Linkin Park are back. It's been three years since their last album was released and it seems as if the California band are steering their music in a different direction, both lyrically and sonically, and some critics aren't happy about it.
"I do not care about holding the flag for rock," says Mike Shinoda of the recent negative press he and his band have received, especially when discussing lead single Heavy from their upcoming seventh album One More Light. Talking to IBTimes UK at Warner Music's London studio, he said: "I grew up a hip hop kid. I like rock music too. I like pop music too. I like electronic music too. In fact, we even wrote with some country writers on this record.
"I think [the reason some of our new music isn't as heavy as in previous years is] more to do with what we're listening to right now. I mean we could have put power chords and live drums under every one of these songs if we wanted to but I'm just not feeling that type of music right now. That's all."
Famed for their brand of rap-rock that hears bars and harmonies mixed with heavy guitar riffs, their music has always been popular – the band's debut album Hybrid Theory has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide – but it's never really been pop... that is until now.
Growth is something all human beings strive for, especially when it comes to creativity, which is why it's surprising many critics have been quick to jump on Heavy and paint it with a negative brush so quickly simply because it lacks a traditional rock riff or doesn't feature any screaming. A similar thing happened to Limp Bizkit. Think back to when they released Behind Blue Eyes. Critics lost their minds because Fred Durst was singing and the song was missing the raw and razor-sharp aggression that originally put them on the map, but over time it became one of their most iconic and requested songs at shows.
Continuing to discuss negative press, Shinoda recounts a recent interview and highlights how sometimes journalists are too quick to dismiss something without looking at it from all angles. "We were being interviewed and the journalist was giving us a hard time," he says. "She was asking things like, 'Why are there no loud guitars on it? Why is there no screaming?' And she just kept asking and asking. So I asked her, 'What do you think of rock right now? How's rock doing?' Her response was, 'If I have a criticism of rock right now it's that it's not very innovative.' And I looked at her like, 'Oh, really?' She went pale and went, 'Oh. Ohhhhhh.' My whole point is that if you wanna push rock forward or whatever – if that's your thing – then you're going to have to expand your horizons.
"I'm a student of the craft of writing a good song. I don't write a good song 100% of the time. I also don't write a song with a marketing plan in mind. It's not a sonic motivation it's a conceptional one, and more importantly it's an emotional artistic motivation to me.
"And more than that sometimes I just make a dope beat and I wanna do something with it. If it strikes me as exciting and entertaining I've learned to just kinda go with it and see where it takes me and try not to manhandle it and force it into a thing. Because sometimes the most interesting direction is contrary to what the obvious solution is."
Listening to One More Light it's obvious from the jump that it's no Hybrid Theory, no Meteora, and no Minutes to Midnight. In fact, it's not even close. Instead it's a brave step away from what they're known for. Sonically it shows growth. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but that's the beauty of music: it's subjective, it's personal, and it's up to the creator to do with what they like.
It's so personal in fact that it looks very closely at the real-life struggles of the band's co-frontman, Chester Bennington, who overcame a very serious drink and drug problem thanks in part to an intervention from his bandmates.
"There were different situations when it came to the more difficult stuff I was writing about on this album," he admits. "One was watching my friend go through the awful shit he was going through, and it's hard because you care for your friend. I mean Chester was having the worst time so I was just trying to help him. Also we're in the band together so if he's having a bad time that affects me, that affects us all.
"Then on top of that we had a friend from the label who has worked with us for a long time pass away. Then the little things pile up. Like there's a leak at the house. I had the wall in my kitchen torn apart because a pipe burst, you know? We had ants in the cereal. These are dumb things but that's what 'Heavy' is about. 'Heavy' is about all the really serious bad shit that happened and then all of the medium bad stuff and then all the dumb small bad stuff."
Claiming he once felt like he was unworthy to write about other people's struggles because he wasn't going through them himself, Shinoda has since changed his tune: "When I listened to early Alice in Chains, Dirt especially, I was like, 'This guy is a drug addict! He is deeply fucked up!' There's a part of you that goes, 'He deserves to sing those songs.' And Chester has an element of that. There was a time where I was like, 'Oh, I can't sing about anything like that because I'm not dealing with what they're dealing with.' But I realised, no, you don't have to be going through the world's worst trauma you just need to be going through something that's actually real, and it's real to me that my friend is having a really bad time and I wanna write something about what it's like being me and having a friend that's dealing with something horrible."
Linkin Park's new album One More Light is out now via Warner Bros. Records.
Will Lavin is a hip-hop music and lifestyle Specialist of 10 years. A 2015 IMC Award winner, he's written for publications such as VIBE, XXL, Complex and Blues & Soul. He's worked with artists such as Chaka Khan, Timbaland, will.i.am. and Chris Brown. He also runs illwill.co.uk.