What He’s Done: A Look Back at Chester Bennington
Linkin Park was probably the first band I owned every album from, and for years I went around saying they were my favorite. There had been successful nu metal before them, but Linkin Park was so much more focused and blunt in their musicianship and writing, yet oddly polished in their mixing and songcraft, and it resonated deeply with a lot of us who were not yet emotionally mature, making them one of the biggest stars of the new millennia. The fact that several of their songs became jokes (“Crawling,” especially) is testament to how committed they were; they didn’t hide anything in their songs, even where many others would have.
None of this would be possible without Chester. He was one of the best screamers in nu metal, and even proved himself to be a capable singer when the band shifted to arena-rock and atmospheric electronica. Moreover, his angst felt like it came from a place of real trauma, and while he wasn’t the first nu metal frontman who tried to relate to his audience, he wasn’t hindered by a whiny tone of voice and abrasive personality like Fred Durst, and his band didn’t come across as trying too hard to sound edgy and sinister like Jonathan Davis’s often did. Having seen Linkin Park live back in 2014, I was amazed at how polished their mixing and audio was; each member sounded clear and powerful, especially Chester, each of them got their own moment to really shine, and it’s still probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. This was a band where everyone contributed, and their denser work was always their most enjoyable. One needn’t look further than their most recent record to see how quickly things fell apart when it only felt like Chester and Mike were contributing anything in their performances. Without Chester there is no Linkin Park, but without Linkin Park there is no Chester.
But enough about my thoughts on the Linkin Park; I want to talk about Chester’s thoughts on his musical legacy. An artist’s favorite and least favorite song from his own discography is always fascinating, and Chester’s picks are very revealing of both his and Linkin Park’s awkward relationship with fans and nu metal. His favorite song? “Breaking the Habit.” His least favorite song? “One Step Closer.” From these picks, we get an idea that Chester felt torn between songs he wanted to make and songs he felt like he had to make to satisfy a suddenly massive fan base.
Chester has stated his dislike for “One Step Closer” stems from the infamous, “Shut up when I’m talking to you” scream during the bridge, but I suspect it runs a little deeper than that. It was the first single off their debut HYBRID THEORY, a record that would go on to be album most people associate with nu metal. Chester had regularly told people to get over that album and “f*** nu metal,” and I would go so far as to say he somewhat resented its success. His label and the massive army of angry white boys with Tapout logos on their hats wanted him to make HYBRID THEORY over and over again for the rest of his career. Throughout all of Linkin Park’s albums, he had to cater to their needs in one form or another through songs like “Blackout” or “Lies Greed Misery” that simplify the band’s angst and interrupt their vision just to get back the attention of HYBRID die-hards. It’s part of why I think “Breaking the Habit” resonates so much with him, and why I personally really enjoyed THE HUNTING PARTY; they felt like projects Chester wanted to make, reflecting his love for older, simpler forms of rock and metal as well as underground hip hop and industrial metal without having to bend the knee and inject some diseased, half-hearted fan service into the mix.
Do Linkin Park and Chester deserve the scorn and laughter they’ve earned over the years? It’s all subjective, but here’s a more interesting question: is it hyperbole to call Chester Bennington the voice of a generation? Seeing the reaction to his suicide certainly indicates otherwise. Everyone my age or slightly older seems to have their own little affair with Linkin Park in one way or another that they’re all slightly ashamed of yet will never forget; our Editor-in-Chief took to Facebook to announce how he cried listening to “Shadow of the Day” whenever girls didn’t like him in seventh grade, and several others commented in agreement. Chester delivered some of the most iconic lines of the 21st century, and I think he and the band were unfairly shackled with a genre tag that instantly earned him hate and scorn. The more distance we have between us and the trends that they built their sound off of, the more Chester and Linkin Park are going to be appreciated.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. While on my drive home from work today, the alternative radio station was of course playing a bunch of Linkin Park songs, including ones from their most recent record, ONE MORE LIGHT. When they played the title track and closer to the album, it literally chilled me to my very bone.
“If they say / Who cares if one more light goes out? / In a sky of a million stars / It flickers, flickers / Who cares when someone’s time runs out? / If a moment is all we are / We’re quicker, quicker / Who cares if one more light goes out? / Well I do”
Indeed I do, and I am relieved to see many others joining together to honor one more massive, angry, passionate, frustrated, iconic light as well.