Album Review: Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns




If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky,
that would be like
the splendor of the Mighty One—
I am become Death, the shatterer of Worlds.

~ Robert Jungk, 1954 (from Brighter Than A Thousand Suns)

What if I told you that a band whose claims to fame include riding the ’00 rap-rock wave, mash-ups with Jay-Z, a phenomenal remix record, a semi-pro rap side project, and some of MTV’s most memorable music videos in recent memory, had now reached an echelon where Kid A can be drawn as a respectable analogous vehicle? Linkin Park has officially been reinvented as a musical mechanization of house beats, synthesizers, optimist-driven pop, rap boasts, artful piano-laden segues, and political sound bites.

The disaster that was Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen spawned what later bridges the gap in sound shifts by Linkin Park titled “The Great Divide”. The tone and accompanying video were an electronic distillation, an attempt to break form while retaining a hit single. I don’t know what was spilled upon the studio circuitry between this and A Thousand Suns, I don’t know if perhaps Mr. Hahn became Mr. Hyde and the Chester Bennington/Mike Shinoda complex had spun off into the future via black holes in their foot lockers. What is certain can be narrowed down to one simple truth: This is Linkin Park 2.0 — we have broken the threshold, and all’s well.

Enter “The Requiem” and “The Radiance”; one surpasses introductory tracks like Meteora‘s “Foreword” or Midnight‘s “Wake”, engrossing the listener in sonic textures and a choir girl; the second, a haunting and static-stricken quote from famous nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (see: Manhattan Project). “Burning In The Skies” follows the prelude with vibrant post-apocalyptic lyrics via piano and a Bennington/Shinoda duet sans rap:

I used the deadwood to make the fire rise
The blood of innocence burning in the skies
I filled my cup with the rising of the sea
I poured it out in an ocean of debris

I’m swimming in the smoke
Of bridges I have burned
So don’t apologize
I’m losing what I don’t deserve

We held our breath when the clouds began to form
But you were lost in the beating of the storm
And in the end we were made to be apart
The separate chambers of the human heart

Segue snippet “Empty Spaces” transitions from the calm of a cricket chirp nightfall to bombs going off before “When They Come For Me” introduces tribal drums, robotic guitars, and Shinoda’s stab at critics meshed with an homage to his rap heroes, namely Public Enemy and Notorious B.I.G.; the lyrics, while not the most elaborate, are biting and ferocious, sewn into bombast by keyboards, rallying cries, and a potent Bennington chant at the bridge. Cut immediately to “Robot Boy”, a statement on the essence of humanity and fervent optimism; it is culled straight from Meteora‘s sound-scape through and through, but Bennington’s radiant vocals and the track’s slick techno production bring appropriate sheen to an otherwise basic beat.

A fade out in segue track “Jornada Del Muerto” ushers in the pomposity of Joe Hahn and drummer Rob Bourdon’s cohesion on the break-beat of “Waiting For The End”; alternating between Shinoda’s rap cadence of sorts and Bennington’s improved vocal range, all in all building a truly inspirational song, despite the venue in which it is presented. Come “Blackout”, we put early Linkin Park on display in a mish-mosh of Hybrid and Meteora with enough electronic distortions and pacing in Mr. Hahn’s signature turntable efforts to accentuate Shinoda and Bennington’s role reversal; one-third Chester’s rapping and screaming gets rehashed into one-third straight DJ skills before Shinoda finishes it off on a somber note. Dynamic, three-dimensional, and determined.

“Wretches And Kings”, notable as the angriest song on the album, features Mario Savio’s famous “Bodies Upon The Gears” protest speech book-ending a straight up rap-rock revival on heavy guitar from Brad Delson and bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell. From then on, we receive: the late Martin Luther King, Jr. on “Wisdom, Justice, And Love” as what sounds in parts like Microsoft Sam resurrecting the good reverend; a synth-pop/piano track titled “Iridescent”, which feels like a plea for prosperity; “Fallout” reiterating the message from “Burning In The Skies” vocoder-style before rising into the crescendo of “The Catalyst”. In its entirety, if not for the clash of closing track “The Messenger” killing continuity, there would be a solid cyclical nature to A Thousand Suns.

Jordy Klasko of Review Rinse Repeat said it best (and I quote), that this is “an ALBUM. It is not a collection of songs.” Every iota of static, every ounce of heart, every shadow of electronic shimmer on A Thousand Suns serves to link, what is essentially, nine songs out of 15 numbered tracks. Is this high-minded? No. Is this Linkin Park neck-deep in marketable singles? No. A Thousand Suns is seamless in its chaos, social and political criticisms, and mentality. Linkin Park is not well-known for lyrical depth; Midnight had its perks, despite being as commercial as Meteora with more weight on guitar, yet the lyrics still took something of a creative backseat. A Thousand Suns might be a drastic shift in sound for LP, but the fans and the haters alike should be impressed. This is a solid record that hits the mark on nearly every possible level allotted it.

Unlike the starkly bleak Kid A, A Thousand Suns is a concept of  hope, incarnated into clarity (“Burning In The Skies”, “Waiting For The End”), resilience (“Robot Boy”, “Iridescent”), and rebellion (“When They Come For Me”, “Wretches And Kings”, “Blackout”); A Thousand Suns is the more accessible component to your everyday technological lifestyle. If this was the band’s sincere attempt to create art from articulate, abstract sounds, I buy it; not sure how much of it was Rick Rubin’s doing, but it most certainly succeeded. To register this completely, Linkin Park has done a complete turnaround, going from still-stigmatic rap and rock to a more widely defended blend of Radiohead and Reznor — elements of industrial pop, house music, and cerebral audio can be virtually milked from all this effort has to offer.

Some might argue this new sound is posturing, complete mutation to the point of absurdity; in the band’s associated artwork and videos, evolution has been touted from day one. In essence, Linkin Park has been chasing this all along, and now it has become tangible, complete. Minutes To Midnight was a single-riddled album that veered away from pure angst and into moderately heavy rock standards and nu-metal with sprinkles of electricity, but A Thousand Suns is the polar opposite. Not an album, but an experience with layers upon layers of synth and love. Let there be light.