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‘Meteora’: The Story Behind Linkin Park’s Impactful Second Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Meteora’: The Story Behind Linkin Park’s Impactful Second Album

Containing the earth-scorching power to wipe out humanity, Linkin Park’s second album, ‘Meteora’, tore up the planet with a nu-metal classic.

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With its unique blend of rap and metal, Linkin Park’s second album, Meteora, left a tremor-inducing crater in the alternative-rock scene and asserted the group’s place among the most innovative and influential bands of the 2000s. After helping to popularise nu-metal with their debut album, 2000’s Hybrid Theory, the group’s willingness to experiment and take risks on its follow-up – while staying true to their rap-rock roots – spawned a timeless classic that captured the hearts and minds of Linkin Park fans across the globe.

Listen to the 20th anniversary reissue of ‘Meteora’ here.

From feelings of alienation to personal reflection, Meteora offered a far deeper look into angst-ridden struggles and turbulent emotions than ever before. Teaming up once again with producer Don Gilmore, Linkin Park successfully avoided the sophomore slump and, through hard work and dedication, ensured Meteora resonated just as strongly – if not more so – with the group’s nu-metal fanbase as its predecessor. Here is the story of how Meteora became one of the most impactful follow-up albums of the early 2000s.

The backstory: “You’re constantly trying to prove yourself, even after you’ve made it”

By 2002, Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, had sold a whopping 4.8 million copies in the US and had become hailed as one of the best debut albums in rock history. Having scored the No.1 best-selling album of the early 2000s, the group had also gained immense popularity as nu-metal icons, and the pressure was on for them to deliver something equally impressive for their follow-up record. “What we really wanted to do was just push ourselves and push each other to really find new ways to be creative,” guitarist and rapper Mike Shinoda said in an interview with MTV.

Not wanting to risk disappointing their fans, the band started pre-production at Shinoda’s home studio following the completion of their Projekt Revolution tour in 2002. While shuffling initial recordings as if they were puzzle pieces, the group were in remarkably productive form, spending many months finessing dozens and dozens of demos. “We took all those ideas and kind of messed around with them and by the time we put everything together, we had about 80 songs,” singer Chester Bennington revealed in the short documentary The Making Of Meteora. “And that’s when we really started the process of fine-tuning the parts and finding the ones that really stuck out.”

Galvanised by the experience of recording their 2002 remix album, Reanimation, the band had grown increasingly confident with blending song fragments, and they doubled down on utilising samples with computer software while deploying scratching to further develop their incendiary mix of rap and alternative metal. “This is a business of love and labour,” Bennington said in an interview with Spin magazine. “You’re constantly trying to prove yourself, even after you’ve made it.”

Seeking to combine elements from different genres and experiment with new sounds, Linkin Park evolved their innovative rap-rock underpinnings while also pushing boundaries with their lyrics. Aware of the immense challenge they had set themselves, the group embarked on creating an album that would exceed expectations yet also remain relevant within the burgeoning nu-metal landscape.

The recording: “One of the big differences is simply the use of different instruments, different textures and moods”

Finally ready to record the album, Linkin Park met with Hybrid Theory producer Don Gilmore at NRG Studios, in North Hollywood, California, and it was clear that both parties were eager to stretch themselves. Not only did the group opt to use a wider array of instruments, but they also experimented with different tempos and time signatures in order to build on the nu-metal foundation they had successfully laid down on their previous album.

Released as Meteora’s first single, in February 2003, Somewhere I Belong gave Linkin Park fans their first taste of Hybrid Theory’s much-anticipated follow-up. Reportedly taking around 18 months to write the song, Shinoda and Bennington recorded 40 different variations of its chorus before finally being satisfied with the results. Peaking at No.10 in the UK and No.32 in the US, Somewhere I Belong was a commercial juggernaut that saw Bennington speak to feelings of being out of place or disconnected from his own life (“I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real/I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long”). “It’s really the first time you hear some optimistic views, some optimistic lyrics from us,” Shinoda explained to Shoutweb. “I think that lyrically this album is a little older, a little more mature hopefully.”

As Meteora began to come together, its use of hip-hop beats added greater sonic diversity to the Linkin Park sound, while guitarist Brad Delson’s metallic riffs took on a gnarlier and more visceral kick than before. “The recording process on this record, for me, was different,” drummer Rob Bourdon recalled in a CD interview sent out to the music press at the time of Meteora’s release. “I actually was able to use Pro Tools more a lot on this record, which really helps and opens the door to experiment with new sounds and new rhythms.”

From the crunching rap-metal swagger of Don’t Stay to the Dr Dre-esque Nobody’s Listening (replete with Japanese flute loops), Chester Bennington’s mix of tender emotion and cathartic screams were again anchored by Mike Shinoda’s cool-headed rap verses. “One of the big differences people will notice between Hybrid Theory and Meteora is just simply the use of different instruments, different textures and moods,” Shinoda pointed out in an interview with Yahoo! Launch. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the dizzying use of sped-up strings on the album’s second single, Faint, which would go on to be released in June 2003 and peak at No.15 in the UK.

The album cover: “I think the parallel between the music and artwork has always been there”

Given how hip-hop was one of Linkin Park’s key inspirations, it’s unsurprising that Shinoda’s love of graffiti art provided the genesis for Meteora’s album cover. Having previously devised the soldier illustration on Hybrid Theory’s sleeve, Shinoda took a lead role in developing the artistic vision for Meteora’s artwork, even going so far as to arrange an away day with the Dutch artist Boris Tellegen, nicknamed Delta, to help the group generate some ideas.

“We had a lot of fun and we did a whole day where we just spraypainted and painted these gigantic walls,” Shinoda remembered in an interview with Kerrang! magazine. He had originally envisioned the Meteora album cover as a gigantic mural painted by the band’s team, but Shinoda was so struck by Delta’s talents that he had a change of heart. “You see where he really came up through the ranks of being a graffiti artist,” the guitarist said in the mini-documentary The Art Of Meteora. “His control with a spray can is unbelievable.”

Ditching the idea of a mural and instead choosing a sepia-tinged rectangular photograph of Delta with a can of spray paint in his hand and a respirator over his face, the band set the image against a stark black background, capturing the clandestine air of urbane mystery surrounding the practice of street art. “We chose the image of Boris for the cover of the album because of that quiet power of it,” Shinoda explained.

“I think the parallel between the music and artwork has always been there,” Chester Bennington furthered in The Art Of Meteora. As one of the few contemporary bands who were able to appeal not just to rock and metal fans but also to hip-hop heads, Linkin Park’s homage to Delta’s creativity on the Meteora album cover was also a tribute to the inspirational and street-smart spirit that gave rise to hip-hop culture.

The release: “We found a way to do some things we’ve always wanted to do”

Released on 25 March 2003, Meteora sold 810,000 copies in its first week and shot straight to No.1 on the US Billboard 200. Understandably proud of the group’s efforts, Chester Bennington said he felt their second album was a logical continuation of the Linkin Park sound that also allowed him to explore a wider emotional range. “I think there’s a definite hint of optimism that wasn’t there [on Hybrid Theory],” Bennington told Spin. “Meteora’s still a dark record, but it’s a different kind of dark. It’s not pitch-black – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Released as the album’s third single, in September 2003, Numb was a hard-hitting nu-metal grenade, instantly exploding into fans’ affections as one of the best Linkin Park songs and ascending to No.11 in the US and No.14 in the UK. “It’s kind of about those times when you’ve got no feeling left or you just don’t care,” Mike Shinoda told Shoutweb when describing Numb. “It’s almost like exhaustion or something which funny enough is how we felt after touring last year.” In time, the promo video for Numb also became one of Linkin Park’s most-watched videos on YouTube, going on to rack up more than 1.9 billion views.

In an interview circulated to the media, Shinoda echoed Bennington’s view of the album, stating that Meteora contains “a lot of the same topics that we feel really passionate about”, but that the group were “adding to it with a lot of new things that we kind of experienced”. Ranging from the viola loops on Lying From You to the tribal bounce of Hit The Floor, Meteora had successfully perfected Linkin Park’s nu-metal style while imbuing their doom-laden rock riffs with more musicality and giving their lyrics more emotional heft. “This time, I think we found a way to do some things we’ve always wanted to do,” Bennington confessed to Request magazine, “things I don’t think we could have pulled off for Hybrid Theory.”

Featuring a ten-piece orchestra and described by drummer Rob Bourdon as “one of the songs we’re most proud of”, Breaking The Habit became yet another hit for Linkin Park as it peaked at No.20 in the US following its release as a single in June 2004. Exploring themes of drug addiction, the song pitted Bennington’s self-recriminating angst against a driving yet skittish groove and was described by the singer as one of his favourite Linkin Park songs. “I’m almost pissed off that we wrote it because I like it that much,” he confessed in a chat with the fan website Linkin Park Underground.

The legacy: “We’ve met the goals that we wanted to reach”

Popularly considered to be one of the best Linkin Park albums, Meteora has been close to the hearts of alternative-rock fans ever since its release. The group’s unique blend of rap, rock and nu-metal influences was groundbreaking for its time and solidified Linkin Park’s status as one of the most popular rock bands of the 21st century. With numerous singles going on to enjoy heavy circulation on Kerrang! TV, Meteora ended up selling somewhere in the region of 16 million copies and has been certified platinum seven times over by the Recording Industry Association Of America.

Not only did Meteora highlight Linkin Park’s versatility, but it also showcased a heavier sound while maintaining the group’s signature rap-rock style. As drummer Rob Bourdon put it upon the album’s release: “We feel that it’s been a success just because we’ve met the goals that we wanted to reach with this record.” Through its raw emotionality and profound lyrics, Meteora reflects on the human experience and continues to resonate with listeners in disarmingly powerful ways. Providing a source of comfort in difficult times, as well as helping maintain a sense of connection and solidarity throughout the band’s core fanbase, the album helped define the sound of alternative rock music in the early 2000s. It will continue to be remembered and beloved all around the world.

Buy the ‘Meteora’ 20th-anniversary super deluxe box set.

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