Of the many bands that emerged from nu metal’s mid-1990s rock-rap fusion, arguably none have weathered the capricious winds of musical change as well as Linkin Park. The six (current) members of this influential California band have mastered the art of perpetual reinvention without alienating hard-core fans, who’ve snapped up 50 million albums since 2000.
A Thousand Suns is Linkin Park’s fourth studio album and third consecutive No. 1. Reinvention is the name of the game here as heavy guitars meet their match in techno-laced synth work and a dose of old-school rap ‘n’ rhyme. Fifteen songs revolve loosely around the looming threat of apocalyptic destruction, alternating between hope and despair in the face of humanity’s appetite for nuclear self-destruction.
“The Requiem,” which in Catholic parlance is a mass for the dead, proffers a desperate prayer for humanity’s deliverance from the nuclear consequences of its poor choices. “God save us, every one/Will we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns/For the sins of hand/Sins of our tongue/Sins of our father/Sins of our young?” Those themes (as well as the same lyrics) are revisited on ” The Catalyst,” but it’s “The Radiance” that really clarifies the album’s concept with an audio clip from the inventor of the hydrogen bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, who quotes Hindu scripture as he talks about the destructive potential his Manhattan Project team unlocked: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
“Wisdom, Justice, and Love,” meanwhile, provides an ambient electronic background to a lengthy anti-war sound bite from Martin Luther King Jr. (“This business of burning human beings with napalm … cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.”) And so the album’s concluding track, “The Messenger,” is a tender acoustic tribute to the power of love (“When you feel you’re alone/Cut off from this cruel world/ … When life leaves us blind/Love keeps us kind/ … When you’ve suffered enough and your spirit is breaking/… Remember, you’re loved and always will be”).
“Burning in the Skies” finds a man grappling with painful separation from the one he loves—most probably due to the nuclear catastrophe. In the same vein, “Waiting for the End” laments the coming maelstrom (“We’re living at the mercy of/The pain and the fear/ … Wishing I had the strength to stand/This is not what I had planned”) even as it voices a desire for a second chance (“All I wanna do/Is trade this life for something new/ … Where to begin? The hardest part of ending is starting again”).
“Robot Boy” ultimately encourages a straggler on the verge of despair not to capitulate. The repeated, two-word Japanese phrase in the Spanish-titled “Jornada del Muerto” (translation: “Route of the Dead Man”) simply means, “Lift me up, let me go.” And “Iridescent” counsels relinquishment in the face of significant loss (“Do you feel cold and lost in desperation/You build up hope/But failure’s all you’ve known/Remember all the sadness and frustration/And let it go”).
“Blackout” challenges either an individual or perhaps our culture as a whole to lift the veil on deceptive, gluttonous choices (“All the lies, how they cut so deeply/You can’t get enough, you take/And take and take and never say/No”).
Three songs include f-words and/or s-words. “When They Come for Me” is the worst offender, with seven pairings of “mother” with the f-word in a bravado-filled, gangsta-rap-esque ode to the band’s musical prowess. “Wretches and Kings” channels the Beastie Boys, relying on retro sampling and beats as it seems to revel in the idea of a violent, anarchic revolution (“Feel unload, final blow/We the animals take control/Hear us now, clear and true/Wretches and kings, we come for you/ … Filthy animals, beat them low/Skin and bone, black and blue/No more this sun shall beat into you”).
In an interview with noisecreep.com, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington said of A Thousand Suns, “We talk about loss and self worth. … Themes of death, forgiveness, holding on to your dreams, being depressed, all of those things are talked about in one way or another on the record.” Bandmate Mike Shinoda added, “But it’s not just about dark things. It’s not just about fear and loss. There’s more hope on this record than there has ever been on a Linkin Park record. In an interview with Billboard, Shinoda said that the band hoped its latest effort would be an antidote of sorts to many of today’s superficial musical offerings. Paraphrasing thoughts from Linkin Park’s bass player, Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, Shinoda explained, “I just feel like the music that’s out there in the mainstream, for the most part, there’s so much candy. It’s good for a short taste, it’s good for a little short burst of whatever and then there’s no substance to it, and you can’t eat a lot of it or you’ll get a stomachache. I want something that has some substance—some sustenance.”
There is substance and sustenance to be found on A Thousand Suns. Linkin Park has succeeded in creating a compelling, substantive concept album about how the world might end if we don’t all do something about ourselves. And, amazingly, rays of hope regularly pierce the mushroom cloud. Darkness encroaches, but despair doesn’t get the final word—even in the face of Armageddon.
That makes the band’s insistence on dropping a cluster of f-bombs amid the nuclear ones all the more maddening.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.