“Hybrid Theory”, the debut album from Linkin Park, is another one of those albums that just completely captivated me upon its release. I remember that my friend Barrett burned me a copy on a gold CD, and said, somewhat jokingly, “I think you will like this a lot, but whoever wrote these songs has some issues”. Sadly, we learned eventually that it was no joke, and in 2017 we lost singer and key creative force Chester Bennington to suicide. I will never forget how impactful this album was for me. Simplistically, it seemingly blended hard guitar rock with hip-hop, and although they weren’t the first to make that connection, the melodic choruses and chord progressions on this album were remarkably infectious. Released in late 2000, this was the #1 selling album of 2001, and many of the songs remain radio mainstays to this day.
The album is front-end loaded with the best songs on this record, and the first eight in a row are all big favorites of mine. Even though it wasn’t the biggest hit on the record, the lead-off tune “Papercut” will always be my favorite among the favorites. Starting with its quirky beat and a precarious single riff, buried under the intense chords from Brad Delson on guitar, we are first introduced to the vocal duo of Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington. Shinoda covers the rapping, along with the keyboards and most of the electronic production, while Bennington is full-on with his rage singing. This song has such a great build, and the ride to the end on the outro of this song is amazing to me.
The paranoia continues to build with “One Step Closer”, which is truly Bennington on the edge. I love not only the guitars, but the booming, box-like drums on “With You”, and the hook on this song is just as present as the other early tunes on this album. “Points of Authority” is an excellent combination of electric rhythm and crunchy chords, and Bennington shines once again. In particular, these first four songs are about as strong of an opening to an album as I have heard in a long time.
The pace slows, then accelerates again as Bennington cries out again on “Crawling”. I love how this pace repeatedly flips the switch between an almost-terrified and lost ballad and an explosive scream for help. This alteration of pace continues on “Runaway”, and sometimes I forget about this one in the rush of the first five tracks. “By Myself” is probably the rawest and most intense song on the album; it certainly is from a vocal perspective. The hauntingly sad piano opening of “In the End” bleeds into a great vocal give-and-take between Bennington & Shinoda, and this might be the most popular song from this powerful collection of songs. I don’t always make it to the last four songs, and I don’t find any of them to be quite as memorable. In kind, none of them are among the singles released from the album, but they play out the theme and sound of the album very consistently.
In the early 2000s, I didn’t have the time, attention span or bandwidth to stay on board with a new act like Linkin Park, so even though I enjoyed subsequent releases and tracks they produced, I slowly lost some connectivity with their recording and touring. I would have liked to witness them live at their peak and understand how they successfully incorporated all of the sampling and digital instrumentation into a live show. This album will always be one of my all-time favorites, and I was and am grateful for another friend who took the time to help me preserve my fragile connection to the world of modern rock music.