Review: Linkin Park - ‘The Hunting Party’


Originally published on The Edge, the University of Southampton’s Entertainment Magazine.

With the exception of 2003’s Meteora, which was essentially just Hybrid Theory Volume II, as the band themselves have said, Linkin Park have continued to evolve with the release of each new record. Establishing themselves as the kings of nu-metal in the early 2000s, the band moved away from this sub-genre of rock with 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, and moved away from rock all together, and into electronic territory, with 2010’s A Thousand Suns. In 2012, Living Things saw the band return slightly more to their rock roots, but the album still had a distinct electronic sound.

Judging by the band’s previous two records, then, it seemed that Linkin Park were heading even further into the midst of tamer, electronic rock, and that the aggressive guitars and visceral screams that made Linkin Park one of the most successful bands of the 21st century – with Hybrid Theory and Meteora selling 24 million and 18 million copies respectively – were gone forever. However, with their sixth studio album The Hunting Party, Linkin Park have slammed on the brakes, reversed, floored the gas pedal, and sped off in completely the opposite direction to where they were headed. And thank goodness they did, because the The Hunting Party is one beast of an album.

Firstly, it’s heavy. Really heavy. From the very moment frontman Chester Bennington starts screaming his lungs out on gutsy opener ‘Keys To The Kingdom’, you know that this is going to be an entirely different sort of record from the likes of 2010’s A Thousand Suns. Indeed, a track like ‘War’, a straight up punk song, is a far cry from the most recent Linkin Park material, blasting in and out ferociously in just over two minutes. Current single ‘Until It’s Gone’ is a slow burner, but the track continues to build as it progresses, reaching a climactic ending that sees Bennington’s voice soaring skilfully over the cacophony of noise created behind him.

Whilst Linkin Park have collaborated with other artists before, most notably with Jay-Z on 2004’sCollision Course, collaborating with other artists on a studio release is something new for the band, and it has worked well on The Hunting Party. Rakim’s verse on lead single ‘Guilty All The Same’ is brilliantly slick, and only augments the song’s fierce, powerful choruses. And then there’s ‘Rebellion’, featuring System Of A Down guitarist Daron Malakian, thundering in with forceful, authoritative drumming, and a wonderfully gnarly guitar riff that’s a real highlight of the record.

Although Linkin Park are now well into their career, The Hunting Party is an album so relentless in its energy and bite that you might mistake this for a debut from a sprightly young band in their early twenties, if you weren’t familiar with Linkin Park. Bennington’s voice never falters, and co-vocalist Mike Shinoda is on top of his game throughout, particularly in the effortlessly cool verses of ‘Wastelands’. Unlike on previous albums, guitarist Brad Delson and drummer Rob Bourdon are given the opportunity to demonstrate their talents fully, and they truly excel. Delson’s guitar is continuously impressive, most notably the brutal solo on ‘War’, and Bourdon shines on the explosive ‘Mark The Graves’ and album closer ‘A Line In The Sand’.

They’ve taken their time, but with The Hunting Party, Linkin Park have finally returned. It’s a record that’s bursting at the seams with rage, intensity, and power, and it’s a record that makes Linkin Park a force to be reckoned with. They’re angry. They’re loud. They’re fierce. And they’re very, very good.

Live Review: Black Veil Brides @ O2 Academy Brixton, 30.03.12

PLUS: Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, Reckless Love.

Really, there’s no need for the giant lettering above the entrance to Brixton’s O2 Academy reading ‘BLACK VEIL BRIDES’, because wherever Black Veil Brides go, so do their unmistakeable army of fans. And it really is an army, too. Everywhere, there are swarms of all kinds of eccentrically-dressed, crazy-haired, war painted people, all congregated here for the same reason. Tonight’s really a case of “anything goes”; a gathering of all the “freaks and weirdoes”, as vocalist Andy Biersack will later affectionately describe the crowd.

There’s nothing to suggest that the year isn’t 1984. Long hair, headbands, high-pitched screams and extremely tight trousers; all the signs are pointing in the right direction. That’s in the direction of Reckless Love, the Finnish glam-metal band who are currently owning the stage. And own it they do; with a dynamic performance full of scissor kicks and grinding hips on singer Olli Herman’s part, it’s precisely what Brixton need to start off their Friday night.

It’s only at the commencement of the dubstep-techno intro belonging to Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows (D.R.U.G.S) that we are catapulted back into 2012. Launching into the brutal ‘The Only Thing You Talk About’, the band radiate energy, and havoc ensues amongst the crowd who willingly form walls of death at the command of frontman Craig Owens.  With the seamless execution of infectiously catchy single ‘Sex Life’ and obvious favourite ‘If You Think This Song Is About You…’, D.R.U.G.S prove themselves to be more than worthy of a headline slot here in the very near future.

After much persistent chanting from the crowd, headliners Black Veil Brides finally explode onto the stage – quite literally, with flames bursting up into the air on their arrival. As they accelerate full speed ahead into opener ‘New Religion’, and later the anthemic ‘The Legacy’, it serves as a reminder that the band can’t be faulted for their relentless live performance. A well-placed cover of Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ keeps pulses racing, whilst an astonishing drum solo from Christian ‘CC’ Coma goes to show that behind all of the warpaint and black hair, there does lie some very talented musicians.

Unfortunately, though vocalist Andy Biersack has managed to refrain from breaking any bones tonight (the singer broke his nose last time the band played in London), he is not, sonically, on top form tonight. On occasions, it’s difficult to hear him at all over the cacophony of noise the rest of the band are creating behind him, and during in-between song interaction his usually deep, velvety voice begins to sound worryingly croaky. However, while Biersack might not be one of the strongest singers in the world, he is a truly great frontman. It only takes an expectant look and a flash of his perfectly white Hollywood smile to get the crowd cheering until a satisfied glint appears in his eye. This is something he does repeatedly, revelling in their adoration. And rightly so, in fact, because with the likes of fan favourites ‘Knives and Pens’ and ‘Fallen Angels’ which have the entire venue first-pumping, Black Veil Brides demonstrate that like it or not, they are powerful, and they are here to stay.

Review: Young Guns - ‘Bones’

Young Guns certainly set themselves a challenge in bettering their fantastic debut album ‘All Our Kings Are Dead’, especially after their subsequent triumphs following its release: a Main Stage slot at Reading Festival 2010, supporting the likes of Bon Jovi, and headlining a sold-out London Electric Ballroom. But with ‘Bones’, recorded in Thailand and produced by Dan Weller, the quietly ambitious quintet have more than succeeded in stepping up to another level altogether.

There’s a certain defiance to the album, asserted immediately with opener ‘I Was Born, I Have Lived, I Will Surely Die’, which takes the stadium rock moments already displayed in their debut and emphasises them boldly, an aspect of songwriting that Young Guns have proved to be very skilled in. Current single ‘Bones’ radiates power and drive through a pulsing beat and a chorus that soars with layered guitars; with the melody of Thrice and the huge Lostprophets-esque chorus, this is a real milestone for how much the band have progressed.

On the first listen, it might seem as though ‘Bones’ doesn’t quite have the same instant fruition as its predecessor, but this is an album which requires a little more time for its contents to truly take effect. ‘You Are Not’, for instance, brews surreptitiously beneath the surface initially with a lone guitar riff, before building to a tremendous climax that’s brimming with emotive melody. While frontman Gustav Wood’s vulnerability is exposed through his lyrics in ‘Headlights’, as he croons softly: ‘I’m broken and I’m bruised, I’m beaten black and blue’, lead single ‘Learn My Lesson’ has bite and oozes determination, with an anthemic chorus that proves Young Guns are here to stay.

With a second album as mighty as ‘Bones’, it’s not hard to see why the High Wycombe five-piece are fast becoming everyone’s new favourite band. Although the record is ferociously ambitious and dramatic at times, Young Guns are perfectly capable of pulling this off without coming across as at all pretentious or arrogant. Despite their modesty, however, it’s clear that they know exactly where they want to go, and precisely how to get there.

My Top Five Albums of 2011

There have been numerous great albums released this year; and despite the not-so-great economy and the impact it’s had on the music industry, I still think that 2011 has been an excellent year for music. I found it considerably more difficult than I had originally anticipated to narrow my choices down to just five albums, but in the end I managed to reach a decision. Rather than selecting the albums that were, critically speaking, the best of the year, I have chosen the albums that I felt I connected with and have been a big part of my year. Click read more to see my verdict.

5. Deaf Havana - ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’ (06/11/11)

Despite frontman James Veck-Gilodi’s reluctance to step into the limelight after vocalist Ryan Mellor’s departure, with 'Fools And Worthless Liars', Deaf Havana have really come into their own. The somewhat disjointed songwriting from their previous albums is no more; instead the potential that everyone knew they possessed has finally been released, along with Veck-Gilodi’s wonderfully soulful vocals which are a huge asset to the band. 

4. Save Your Breath - ‘Vices’ (04/07/11)

Save Your Breath have set the bar extremely high for the UK pop-punk scene with their debut album. ’Vices’ has it all; the catchy choruses for crowds to belt back, the energy, the passion, the complex riffs and melodies that make it more than just “good”, and the lyrics that have a lot more depth to them than you might expect, particularly on ’10.08.04’, which is a personal favourite of mine. With a first record like that, it would seem that the South Wales quintet are in prime position to tackle 2012. 

3. Charlie Simpson - ‘Young Pilgrim’ (15/08/11)

With his debut solo album, the Fightstar frontman has revealed a more stripped back, acoustic version of himself. The record showcases his abilities as a singer-songwriter beautifully; one who is able to awaken the listener’s emotions and tug at your heartstrings, as his husky voice floats smoothly over the intricate melodies. Finally, Simpson is able to be seen as an artist in his own right, despite what might have happened in the past.

2. The Swellers - ‘Good For Me’ (14/06/11)

This is the record that the 90s were missing. The theme of nostalgia is resonant throughout, giving the record a certain organic, spirited feel, whilst the album also brings something new and refreshing to the table. It might be easy to ignore The Swellers in this day and age, amongst a field of bands with multicoloured hair and rather unique dress senses, but there is something so very endearing about this band; an honesty that is hard to find anywhere else. 'Good For Me' is one of those records that will bring back memories instantly; especially 'The Best I Ever Had', which really was the soundtrack to my summer.

1. The Blackout - ‘Hope’ (04/04/11)

'Hope', an album funded entirely by fans, sees The Blackout taking a mighty step forward in their musical direction. The record is, in effect, the best aspects of its two predecessors, but made stronger, heavier, more melodic, and more energetic in places. Vocally, the dynamics and chemistry between Sean Smith and Gavin Butler are the best that they have ever been, and the band’s songwriting as a whole has been taken to another level. From the infectiously catchy 'Higher & Higher' to chilling closing track 'The Storm', I can’t fault this record; it’s been such huge part of my year, it has to be number one. 

Live Review: Charlie Simpson @ O2 Academy Islington, 27.10.11

On entering the O2 Academy, one of the most noticeable things has to be the diversity of tonight’s crowd. People with clearly quite different music tastes have gathered here to see Charlie Simpson: a good number of Fightstar fans, recognizable as well-seasoned gig-goers, can be spotted up front wearing the band’s merchandise and scuffed Converses, and equally there plenty of new fans, some looking as though they’re usually more likely to be found in a swish, modern bar on a Thursday night rather than at a gig.

“I feel a bit lonely up here,” says opening act Andrew Balkwill, who is without his usual band tonight. Playing solely with a piano, one might have thought that his set could be dangerously similar to that of a mediocre cruise ship entertainment act; however it is quite the opposite. With a slightly jazzy feel, Balkwill is thoroughly entertaining to watch, and with the crowd quite happy to clap along, he’s really no need to feel lonely.

The next act comes in the form of the rather unsuspecting Dave McPhearson (also known for being the lead vocalist of InMe), wearing a beanie hat and brandishing a guitar. He manages to put a smile on everyone’s face with his in-between song chatter (and also the very individual cover of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s ‘Boom Shake The Room’), and his voice, powerful yet also slightly vulnerable in places, combined with his rhythmic approach to playing the guitar both go to show that you should never judge before you hear when it comes to music.

There’s no denying that We Were Evergreen – originally hailing from Paris – are a unique band. While their lyrics often are often a tad on the twee, sickly sweet side: “You and me under a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G”, perhaps we are forgetting that live music, essentially, is supposed to be fun, and as the trio juggle with clean-cut harmonies, synths, percussion, ukuleles and even trumpets, it’s evident that they do posses a certain energy that is missing from a lot of band’s live performances these days.

After cancelling last night’s show in Manchester due to losing his voice, there was always the worry that tonight’s show would be a bit under par. Thankfully though, as Charlie Simpson steps out onto the stage for opener ‘Suburbs’, we are reassured that this is definitely not the case. Although usually a more introverted and focused performer rather than the extroverted kind, Charlie is effortlessly charismatic towards the crowd throughout the night, and has everyone singing along to the chorus of the heartfelt yet undeniably catchy ‘Parachutes’ easily. Current single ‘Cemetery’ goes down exceedingly well, with the audience singing the harmonies, like a sort of “choir effect”, as Simpson puts it.

Perhaps trying to bring together the old Fightstar fans and the new fans since the release of ‘Young Pilgrim’, Charlie opts to play a cover of Cutting Crew’s ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’. He acknowledges that it might seem like a bit of a strange choice, but in actual fact, nearly everyone seems to know the 80s hit, and Simpson’s version of it really brings it back to life. Following this, Charlie slows things down with the beautiful ‘Please Let Me Go’, and his passionate, slightly husky vocals ring present throughout the now silent venue.

The crowd’s defiant chanting request of an encore is duly met, as Simpson and his band emerge back out onto the stage to play ‘When We Were Lions’ and closing number ‘Farmer And His Gun’, seemingly already a firm favourite, which gains a loud sing-along, clapping, and smiles all round, leaving the night on a wonderfully optimistic note.

It’s taken a long while - much longer than it should have done due to the indelible snobbery in the music industry - but Charlie Simpson is no longer Charlie who did this, or Charlie who was in that, but an artist and a person in his own right, and with tonight’s show he has proven, finally, that this is absolutely what he deserves.

Review: You Me At Six - ‘Sinners Never Sleep’

A good four years after they first started turning heads in 2007, and You Me At Six are back with the famously “difficult” third album. Although “Sinners Never Sleep” is still recognizable as the work of the Surrey quintet, the fresh-faced naivety of the teenagers they once were has well and truly vanished.

The somewhat sinister bassline of opener “Loverboy”, signifies that this record is headed in a different direction to both of its predecessors – but the You Me At Six that we came to know and love still shine through with one of the soaring, infectiously catchy chorus that they do so well.  “Jaws On The Floor” is nothing we haven’t seen before, but its punchy guitar riff and wry lyrics make it an overall good listen.

“Bite My Tongue” is where the album appears to get interesting. Josh Franceschi hurls bitter lyrics over a cutting soundtrack, and is followed by Oli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon) as he growls over the last part of the track. The band take another successful gamble with Winston McCall’s (Parkway Drive) guest  vocal on “Time Is Money”, the intensity of which wouldn’t render it too out of place on a hardcore record.  Once a so-called pop punk band, perhaps now You Me At Six are a rock band in the making.

However, what takes place between these two tracks ends up leaving the listener rather puzzled. The record seems to wander quite off course; “This Is The First Thing” sounds like a confusion of all the band’s influences, “No One Does It Better” is not in any way a bad song, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and it’s difficult to ignore the fact that there has almost certainly been some musical recycling going on. But thankfully, the album manages to find its feet again with the effortless ballad, “Little Bit Of Truth”. If you were to shut your eyes whilst listening, it wouldn’t be hard to envisage a roomful of people holding their lighters in the air.

Now, is that trumpets I hear? Ah yes, of course it is. “The Dilemma” is a real highlight of the album; with an original, quirky melody, and Franceschi’s strong vocals, it showcases the band’s talents – both in performing and in songwriting – at their best.

While “Sinners Never Sleep” has not taken You Me At Six into a whole new dimension, it has, evidently, seen them mature a great deal. Somehow, the record has done the clever trick of neither going completely in one direction nor the other, but still taking steps towards something new and exciting for the band. It’s tricky to be sure where they’ll go from here, but for this band, it really does seem as though the only way is up.

Live Review: Young Guns @ London HMV Forum, 16.09.11

The Forum still feels quite spacious when opening act Dangerous! take to the stage, although this doesn’t seem to bother the Aussie mob in the slightest. It’s clear they’re aware that not many of the audience here tonight have heard of them (yet), but their animated set kicks the evening off brilliantly, with people down the front bouncing along eagerly, and even a few nodding heads from the token “crossed-arms brigade” lingering by the bar.

With their original brand of stirring indie rock, three-piece The Xcerts bring a unique and refreshing quality to the evening. Frontman Murray Macleod’s passionate vocals are a highlight, giving the band’s set a certain rawness which lends itself so well to a live setting.

Unfortunately for tonight’s main support act, Every Avenue, luck is not on their side. Only a few songs into their set, guitarist Jimmie Deeghan badly injures his foot. However, this isn’t enough to stop him from playing the show, and after just minute or two, the Detroit pop-punkers continue without further ado. The time that the band spend on stage is thoroughly enjoyable – they are fun, lively, and have the whole crowd jumping and singing along to the wonderfully catchy “Tell Me I’m A Wreck” within a matter of seconds.

Of course, Young Guns are the reason why everyone is here on this particular Friday night at the HMV Forum. This is their biggest headline show to date, and considering that London is also the band’s hometown, it’s no wonder why frontman Gustav Wood looks like he might actually burst with excitement when the five-piece finally appear on the stage.

The band claim the stage as entirely theirs with powerful opener “Elements”, and next song “Sons of Apathy” sees the crowd yelling back the chorus and fist-punching the air enthusiastically. However, what Young Guns really didn’t need tonight, was for the lighting to bomb out just two songs into their set. They depart the stage whilst the venue’s technical staff do their best to resolve the situation, but to no avail. If this was another band, it could be quite possible that they decide to pull the show. But Young Guns are letting nothing ruin this night, and go ahead as planned with some makeshift spotlights. And it’s a very good job that they do, too, because the next 45 minutes or so really showcases how far this band have come, and just how much they deserve to be on that stage. From old favourite “There Will Be Rain” to new song “Bones”, the band’s energy levels never falter, and not once do they break their intense connection with the crowd.

As Young Guns’ set draws to a close with the anthemic “Weight Of The World”, with the whole audience singing so loud that there’s almost no need for any microphones, it’s a wonderful moment to behold. Because on that stage, is an honest, hard-working band who are most definitely on their way to much bigger things. And nothing can stop them now.

Review: Blitz Kids - ‘Vagrants & Vagabonds’

Although Blitz Kids might not have one of the most extensive fan bases in the world, there’s absolutely no denying that they are one of the most hard-working bands out there. Recorded live and in just 48 hours, ‘Vagrants & Vagabonds’ is a testament to their relentless work ethos, and a very good one at that.

Their previous two EPs, ‘Decisions’ and ‘Scavengers’, both showed promise, however neither of them really captured the band’s unique sound at its prime. ‘Vagrants & Vagabonds’ is different – you can tell it was recorded live, in the best way possible. Of course, it’s not sonically perfect, but sounding polished and over-produced wouldn’t be true Blitz Kids style.

It’s near impossible to get bored of this record – you couldn’t really fit it into one particular genre because you can never tell what’s coming next. ‘To The Lions’, probably one of the heaviest tracks, bursts in with an energetic kick, with drummer Eddie Hawx providing particularly powerful rhythms from behind the kit. The opening riff of ‘Hold Fast’ is wonderfully peculiar, yet it still manages to have a chorus that you could easily imagine a crowd singing along to. This is soon followed by the schizophrenic, urgent melody of ‘Rush’, which showcases vocalist Joe James’ distinctive and slightly vulnerable voice extremely well, despite the busy soundscape being created behind him.

This album is what music should be – raw and uncensored. Blitz Kids clearly have a wide range of influences, all of which they have managed to combine so subtly on ‘Vagrants & Vagabonds’ to create an interesting and original sound that is becoming increasingly hard to find in today’s music industry. This band have real talent, and with their creative, gritty songwriting, it’s safe to say that if you haven’t heard of Blitz Kids yet, you will certainly be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

Review: The Swellers - ‘Good For Me’

 When The Swellers signed to Fueled By Ramen back in 2009, it did seem like a bit of a strange pairing, considering the label is home to the likes of Paramore and Panic! At The Disco.  But with ‘Ups And Downsizing’, their début release on the label, they still remained true to their own brand of punk style, while there was a progression and slight change in mode from their previous records. The Michigan quartet’s most recent release, ‘Good For Me’, has not taken a drastically different path from its predecessor, but it is certainly evidence of improved song writing and an altogether more mature band.

One of the areas where this record stands strongest is the rhythm section, completed by drummer Jonathan Diener and bassist Anto Boros. This is evident in opening track ‘Runaways’, where the catchy chorus and melodic guitar riff are held down well by the solid base line from Boros, and Diener’s energetic work behind the kit. The same can be said for the spirited lead single ‘The Best I Ever Had’, which is a definite highlight of the album, where the nostalgic theme has the most impactful effect throughout.

The Swellers slow their pace down a little on ‘Prime Meridian’ and ‘Better Things’, the latter of which works well as it showcases vocalist Nick Diener’s personal yet accessible lyrics, and though this might go unnoticed by some listeners in the album context, ‘Better Things’ has a sincere and heartwarming feel to it that really makes it a memorable track. ‘Nothing More To Me’ picks up the pace once again; full of different harmonizing and rhythmic layers which complement Diener’s real life, honest lyrics perfectly.

‘Good For Me’ is the record that the 90’s was missing, and the fact that it’s arrived now only makes the continuous theme of nostalgia more poignant. It’s also a refreshing thing to hear that The Swellers haven’t been swayed by the glossy, pop punk wave that seems to have swept over so many other bands of similar styles. Instead, they’ve released their best album to date, and ‘Good For Me’ might just be the catalyst in launching them into much wider recognition.

Review: Save Your Breath - ‘Vices’

If you look up the word Vices in the dictionary, the definition you get is: ‘grossly immoral habits or practices’ – which seems really rather dark. So, it is the title itself of Save Your Breath’s début album that makes it sound already very different to what you might expect of a run of the mill pop-punk record. And while most of the songs on ‘Vices’ are not ground breaking to the genre – although that’s not to say they’re not perfectly good – there are moments throughout the record, mainly lyrically, when we are given an insight into the more serious issues and sombre times the Newport five piece have faced.

Opener ‘Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy’ is a perfect, energetic start to the album, and with lyrics like ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way, this all means so much to me’, it becomes clear just how much drive and passion Save Your Breath have for their music. With a chorus that’s practically impossible not to sing along to, this track is bound to go down a storm when played live.

The energy shows no signs of decreasing with title track ‘Vices’, which is a definite highlight, with its more complex riffs and melodies, and is the first indication we are given as to what this album is really dealing with.’10.08.04’ is another one which takes a more serious tone both musically and lyrically, and is an excellent example of how Save Your Breath have a lot more depth to them than your average pop punk band.

A brilliant effort from Save Your Breath – who have certainly lived up to their potential – and a definite development from their previous EP, ‘Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy’. ‘Vices’ is a feel-good, ideal for summer record, which shows how, while the South Wales quintet  have a knack for writing sing-along pop-punk belters, they’re also capable of a lot more.