Review: Linkin Park - ‘The Hunting Party’

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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.

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.