With an inimitable fusion of radio rock, nü-metal, hip-hop and electronica, Linkin Park provided the adolescence soundtrack to a generation of post-Clinton era Americans. Beginning with their 2000 debut, Hybrid Theory, the band unabashedly took their influence from rap-rock forefathers like Rage Against the Machine, but never sounded quite like them. They were more emotional than Rage or Limp Bizkit, more fragile despite their often aggressive sound. Fittingly, no one since has sounded quite like Linkin Park, either, and so much of that stems from frontman Chester Bennington, the band’s storied, troubled frontman, who died Thursday at the age of 41.
In the wake of Bennington’s suicide, it’s possible no band will ever sound quite like Linkin Park again. The group cancelled its tour over the weekend, and in a letter posted on Monday morning, it said it didn’t know “what path our future may take.”
When Bennington sang, it could sound like a whine. After all, emo began its great ascent around the same time that Linkin Park made gold, platinum and diamond-selling records. (Yes, literally every album this band released went at least gold, except for One More Light, which has only been available for two months.) But when he howled, the sound seemed to start in his core with low rumblings that would thump and plod and gallop and then stampede—rushing, rising in pitch and physicality all the way up past his chest-piece tattoo to his collar to his throat to us with sweeping, shredding precision. His entire being writhed, curled and arched in tune and in time with the emotion he unleashed.
Songs like “In the End,” off the band’s 2000’s diamond-selling debut Hybrid Theory, encompassed Bennington’s rage-pain and fused it to Linkin Park’s aesthetic. Just watch the video, which depicts Bennington standing at the edge of various precipices. His body contorts while his vocals carry the pre-chorus melody—unflinching save for the subtlest vibrato.
Other songs like Hybrid Theory’s “Crawling” and the slew of hits from 2003’s Meteora including “Somewhere I Belong,” “Numb” and “Breaking the Habit” continued this trend defiantly. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, anger was still the prevailing emotion in popular music, and Bennington gave kids of the era (especially those living in suburbs and rural areas) a place to channel that rage and a justification for feeling it in the first place.
As those kids grew up, though, the songs of predominantly white angst seemed to resonate less and less. The country changed, radio changed. Linkin Park evolved musically from one album to the next, but their role as a megaphone for frustrated white youth never really did. Many never knew about the awful abuse Chester endured as a child or his own fight for sobriety as an adult as those songs permeated airwaves and MTV in the early 2000s. The power of “Somewhere I Belong” was that the song itself belonged to both pubescent millennials seeking acceptance in junior high school and full-fledged adults roiling in existentialism.
As those same youngins rose in ranks as the new class of tastemakers and cultural gatekeepers, they came to derive great joy in deriding both the nü-metal era and the genre’s most publicly recognized sons, Linkin Park, for losing the thread of the cultural conversation.
Still, the band pushed forward relentlessly. They released Minutes to Midnight in 2007 (“What I’ve Done,” “Shadow of the Day), A Thousand Suns in 2010 (“The Catalyst,’ “Waiting for the End”), Living Things in 2012 (“Burn It Down,” “Castle of Glass”) and The Hunting Party in 2014 (“Until the End,” “Final Masquerade”), all of which earned commercial success without sacrificing artistic integrity. Plus, their collaborations with Jay-Z (2004’s Collision Course remix LP) and covers ranging from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” to Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” showcased a musicality that was often ignored or chided—that is, if it even penetrated the invisible threshold of those of us suddenly pretending that we were living Meet Me in the Bathroom through the mid-to-late-aughts.
As they settled in to their cozy corporate-rock environs with arenas full of fans around the world, Linkin Park became, to some, the antithesis of cool. Maybe their songs no longer made sense to us as we found our places in music and the world, or maybe the band’s time in the center of the zeitgeist had simply passed. It’s never easy straddling two centuries, even when you’re singing about universal emotions like alienation and hurt. But even as they got further and further from the small California band that galvanized a pre-9/11 American culture, Bennington and Linkin Park never stopped meaning something to someone—in fact, to millions and millions of someones. And if that’s not the reason for making art in the first place, then what is?