Linkin Park‘s Meteora opens with “Foreword”, a 13-second intro of member Mike Shinoda smashing a broken CD player with a baseball bat on a metal table. That pretty much sums up how this album feels. When Meteora was released on 25 March 2003, a very different ring was in the air. That same week, the US sent its first missiles into Iraq, signaling the beginning of the Iraq War. As Linkin Park’s much-awaited sophomore album doubled down on moods of depression, alienation, and angst without a cause, the grey post-9/11 climate proved fuel to the radio-friendly fire.
In its first week, Meteora debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with 830,000 copies sold and was the third best-selling album of 2003. Despite some lukewarm reception from critics upon release, it proved to be one of the shining success stories from an often-forgettable nu-metal scene. Twenty years later, Meteora has sold 27 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century, while “Numb” is about to hit two billion views on YouTube. It is remembered as a fan favorite across generations.
Making of Meteora
After smashing records with their debut album, Hybrid Theory (2000), Linkin Park kept a similar recipe for Meteora. “Within the band, we call Hybrid Theory and Meteora Volumes I and II,” Chester Bennington told Kerrang! in 2008. “They’re very similar in a lot of ways. There’s almost a formula to them; you can tell what each song is going to do next”.
Key figures in a buzzing nu-metal scene that was known for its genre-melding, Linkin Park, spread their wings of influence further. “Breaking the Habit” – originally a two-minute beat interlude, became an electronic-inspired fifth single with a ten-piece string orchestra. “Nobody’s Listening” – Meteora’s most hip-hop-orientated song uses a chopped-up sample of a shakuhachi (a Japanese Flute). The slowed-down “Easier to Run” places thrashing guitar hooks alongside poignant pop verses.
The previous year, Linkin Park released Reanimation (2002), a 20-track remix album that dug deeper into their hip-hop influences with flipped songs from Hybrid Theory and features from the likes of Black Thought and Pharaohe Monch. This process bled into the making of Meteora as the group became more active in the production process alongside Don Gilmour (who also produced Hybrid Theory). Three songs from Meteora were later given the Reanimation treatment for their Collision Course (2004) EP with Jay-Z, even notching a Grammy win for “Encore/Numb”.
Linkin Park’s signature sound is found within this fusion of genres – like nu-metal’s own postmodern impressionist – combining metal, hip-hop, electronic, pop, and hard rock with teenage rebellion, spiked hair, Japanese anime, and very American TV commercials. As member Mike Shinoda raps on “Nobody’s Listening”, “we’re just rolling with the rhythm, rise from the ashes of stylistic division.” To some, Linkin Park felt like a repurposed, target-grouped metal for suburbia, filtered down through samplers, DJ scratches, and glossy pop production. Yet this iconic sound has feverishly shaped contemporary sounds across music, from hip-hop to alt-rock to metalcore.
To celebrate Meteora’s 20th anniversary, a deluxe edition was released on 7 April, featuring unreleased demos, tour footage, and concert recordings. In the lead-up, Linkin Park recently released “Lost” and “Fighting Myself” – two songs from the Meteora era – with accompanying music videos, the best Chester Bennington vocal performances fans have heard since his tragic passing in 2017.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, you couldn’t escape the sounds of nu-metal if you tried (and many did). By the time of Meteora, radio stations had flooded out enough Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock for several hellish lifetimes. The love/hate relationship with nu-metal wasn’t lost on Linkin Park or its critics. Nu-metal’s versatile take on alternative metal included turntables and DJs, direct and vulgar lyrics, and vocal styles that switched between singing, screaming, and rapping. It is also lacking in guitar solos compared to its metal predecessors.
In the new millennium, the nu-metal scene became a point of strain, or mockery, for many. The questionable Crazy Town rode the success of their No. 1 single “Butterfly” – courtesy of its catchy guitar riff taken from Red Hot Chilli Pepper‘s 1989 track “Pretty Little Ditty” – to 1.5 million album sales. When Meteora came out, it was almost a decade since Korn‘s self-titled LP bore nu-metal with a pain-ridden bang.
Nu-metal was often characterized by a “blind male rage” that sought to offend and shock, thanks in part to the drunk cataclysm that was Woodstock 1999. In contrast, Linkin Park’s brand of angst was more sensitive and PG-friendly, with minimal swearing and a to-the-point sincerity that made them easy to mock compared to their satirical and radio-rebelling counterparts.
Hybrid Theory – the best-selling debut since Guns N’ Roses‘ Appetite for Destruction (1987) –granted Linkin Park a devoted worldwide audience. Nu-metal was no longer just for the freaks, goths, and maggots. It was for everybody except – perhaps least of all – the metalheads. Some questioned if Linkin Park even were nu-metal. In addition to Meteora, 2003 is widely marked as the year that nu-metal died a painful but necessary death. One wonders if Linkin Park’s radio stompers helped to kill it finally.
Your favorite nu-metal band was often the one your parents hated the most. Strip that away, and the music no longer held the same rebellious edge. While it had once been a counterpunch to the 1990s pop anthems of N’Sync, Spice Girls, and Vengaboys, it’s as if nu-metal had become what it sought to destroy. Post-Meteora, Linkin Park distanced themselves from the genre for good, putting their sound back under the surgeon’s knife. Not that the scene was one they ever felt a part of:
“We never held the flag for nu-metal – it was associated with frat rock. Arrogant, misogynistic, and full of testosterone; we were reacting against that. It breeds an outsider’s feeling once it’s come and gone, and people make jokes about. I fucking made jokes about it! What people don’t realize is I feel the same way.”– Mike Shinoda, NME
The male vulnerability that Linkin Park (chiefly Chester Bennington) helped foster into the mainstream influenced artists for a generation. They made it standard for even the most drum-thrashing of men to cry, grieve, and open up – an attribute that also won over masses of female and queer audiences fatigued by some insular, if not misogynistic, aspects of rock and metal at the time. Linkin Park brought fits of rage but also the tears that came after it.
Despite its heavy themes, rarely does Meteora trace its pain back to its source or specify it. It depicts angst in and of itself, allowing its many different causes to fall under one umbrella. “Pain” is said 26 times throughout the 31-minute album. This lyrical style resonated with a youth population who perhaps couldn’t yet articulate the sources of their own pain, knowing only that it was there and felt with a burning intensity. As “Breaking the Habit” chants – “I don’t know what’s worth fighting for or why I have to scream…”
This specific strand of angst was explored by Soren Kierkegaard, which can be summated as “dread without an object”. Kierkegaard’s notion of dread – interchangeable with angst, anxiety, or anguish – is akin to fear, except that it is internal and not external. In The Sickness Unto Death (1941), he says:
“Just as a physician might say that there is very likely not one single living human being who is completely healthy, so anyone who really knows mankind might say there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor unrest, inner strife, disharmony, anxiety about an unknown something or something he does not even dare to try to know, anxiety about some possibility in existence or anxiety about himself… anxiety he cannot explain.”– Soren Kierkegaard
Linkin Park project this unknown something through the constant use of the second person, generalizing its pain – a broad-reaching rage fitting for every nihilist millennial, child of divorce, or survivor of sexual abuse. This generalized suffering is critical to the styles and sounds of Linkin Park’s catalogue. All we can decipher from Meteora’s lyrics is that its disharmony is not caused by something but someone:
“Faint”– “Don’t turn your back on me, I won’t be ignored”.
“Figure.09” – “Giving up a part of me, I’ve let myself become you”.
“From the Inside” – “Cause I swear, for the last time, I won’t trust myself with you.”
“Nobody’s Listening” – “Called to you so clearly, but you don’t want to hear me.”
“Numb” – “I’m tired of being what you want me to be.”
Whether or not Meteora was a Hybrid Theory Part Two, its release marked the end of Linkin Park’s most prolific era. It also marked an end to the distinct sounds they remain best known for today, with many more musical experimentations to come. With Linkin Park’s third album, Minutes to Midnight (2007), the move toward radio-friendly anthems reached full force, and later releases never quite found the same raw peaks that the first two albums possessed. Some of the unique qualities that made Linkin Park became harder and harder to find.
Music aimed towards youth culture always gets a bad rap – too naive, too temperamental, too cringe – while, in the meantime, kids pool together every cent of pocket money and eat that shit up, its taste all the sweeter for everyone else’s distaste of it. In a modern-day music culture that tends only to appreciate artists once they are gone, Linkin Park’s contributions – particularly Meteora – to popular music are now beloved in memoriam. So much so that it is easy to forget the Nickelback-esque flak that the group endured in the years preceding Chester’s passing. It turns out that, in the end, it really did matter.