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Minutes To Midnight Review

May 15, 2007 - My problem with Linkin Park has always been their sound. It leans toward being dry and unemotional; delivering stoically detached resonance that leaves me feeling empty and unsatisfied. I've always wished they'd flesh out their sound a bit more, delve just a little deeper into the low-end and groove to give some added sonic depth to their proceedings. They may very well have been reading my thought transmissions this time around, which would be cool and a wee bit scary at the same time.

The first thing you notice from the opening instrumental "Wake" is that not only does it seem fitting in relation to the album's title—yes, it's atmospherically indicative of the minutes leading up to the proverbial Witching Hour—is that it's richly nuanced and not at all like the flat sounding excursions of their past. Ditto for the blitzkrieg that is "Given Up," the first bona fide song featuring a resurrected Chester B. on vocal chord wrenching utterances. Okay, so this track kind of falls victim to the post-Nu Metal fall-out combined with screamo backlash and aggressive emo tendencies, but still despite the routine nature of much of the song it still packs a wallop and offers up some intriguing shifts in musicality, specifically the wonderfully turgid bass blast.

The LP boys continue to wrestle with their past sound while making a few inroads towards a new entity on "Leave Out All The Rest," a veritable ballad, at least in LP molting out of their old Nu Metal skin formulaicy. Bennington reveals that he has a lovely voice when he's not busy concealing the fact underneath feedback and acid drenched intensity. The cool harmonic introduction to the track again hints at a sonic makeover, as do the side shifting elements of ambiance. The click track rhythms and bubbly bass also echo with minimalistic electronic bliss, which is a nice, warm shift in tone for the band. Yet underneath the rippling elements of a new sound it is revealed that the band is still very much tethered to their past, the song conforming to a number of LP blueprints. But hey, you can't expect a band to change that drastically overnight. That would be unrealistic.

With "Bleed It Out" the band kicks out an almost U2 sounding guitar skirmish while Mike Shinoda kicks the verbal ballistics. The addition of handclaps helps propel the track into one of the better raps that MH has lit to tape. Even when Chester drops in with his scratchy voice of pain and anguish chorus it still sounds fresh and mile ahead of their past rap-meet-aggro rock machinations. Yeah, it still follows the LP style book in that it flips from rap to screaming mimi theatrics in measured aplomb, but it sounds better than any of their previously like-minded efforts of this nature. A lot of this has to do with the overall sound, which feels richer and warmer, albeit in LP terms (meaning it's still not all that rich and warm, but its head and tails more fleshed out than they have every sounded before).

"Shadow Of The Day" starts out not quite unlike a vintage Nine Inch Nails number as a shuffling syncopation drift echoes with ebb and flow in-between minimalist electro washes. Then Chester enters the mix and the track takes a decidedly U2 turn, both vocally and spiritually as he croons (yes, croons) in lilting harmony "and the sun will set for you/the sun will set for you/and the shadow of the day/will embrace the world in grey/and the sun will set for you…" It's an unusually uplifting moment for the band even though it showcases them still searching for a new voice that transcends their obvious influences (think Bono).

Piano, clanking ambiance, and reverb rhythms set the tone for "What I've Done," which quickly dives into guitar driven crunch that parts its skirling waters enough to let Bennington's clean vocals sift through the mix that is given added scratchmatic enhancement. This track essentially takes all the elements of past LP tunes and turns them into a gentler, more mature endeavor that comes off like aggressive balladeering aimed at the older set (i.e. your mom might find this an appealing number).

Church like organ fills waft over the opening of "Hands Held High" which then introduces militaristic march inclined snares over which Mike Shinoda pumps his fists in a strangely aggressive quietude, showing that his rhyme scheme has risen several levels since their last effort. Chester's ecclesiastical "amen" chorus only adds to the strange, ethereal vibe. "No More Sorrow" begins with searing crystalline guitar, then the shattergun bass and drums burst in with riot squad intensity turning the number into a shifting Metallicaesque rampage that burns with liquid metal. Yeah you've heard it before, but you'll still snap your neck to the churning cadence.

"Valentine's Day" returns to the harmonic styled guitar filters over which Bennington delivers a raspy whisper. The melancholy is deep, even despite the treacley nature of the subject matter (being alone on Valentine's Day). The somber tone is carried over into "In Between," in which Mike Shinoda sings with a crisply soft baritone over a simple clacking rhythm and stripped down electronic burble and ripple. The wurble and glide continues into "In Pieces," which goes for stripped down electronic repose which compliments Bennington's quietly aggressive whisper delivery. It has tinges of some of their contemporary pop/punk/emo brethren, at least in terms of melodic interface and harmonious delivery, which makes it strange and enticing and confusing all at once. Of course that is all thrown violently out the window with the very '80s guitar solo tacked on at the 2:35 mark.

The album's last official track is "The Little Things Give You Away," which returns to the minimalistic clanking and stutter electronics that point to Mr. Reznor as an obvious influence. The gently strummed acoustic guitar that filters underneath is a nice touch and helps augment Bennington's casually emotional whisper. It's a nice stripped down combination that makes one yearn to hear LP go fully acoustic. They might just surprise the skeptics lurking out there if they did. This track definitely hints at future greatness to come in terms of an even more mature sound. Bennington's lyrics are equally impressive as he comments on the band's visit to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina's destruction. It's hauntingly poetic and easily the strongest number on the entire album.

The album concludes with a live version of "What I've Done," which really doesn't sound all that much different than the studio version. Sure there's a little more noticeable chop and grind in the guitars, but otherwise it sounds slick, clean, and fully furnished.

Minutes To Midnight showcases a band in transition, a group of musicians caught in a molting holding pattern as they valiantly claw at their previous musical skin, shedding little chunks here and there and making way for a new glisten to grow in. I'm still not 100% sold on Linkin Park but of their three official studio albums this one is the one that really shows off the band and their willingness to stretch their musical boundaries and a growing desire to shift with the times. Granted they still rely a little too heavily on obvious influences (Metallica, U2, Nine Inch Nails), but they have improved in many respects, capturing a much richer and fuller sound overall. Mike Shinoda displays much improved verbal chops on the microphone, Bennington further reveals that he's in possession of a voice capable of delivering heart-wrenching melancholy and introspective desire. And the rest of the band—Phoenix, Joe Hahn, Rob Bourdon, and Brad Delson—are equally up to the task at hand. Oh yeah, having Rick Rubin behind the boards certainly didn't hinder any forward movement, either. This is definitely a step in the right direction and a stepping stone for things to come. I hope.

Definitely Download:
1. "Wake"
2. "Leave Out All The Rest"
3. "Bleed It Out"
4. "In Between"
5. "Hands Held High"
6. "In Pieces"
7. "The Little Things Give You Away"
IGN's Ratings for Minutes To Midnight



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