Last July came a particularly staggering shock to the music world when Chester Bennington, one of the two lead vocalists from Linkin Park, died by suicide at age 41. His band’s album Hybrid Theory moved more copies in the new millennium than any other new rock act’s has, and a huge, dedicated fan base had over nearly two decades deeply identified with his voicings of pain and rage. Rather than step away and regroup, his bandmates undertook the public grieving process with a striking amount of forthrightness. Three months after Bennington’s death came an energetic concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Now, almost one year since the tragedy, a new album, called Post Traumatic, from Mike Shinoda, the band’s rapper, insists that the music go on.
Shinoda and Bennington shared Linkin Park’s frontman spot, and the angst of the music was most clearly embodied in the screams of Bennington, who openly spoke of struggling with addiction and the memory of childhood sexual abuse. By contrast, Shinoda came off as the relatively unfettered wordsmith, art director, and career mind. “I’ve always listened to dark music—Depeche Mode, Public Enemy, Nine Inch Nails—but hadn’t really experienced the things that were going on in the songs,” Shinoda recently told the Los Angeles Times. “But now I’m in this horrible situation,” he added, referring to Bennington’s death. “I’m a member of this club that I never asked to be a part of.”
In footage of the October 2017 memorial concert that was broadcast online, you can watch Shinoda begin to use music to process what’s happened. He debuted a new song, “Looking for an Answer,” which asked, “Was there something I could say, or something I should not have done?” The track is delicate, all piano: far from Linkin Park’s techno-metal bombast, with Shinoda singing instead of rapping. “Is there sunshine where you are, the way there was when you were here?” he asked. “‘Cause I’m just sitting in the dark / In disbelief that this is real.” It was a moving but also familiar performance of grief, the tentative sound of the Kübler-Ross stages setting in.
That fragile and shellshocked approach, however, doesn’t rule Post Traumatic. Shinoda omitted “Looking for an Answer” from the 16-track album, and though Linkin Park’s future remains uncertain, many of these new songs are as confrontational and charged-up as the ones the band was best known for. Bennington looms throughout, but rather than dwell directly on the loss—or eulogize his bandmate in any sustained way—Shinoda focuses on his own desire to salvage his life and career. In the face of assumptions that someone like him must be irrevocably damaged, Shinoda asks that his self-interest be recognized as bravery.
“Did somebody else define me?” he asks on the album opener, “Place to Start.” “Can I put the past behind me?” His cadence is slow and questioning, but he builds in intensity, sliding from singing to rap against a synthetic backdrop evoking gloom tinged with hope. By the end of the song’s sole verse, Shinoda has reasserted both his place in the story as well as his ear for satisfying, melodramatic pop. The track closes with a collage of voicemails from friends offering condolences. “Hope you’re hanging in there,” one says.