Linkin Park are either one thing or another to a lot of people – they’re either that legendary band from the early 2000’s that pioneered the Nu-Metal genre, but can never be as good as they used to be “back in the day”. Or, they’re a progressive band that love to try new directions for each album, and just overall make the music that they want to make, and not what people think they should make anymore.
There’s a reason that this band is at the core of all three of these genre breakdowns, and it’s not just because they’re my favourite band. It’s due to their dynamic style, and the way they like to ‘deconstruct’ genre themselves that they fuelled the interest for this work of mine.
I’m going to look at three tracks in particular, and discuss the genres of each track, and what inspired each stylistic element:
- Linkin Park – One Step Closer
- Yashin – One Step Closer (Linkin Park Cover)
- Linkin Park ft. Kiiara – Heavy
NU-METAL / ONE STEP CLOSER
A lot of things are thought of when Nu-Metal is mentioned – Drop-D guitar tuning, the combination of hard rock and hip hop, and rage. Lots of rage.
“New Heavy Metal” was the term that described this progression of metal between the mid 90’s and early 00’s, but as it gained mainstream attention, it was shortened to a catchier “Nu-Metal”. The hybrid style’s main influences come from grunge, hip hop, and other metal subgenres such as thrash metal & groove metal just to name a few. The syncopated de-tuned riffs over the hip-hop-like drum grooves express that nu-metal is not about the melody, it’s about expressing certain moods through textures and rhythms.
The early pioneers of the genre are undoubtedly Korn and the Deftones, two bands both with their own unique styles from one another, whom would later inspire the uprising of bands such as Limp Bizkit, Mudvayne, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Saliva, Slipknot & Staind. Korn and The Deftones’ genre defining albums include “Follow The Leader (1998)” & “Adrenaline (1995)” respectively. Korn related more towards the groove metal and hip hop aspects of nu-metal, whereas The Deftones were a lot more experimental in their ways about it – some even classifying them as ‘Alternative Metal’ as well as nu-metal.
Nu-metal was born at a time where the world “had nothing [else] to be pissed off at other than itself”. It was before the world started falling apart with the looming threat of terrorism that washed over the generation as the Iraq War and 9/11 happened (Hutchinson, 2015). There being no world issues to be pissed off over, nu-metal aesthetics often revolved around the individual – what events (often negative) had happened to them and how they felt about themselves or ceratain other people – it was about expressing those emotions. A lot of nu-metal listeners at the time wore messy & baggy clothes to reflect the way they felt about themselves. If they felt like a piece of shit, chances are they’ll dress like one too, which spawned a militia of ‘weirdos’ and ‘misfits’. Nu-metal can even be linked to Funk as both styles involve ‘feeling’ the music and projecting a certain emotion, even though the emotions may be different.
Korn’s “Daddy” is a (sick and twisted) 10-minute-long look into lead singer Jonathan Davis’ personal life, how he suffered sexual abuse as a child and dealing with it all. Basically, some very common messages of nu-metal material are that you’re never too old to be angry at your parents, and it’s okay to be annoyed and want to break stuff.
If the words ‘teen angst’ ring a bell, you’re probably very familiar with Linkin Park’s 2000 release “Hybrid Theory“. Although Linkin Park has never claimed to fly the flag of nu-metal, this has still been considered a very important album for the roots of nu-metal, because it’s definitely inspired by some nu-metal aesthetics, but also brings new things to the table with more focus on hip hop (Mike Shinoda – a dedicated rap vocalist in the band) and electronica (Reanimation – a remix album of Hybrid Theory which offered re-interpretations of the original songs as more of a hip hop & electronic project). Most of Shinoda’s influences are deeply rooted in hip hop and had focused more on that before Linkin Park was fully formed. Linkin Park has historically never been about focusing on one sound – the band has aspired to combine a number of genres from the beginning, which inspired the album name Hybrid Theory, which was the band’s original name before changing it to Linkin Park and just after recruiting lead vocalist Chester Bennington.
One Step Closer was a very important song for Linkin Park – it was their first ever commercial single and the first song that many people heard by the band. This song in particular features every single element of textbook nu-metal, and then some, which is what drove many to believe that Linkin Park was strictly a nu-metal band.
- The rhythm in the drums has a very clear hip hop groove at about 95BPM.
- Includes elements such as turntables & electronic samples not found in typical metal.
- Syncopated, drop-tuned (D♭m) guitar rhythms are the main driving force behind the song.
- The verse – while melodic – is still very ‘freaked out’ and tense, pulling focus away from the melody and putting emphasis on the emotions of Bennington’s voice.
- Screaming vocals in the bridge to convey a certain feeling (frustration).
- Lyrics relating to certain feelings “I’m one step closer to the edge” (stress), “I need a little room to breathe” (anxiety), frustration (“I cannot take this anymore”), rebellion (screaming “shut up”).
- Short duration, at 2 minutes, 35 seconds, unlike some more ‘experimental’ styles of nu-metal.
Compared to the rest of Hybrid Theory, One Step Closer still definitely fits within the album as a solid release in the nu-metal category, but it doesn’t end there. Humble Brothers’ remix of the song re-titled “1stp Klosr” is vastly different, but still retains some crucial nu-metal elements. The song’s structure is completely changed up, with a lot more electronic influence than the former original, even featuring a completely new verse by Jonathan Davis (Korn) in the bridge, yet still ends up retaining everything in the list mentioned above.
Linkin Park have managed to take something they weren’t prepared to uphold and still attract many new fans to the genre, unfortunately around the time of nu-metal’s decline (around 2002). Their next release in 2003 entitled “Meteora” was written on the pretence that the band was pressured to follow up with another record that was just as good as Hybrid Theory, though they weren’t prepared to fully give up trying new things.
METALCORE / ONE STEP CLOSER (YASHIN COVER)
Metalcore, at its core, is essentially the blending of metal and punk. Unike nu-metal, “metalcore” has been around for a little longer (mid 80s).
The term ‘metalcore’ itself was bred from the groups of the ‘Crossover Thrash’ scene in the early 1980s, mostly in areas around Los Angeles and New York of the United States. Crossover thrash came from the blending of hardcore punk with thrash metal. The main reason the two genres combined, was that people kept looking for something heavier, and thrash metal was the clear winner, but the punk clique wouldn’t take it, thus there was high levels of animosity between the two subcultures. This eventually sparked the skinhead subculture in New York.
“It was natural. The most intense music, after Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, was Slayer and Metallica. Therefore, that’s where everybody was going. That turned into a culture war, basically.” (Blush, 2012)
Some of Metalcore’s pioneers of the 90s include All Out War, Hatebreed, Integrity & Sepultura. Integrity commenced playing live shows as early as 1988. Modern Metalcore bands that have had a siginificant influence on the genre in the last decade have been As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage, Underoath & The Devil Wears Prada.
The main element that sets metalcore apart from most other metal subgenres is its centric focus on heavy breakdowns. As well as these, some other instrumental characteristics include harmonised guitar riffs usually in Drop C or D tuning, and also double kick and blast beat drumming techniques. For vocals, screaming has always been very common, earning the sub-genre the mock title of “Screamo”, but also as of late, “emo” styles of punk have influence cleaner vocals in chorus or pre-chorus sections of a typical modern metalcore track. Guitar solos have also been indoctrinated to the sub-genre by some artists.
Yashin, unfortunately now broken up, were a British metalcore band from Glasgow, Scotland and had been active for a decade from 2006 to 2016.
Their cover of One Step Closer (originally by Linkin Park) is vastly different to the original ‘nu-metal’ version of the song. Starting off with a longer intro and in a different key, the band push the creative boundaries of the song by flipping it up in a few different ways:
- The intro is a LOT longer, and builds up a lot more than the original because of this.
- The second half of the second verse sees the band throw a metalcore breakdown into the middle of the verse, with double kick drumming and unclean screaming vocals, throwing the listener down the metalcore manhole in a surprising way.
- In the second verse, they swap the clean and unclean vocals around with each other, which is a refreshing twist.
- In the second half of the bridge, they do the same thing they did with the second verse – another metalcore breakdown.
- Where the original song usually finishes, this cover keeps going, leading the listener to the most brutal breakdown in the song yet – an 8 bar downtempo (the BPM drops from 95 to about 75) metalcore breakdown.
While it’s true that metalcore and nu-metal have their clear differences, both styles seem to focus on a clear sense of personal anguish which is then ventilated through the music that the artists create.
POP / HEAVY (FT. KIIARA)
And now, something for the lowest common denominator, Pop Music.
A portmanteau on the words “popular” and “music” (who would’ve thought), it is essentially the music that always gets the most hits, the chart toppers, the superstars, the “idols”. Pop artists and bands are always looking ‘well dressed’ and ‘proper’ – they’re not here to fight with you over anything (unless it’s passive aggression), they don’t want to scream at you like those nasty rock and metal folk do, they just want to make something you can ‘pop’ into your car stereo and ‘bop’ your head to on the way to work. It’s simple, it’s catchy, it’s relate-able, and it’s a lot of the same thing, because it doesn’t need to push boundaries in order to achieve what it needs to.
Pop music often has the following characteristics: 4/4 time signature, major scale, easy listening, catchy melodies, memorable lyrics and an overall feel-good, happy vibe. It is eclectic in nature in the regard that it borrows elements from a lot of different styles of music to make something new and fresh. Borrowing structural elements from sentimental ballads, harmonisation from gospel and soul, instrumentation from jazz and rock, orchestration from classical, tempo and rhythm from dance and hip hop, and also electronic backing beats & synthesizers. Rap has also been making its way into pop music ever since the first commercial rap song was popularised – “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang.
It’s been said that along with the first top twenty pop chart was recorded in 1952 pop music created the first “teenagers” in the music world, in the sense that it provided a transitional period between music for children and music for adults. The Beatles undoubtedly dominated pop music until the late 1960s when more talent started to rise up such as Elton John in the 70’s and then George Michael in Wham! later on in the 80’s. The simplicity of modern pop music, however, beckons heavy criticism from fans of more alternative styles of music.
Linkin Park’s “Heavy” features female pop singer Kiiara (of ‘Gold‘ Fame), who sings the second verse and chorus along with Bennington. The song was released on the 16th of February 2017, and received a polarised reaction from long time fans of the band. Some loved this new, more mellow sound that Linkin Park have offered, but there were a lot of haters who quickly dismissed this style, calling the band “Linkin Pop” in their anguish. It was a tough pill to swallow for many, since the change in styles from their 2014 release “The Hunting Party“ was so vastly different that fans’ expectations were crushed. The band has acknowledged that the songs they have written for the upcoming album “One More Light” (out May 19th) are the riskiest songs they have ever written. Let’s have a look at the characteristics of this song.
- 4/4, 75BPM, syncopated 808 drum beat samples. RnB driven beat.
- Key: F# minor – not as uplifting as most pop songs.
- Memorable, repetitive lyrics.
- Real drums come in halfway through the song.
- Bridge drumming gets intense as it builds up to an abrupt silence with only Bennington singing.
- Bennington’s vocals are a lot more relaxed here due to taking a year off touring.
- Harmonised vocals in the verses.
- Lots of electronic samples and background vocals that make up the atmostphere of the song. Some trap influences from recent subgenre popularisation (vocal cuts, choice of drum samples).
So is this song full blown pop? I don’t think so. It’s definitely got a lot of pop characteristics, which will help the digital music services and physical music stores be able to put a genre label on it so its grouped with the right things, but comparing this to say, Carly Rae Jespen’s “Call Me Maybe” which was posted above earlier, I don’t agree with the masses trying to put it on the pop shelf. Then again, pop is an eclectic mix of elements from different styles which is the very essence of Linkin Park’s take on genre, with Shinoda often using the statement “genre is dead“. He clarifies in an interview with Smash Press that the band didn’t make pop music for the sake of making pop music, and that’s different than writing a bunch of songs that develop pop like characteristics.
When it comes right down to it, Linkin Park are pretty talented guys, and with so much resolve pushing them to keep going despite what people think of their destinations, it’s the journey that matters.
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