In the wake of Chester Bennington’s death, I’ve seen a lot of tributes to Linkin Park’s first two records. Hybrid Theory and Meteora are standouts in the nu-metal genre, and most millennials will tell you that Bennington’s ferocious vocals provided a much-needed outlet to anyone sad, angry, or suffering. I’ve been moved by the countless stories from my friends of how his music helped them through their struggles in middle and high school.
I found Bennington’s music just as meaningful, but I didn’t get into Linkin Park until I was on my way out of high school. A friend offered me a ticket to see them on the 2012 Honda Civic Tour, following the release of their fifth album, Living Things. The show was, in a word, incredible. Bennington gave one of the most intense and impressive vocal performances I’ve ever seen, going even harder on stage than he did in the studio. I left wondering what I’d been missing all the years before.
When I looked back, I found myself drawn to Linkin Park’s post-metal career. What the heavy stuff had done for my friends in early adolescence, the softer rock and pop did for me in the transition out of high school and into college. In these later albums, the band’s sound went through many shifts, but Linkin Park never stopped making earnest music and Bennington’s voice continued to serve as a source of hope in trying times. I don’t know anything about who he was as a person, but here are a few songs that made me happy to be alive over the years.
Waiting for the End (from A Thousand Suns, 2010)
All I want to do
Is trade this life for something new
Holding on to what I haven’t got
This song is one of the most upbeat in Linkin Park’s catalog. Though it mourns what can’t be controlled in life, it finds the silver lining in loss, looking instead to the promise of a new beginning. The rhythm is buoyant, and Bennington’s hook is downright triumphant. On top of all that, “Waiting for the End” shows off his considerable chops as a pop vocalist, soaring over the instrumental as only he could.
Roads Untravelled (from Living Things, 2012)
Weep not for roads untraveled
Weep not for sights unseen
May your love never end and if you need a friend,
There’s a seat here alongside me
Part ballad and part hymn, “Roads Untraveled” complements the dual lead vocals of Bennington and bandmate Mike Shinoda with heavy, melancholy piano chords. It feels like a three minute 44 second distillation of what the band is about; speaking the truth of life’s difficulty while offering a hand to hold through it. Though they’re often pigeonholed for making music that appeals to adolescents, Bennington and Linkin Park developed a mature sense of melody and emotionalism, seen here on full display.
Iridescent (from A Thousand Suns, 2010)
Do you feel cold and lost in desperation?
You build up hope, but failure’s all you’ve known
Remember all the sadness and frustration
And let it go
A Thousand Suns is an album that deals with themes of war and destruction, and all the cruelty humans are capable of. Lyrically, “Iridescent” opens on bleak scenes of disaster, but Bennington and Shinoda don’t go there without offering a way out. There’s no minimizing the hurt that you’ve endured, but there is life beyond it. It’s another of the band’s well-executed piano ballads, and it builds to an empowering refrain: “Let it go.”
The Messenger (from A Thousand Suns, 2010)
When you’ve suffered enough
And your spirit is breaking
You’re growing desperate from the fight
Remember you’re loved
And you always will be
This melody will bring you right back home
Bennington is at his most raw and vulnerable on “The Messenger,” a song that features his bare, almost-screamed vocals over acoustic guitar and piano. It closes A Thousand Suns with a reminder that as much hate as there is in the world, there is also love worth living for. The song beautifully exemplifies the album’s duality, gentle and rough in the same compassionate package.
What I’ve Done (from Minutes to Midnight, 2007)
I start again
And whatever pain may come
Today this ends
I’m forgiving what I’ve done
It wouldn’t be right to talk about Chester Bennington’s career without acknowledging one of Linkin Park’s most iconic singles. The track definitely suffered from overexposure, but while many derided its lyrics as whiny self-flagellation, it’s a great example of the band’s forward-looking catharsis. Self-improvement begins with recognizing, admitting, and ultimately forgiving your failures, and Bennington brings listeners into that process with an unabashedly intimate performance. I recommend belting this one out with him sometime–it can be powerfully cleansing.