Linkin Park: The Inside Story Of Minutes To Midnight
“Calling us nu-metal now is, to me, like saying, ‘You suck.’” Back in 2007, Chester Bennington wasn’t always the good-natured interviewee he’d later become, and was on prickly form discussing Linkin Park’s new album Minutes To Midnight. He wasn’t alone. “People kept wanting to label us rap-rock,” his vocal counterpart Mike Shinoda chimed in. Generally the more outwardly warm and chatty of the duo, Mike – the man whose staccato rapping style had a part to play in Linkin Park earning that ‘rap-rock’ tag – was similarly blunt on the topic of the band’s mindset going into their third album. “We thought, ‘Fine, you’re pissing us off. We’re going to make something so different that you can shove nu-metal up your ass.’”
Minutes To Midnight occupies an interesting place in Linkin Park’s discography, though is less headline-worthy than some of the other entries. It doesn’t have the juggernaut-out-of-nowhere clout of 2000’s 40 million selling debut Hybrid Theory, nor the polarising stylistic shift of 2017’s One More Light – presumably the band’s final word following the death of co-vocalist Chester Bennington in 2017 – but is significant as a stylistic turning point for Linkin Park, as well as being the last truly great fan-favourite for their millions of devotees.
The four years since Linkin Park’s second album, 2003’s Meteora, had been the Californian’s first opportunity to take a significant collective breather since they exploded on to the scene with One Step Closer in 2000.
“We felt that we needed to go and hang out with our friends, to go grocery shopping and do normal stuff like that,” reflected Chester of that period of decompression. Ever the workaholics, several members of the band soon got itchy feet, so took the opportunity to explore other projects. For Mike, that was hip-hop outfit Fort Minor; for Chester, Dead By Sunrise, the line-up of which featured Ryan Shuck, a founding member of Orgy.
These endeavours resulted in delays to work beginning on LP album three. Given this loss in momentum and extracurricular activities, there was speculation that all may not be well in the band’s camp, which the band took in their stride.
“There were a lot of rumours that we broke up,” said Chester shortly after the release of the album. “That’s cool because at least people were thinking of us. But we were never close to breaking up – not even in the shittiest times. Not even when I had a lot of personal stuff going on that wasn’t to do with the band.” Chester was referring to the divorce from first wife Samantha he went through during these intervening years. “That’s always a good time,” he told Kerrang! later. “I felt someone, like, came up to me and said, ‘Here’s a big pile of shit. Eat it!’ I also got re-married [to second wife Talinda Bentley], so I had, you know, a constant contrast. I couldn’t be fully happy with the new life I was starting and couldn’t, you know, end the other life.”
Whether to add stability to proceedings, encourage new ways of thinking, or both, Linkin Park recruited Rick Rubin to co-produce Minutes To Midnight alongside Mike. So began a period of collaboration that would continue with the band’s next two albums, A Thousand Suns  and Living Things . In another change to convention, the band spent far longer on the record than they had before, clocking up more than a year of studio time. Speaking to Kerrang! in 2007, the band were open about working with the man responsible for helming classic albums by Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer, particularly his unfiltered feedback on lyrics they’d agonised over.
“It’s frustrating to have someone dismiss something in 30 seconds that you’ve been working on for days,” recalled Mike, who admitted he’d encouraged the tough love approach from the legendary bearded producer. “Having your lyrics rejected is like being punched in the face.”
The subject of many delays in its release, when Minutes To Midnight was eventually unveiled, on 14 May 2007, it’s fair to say reviews were mixed. Despite Linkin Park’s concerted efforts to move away from a sound they didn’t want to be associated with, some still criticised them for sticking to the nu-metal formula. Others, meanwhile, suggested they’d left that formative style behind, praising their evolution into a more traditional rock outfit. So who was right? In truth, both sides had a point, because though Linkin Park had begun pushing the sound that made them megastars in new directions, they weren’t doing so as dramatically as they would later on.
K! writer Nick Ruskell acknowledged the album’s gathering creative flux in his 3K review at the time. While he recognised No More Sorrow’s ‘[break] into a death metal chug’ as well as And The Little Things You Give Away’s steps ‘into unplugged Alice In Chains territory,’ these were rare unexpected moments on an album that otherwise highlighted the creative strengths and limits of what you could argue was still Linkin Park v1.0. ‘Minutes To Midnight is everything you expect from Linkin Park, both good and bad,’ the review suggested, before concluding that any weaknesses ‘are outweighed by their strengths, making this a winner for fans.’
Minutes To Midnight didn’t achieve the sales of its two predecessors, shifting some 20 million copies worldwide – half of those achieved by Hybrid Theory. Before the album’s release, Chester was conscious of a perceived downturn in the band’s fortunes, not for financial reasons, but because of how harsh their detractors would be given the high bar the band had previously set.
“I guarantee you, if this sells one or two million copies, then everyone will say that we fucking bombed,” he said. “I would be really shocked if this album was kicked in the dirt. It would hurt. It would personally hurt. I’d be devastated. This is our baby.”
With hindsight, given how experimental A Thousand Suns and Living Things would be, it’s impossible not to view Minutes To Midnight as the moment Linkin Park made peace with striving for commercial success at the expense of their artistic impulses.
One of Minutes To Midnight’s biggest achievements is that it features many of Linkin Park’s most beloved songs. All five of the album’s singles – What I’ve Done, Bleed It Out, Shadow Of The Day, Given Up and Leave Out All The Rest – reached the Billboard Hot 100. Furthermore, lead single What I’ve Done remains the band’s most commercially successful track. While K! would later note that its socially, politically and environmentally conscious video ‘showcased a band tired of gazing inward and ready to use their vertiginous stature to highlight issues outside their personal sphere,’ the track itself dealt with the band bidding farewell to who they’d been – particularly in its first verse. ‘In this farewell / There’s no blood, there’s no alibi / ’Cause I’ve drawn regret / From the truth of a thousand lies / So let mercy come and wash away / What I’ve done’.
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