rocker with rapped verses. I assume this is Mike Shinoda, the band's rapper, who appears less frequently than the band's other vocalist, singer Chester Bennington, who also gets his moment on this song, as the song's melody climbs and layers with Muse-like keyboard lines. "Robot Boy" is slower, but still has a heavy sound, led by piano over layers of electronic effects, beats, claps, etc. Bennington has a such a sweet voice for the leader of a metal/rap band, which is processed out to be smooth as peanut butter here. From older songs I know he can really belt it out when he wants, but he's pretty restrained on most of this album.

"Jornada del Muerto" (route of the dead man) is another interlude before "Waiting for the End," which vascillates between quiet moments with Bennington and louder ones with multiple vocalists and a funky beat. It's relative quiet contrasts with the raspy, angry vocal of "Blackout," which sounds like a throwback to the band's old days. Later the vocal becomes more normal and a synth and piano based melody comes to the fore. "Wretches and Kings" is also old school Linkin Park, a beat-driven rap with fuzzy guitars and record scratches, albeit peppered with excerpts from Mario Savio's Marxist speech about stopping the levers and gears of the "odious" machine.

A twisted quote from Martin Luther King (not that what he said was twisted, but that his voice is distorted until it sounds like an angry robot) leads into "Iridescent," a stadium-ready big ballad imploring those with sadness and frustration to just "let it go." More robot voices on "Fallout" transition to current hit single "The Catalyst," which has a great build up before the first chorus, where it really lets loose with a great blend of layered beats, keyboards, guitars, and other sounds. "The Messenger" is a surprising closer. After all the densely layered studiocraft, this song is just Bennington singing with acoustic guitar and a little piano. He really gives it his all here, and I feel like I should be singing along to his "oh-ahh-oh" ending.

A Thousand Suns is an interesting album, with some really epic moments of rock grandeur. And I don't mind the few songs that include a little rap, despite what I said earlier.

Best: When They Come for Me, Robot Boy, The Catalyst, Waiting for the End

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