Throughout the countless times I’ve listened to Linkin Park’s sophomore album, 2003’s Meteora, I always felt it was a companion to 2000’s Hybrid Theory. Not in the sense that there’s a continuance of a storyline or anything of that nature. The themes of loneliness, longing, and wanting to break away are still present – if not more defined.
Rather than completely turn away from the rap/rock/electronic foundation, Linkin Park leaned into it. The band became more confident, building upon the foundation their 12x times platinum debut paved the way for.
With Hybrid Theory, the entry point was the confident ‘Papercut.” In Meteora, the glass break of “Foreward” leads into the big guitars, percussion, and scratching from Joe Hahn. The first voice you hear is from the late great vocalist Chester Bennington – who effortlessly shifts from clean and unclean proclamations of wanting to leave a particular relationship.
From there, it’s an immediate shift into the first single from the album, “Somewhere I Belong.” The sample is from a chord progression that Bennington plays where vocalist/guitarist Mike Shinoda and Hahn reworked it into the beginning (in LP fashion). Where “In The End” felt like a sad ending, “Somewhere I Belong” provides a case of optimism through a sonic wall of sound.
The intricate and fun use of sampling as a point of entry continues in songs such as “Lying From You,” “Faint,” “Figure.09,” and “Nobody’s Listening.” The ability of Shinoda and Bennington to play off of one another through their rapping and singing call-and-catch responses. Brad Delson’s guitar cuts through the landscape like a knife while Rob Bourdon’s drumming and Dave “Phoenix” Farrell’s bass elevates the track up a notch.
“Faint” is an example of the entire vortex of Linkin Park’s creativity coming together on one track. “Figure.09” boasts one of the most infectious choruses throughout the 13-song speed run. “Nobody’s Listening” has the biggest hip-hop influence in the entire album, where Shinoda takes the lead. It makes more sense when you look toward the future and see how his Fort Minor project progressed after this album cycle was finished. The two crowning jewels of Meteora deviate from the script a bit – “Breaking The Habit” and “Easier To Run.”
“Breaking The Habit” features a quiet guitar chord that runs along programming and is heightened by electronic strings. Everything serves a purpose to make Bennington’s voice feel as though he’s singing his heart out in an open concert hall. “Easier To Run” alternates between harder edge parts and a quietness where Shinoda and Bennington ruminate over past shortcomings. “From The Inside” does this as well - first, drawing you in with a slight melodic loop until the song itself explodes around you.
If there’s one crowning achievement that you can note for Linkin Park in this era, it’s that the band knows how to place things like a puzzle box. Bennington’s screams come at the right moment. Shinoda’s raps give different feels to songs – mixing genres and perspectives. There is a lot of instrumentation going on, but not busy to the point where the audience can’t vibe with it.
“Session” and “Numb” are the exit ramps to Meteora and this era of the band. Where “Cure for the Itch” was a bit more playful, “Session” is an instrumental that opts for a slightly darker tone. Shinoda weaves around an MPC while Hahn joins in later to provide his stamp with turntable cuts.
The entire album narrative concludes with “Numb,” a powerful ode to a reoccurring theme within Meteora - this needs to make a clean break from a situation or person’s unreasonable expectations.
Hybrid Theory was the rage soundtrack to many people’s youth. Meteora helped us sift through the damage, make sense of it all, and not be so hard on ourselves. The reason why albums like this stand the test of time is that you can recall the exact moment when you heard them.
Maybe you screamed along to Bennington’s bridge on “From The Inside” or can recall seeing the video for “Somewhere I Belong.” Linkin Park could have gone for a more formulaic venture, but elected to fine-tune who they were musically and personally.
The five songs released within the 20th-anniversary edition of the album, for starters, serve a painful reminder that Bennington is no longer with us. Secondly, songs like “Fighting Myself,” “Lost,” and “Healing Foot” sound like a band enjoying what the essence of Meteora would become.
As the story would have it, Linkin Park would take a four-year break between albums. Bennington would form a band named Death By Sunrise, and Shinoda would make a mixtape and album as Fort Minor. Work was done on the band’s third album, Minutes To Midnight, in 2003, but was shelved once Linkin Park started working with producer Rick Rubin. While Minutes To Midnight is a significant departure from their previous sound, Meteora felt like unfinished business that needed to be taken care of.