Hybrid Theory is undoubtedly one of the most iconic rock albums of the 21st century and today celebrates its 20th anniversary. Linkin Park came onto the scene in the late 90s around the same time as the birth of Nu-Metal, and by the time their debut album Hybrid Theory was released in 2000 the genre was well underway with the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot all gaining commercial success with Nu-Metal albums. Linkin Park offered something different though – they had not just one but two incredibly talented frontmen in Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, who sadly passed away in 2017, and I think this coupled with the industrial-rock/rap combination is what allowed the band to take the genre to new heights and made them stand out from the crowd.
Over the course of their career Linkin Park have veered away from rap-rock to test out a variety of different genres, a sensible move given Nu-Metal became less fashionable around the mid-00s. Hybrid Theory has maintained its critical acclaim over the years though and continues to receive the recognition it deserves. As I am sure you can imagine, choosing five favourite tracks from this fantastic album was no easy task, but here they are:
5. With You
With You has actually snuck into the top 5 at the last minute – Runaway had the fifth spot for a while but I just felt that it was too similar to one of the other songs on the list (no spoilers…) so has unfortunately been booted out! I’m a huge fan of With You too though – the sampling and distorted bass at the beginning are fantastic, and I love that both Bennington and Shinoda feature in the chorus, which is not seen that often throughout the album. Shinoda’s melodic rapping over the top of Bennington’s sustained ‘I’m With You’ is amazing.
Crawling is the closest track to a ballad on Hybrid Theory, which you wouldn’t guess from the gravelly screams and heavy guitar in the chorus, but it’s a really emotional song and you can sense the pain in Chester’s voice in this track. Chester is so honest about his demons and the pain he was feeling in this song, and I don’t find it hard to believe that he found it difficult perform. The call and response between Chester and Mike in the pre-chorus is excellent too. Really great track.
3. One Step Closer
Warner Bros. were initially sceptical of Linkin Park’s rap-rock sound, which is surprising given it wasn’t a new or unsuccessful concept, but it’s therefore no surprise that One Step Closer was first single from Hybrid Theory. Of all the tracks on the album, One Step Closer is the least representative of the overall sound with Chester singing throughout and a more traditional rock drum beat, but that by no means it’s not brilliant. With its undeniably catchy chorus One Step Closer is one of the biggest anthems on the album and one of my favourites.
Papercut epitomises Hybrid Theory; it shows listeners from the off what Linkin Park was all about and is the perfect choice to open the album. It’s one of the more fast-paced songs on the Hybrid Theory and has a drop towards the start big enough to make anyone want to head-bang. Papercut demonstrates just how naturally the two genres can gel, it sees Mike Shinoda at the top of his game in the verses, and it also includes one of my favourite lines from Chester with the haunting ‘beneath my skin’ at the end of the choruses.
1. In The End
Could the top spot really have been taken by any other track? In The End has one of the most memorable verses of all time thanks to Shinoda and his slick rapping, but the piano melody is also one of the most simple yet beautiful piano melodies to feature on a rock song. It’s a timeless masterpiece that feels as relevant now as it always has done. I also love that it demonstrates the diversity of Chester’s incredible voice, with his vocals switching effectively between soft singing and powerful screaming. It’s no surprise that this is Linkin Park’s most successful song and it still holds up as one of the best rock songs of all time.
Listening to Hybrid Theory from start to finish again has reminded me just how incredible Chester was; he was such a talented artist and I am incredibly grateful to have seen one of his last live performances in 2017. His passing really is one of the biggest tragedies in recent times and I don’t know what the future holds for the band. Whatever direction the band goes in, I’ll always be thankful for the music they created with Chester Bennington.