In 2017, the music industry lost one of the most admired mainstream songwriters of the past two decades. Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington battled against depression for most of his life and bravely exposed his personal turmoil in poignant lyrics that touched a generation of fans. We revisit five songs that showcase his ability to turn inner demons into inspiring poetry.

The ferocious frontman was found dead on a Thursday morning of July in his California home. He was 41, and his band, the Platinum-selling rock powerhouse Linkin Park had debuted just a few months earlier at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart with their seventh outing, One More Light.

Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the death as suicide by hanging and confirmed that no drugs were present at the scene, only a half-empty bottle of alcohol.

“I can’t imagine a world without you in it,” Bennington wrote earlier in May in a note dedicated to his friend and idol Chris Cornell, who took his own life just hours after performing with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

“I pray you find peace in the next life,” wrote the musician, in a painfully ironic gesture that would later turn out to be premonitory.

Chester Charles Bennington was born in 1976, in Phoenix, the youngest of four children. The singer described his childhood as a dark time in his life, being a victim of sexual abuse from an older friend since he was seven years old until he was 13.

“It destroyed my self-confidence,” Bennington recalled in a 2008 interview with Kerrang! magazine. “Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience.”

Bullied at school and going through the divorce of his parents, the singer fell deeper into a state of despair from which he could only find solace in poetry, drawing and later on, in music.

Chester Bennington performing live. Photo by Arun Thomas.
Chester Charles Bennington Photo by Arun Thomas

“I have been able to tap into all the negative things that can happen to me throughout my life by numbing myself to the pain, so to speak, and kind of being able to vent it through my music,” he explained in an interview with Noisecreep in 2009.

Linkin Park broke into the scene in the late ’90s with a distinct brand of rock that successfully blended heavy metal guitars with hip-hop and electronica. But one of the traits that made the band unique among its contemporaries was the ability to create surprisingly mature lyrics that gave to their music both a sense of gravitas and accessibility.

From political meditations like ‘The Catalyst’, to the brutally honest descriptions of mental health struggles in ‘Easier To Run’, every Linkin Park album is characterised by incisive songwriting that is surprisingly relatable. We picked five tracks that exemplify what the band is capable of.

‘Crawling’, from Hybrid Theory, 2000

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Crawling in my skin

These wounds, they will not heal

Fear is how I fall

Confusing what is real

There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface

Consuming, confusing

This lack of self control I fear is never ending

Controlling, I can’t seem

To find myself again

My walls are closing in

(Without a sense of confidence I’m convinced

That there’s just too much pressure to take)

I’ve felt this way before

So insecure

‘Crawling’ was the second single from their debut album Hybrid Theory and is probably the most defining song for their career. Inspired by the singer’s struggles with substance abuse, the track opens and closes with a filtered sound of water running down the drain, almost as a dark analogy to a life that slipping away out of control.

“‘Crawling,’ for example, is probably the most literal song lyrically I’d ever written for Linkin Park,” Bennington told Noisecreep.

“That’s about feeling like I had no control over myself in terms of drugs and alcohol. That feeling, being able to write about it, sing about it, that song, those words sold millions of records, I won a Grammy, I made a lot of money,” he continued.

“I don’t think I could’ve been inspired to create something like that by watching someone else go through that. So in a lot of ways that’s been very constructive for me.”

‘Breaking The Habit’, from Meteora, 2003

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Memories consume like opening the wound

I’m picking me apart again

You all assume

I’m safe here in my room

Unless I try to start again

I don’t want to be the one the battles always choose

‘Cause inside I realize that I’m the one confused

I don’t know what’s worth fighting for

Or why I have to scream

I don’t know why I instigate

And say what I don’t mean

I don’t know how I got this way

I know it’s not alright

So I’m breaking the habit

I’m breaking the habit tonight

The track was the fifth consecutive single from their sophomore album to reach number one on the “Billboard Modern Rock Tracks” chart, a record no other artist has achieved in the history of that particular countdown.

Unlike other tracks in their discography, the song doesn’t feature the band’s characteristic distorted guitars or counterpoint rapping courtesy of Mike Shinoda. The weight of the song is carried by stinging lyrics that are precise enough to hurt, but vague enough to mean different things to every listener.

Co-written by Shinoda and Bennington, the song poses as a desperate call to action from someone who is clinging to the edge. And who hasn’t felt like that?

‘Hands held High’, from Minutes To Midnight, 2007

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Fuck that, I want to see some fist pumping

The world is cold

The bold men take action

Have to react

Or get blown into fractions

Ten years old is something to see

Another kid my age drugged under a jeep

Taken and bound and found later under a tree

I wonder if he thought the “next one could be me”

Do you see?

The soldiers they’re out today

That brush the dust from bulletproof vests away

It’s ironic

At times like this you pray

But a bomb blew the mosque up yesterday

There’s bombs in the buses, bikes, roads

Inside your markets, your shops, your clothes

My dad, he’s got a lot of fear I know

But enough pride inside not to let that show

My brother had a book he would hold with pride

A little red cover with a broken spine

In the back he hand wrote a quote inside

When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die

Meanwhile, the leader just talks away

Stuttering and mumbling

For nightly news to replay

And the rest of the world

Watching at the end of the day

Both scared and angry

Like what did he say?

Precise, yet delicate vocals contrast against a persistent marching snare that gives the whole song an unbearable sense of expectation and inevitable doom.

‘Hands Held High’ is probably the most mature and thought-provoking song of Linkin Park’s catalogue, going as far as including the line, “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.” a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous 1951 play The Devil And The Good Lord.

Mike Shinoda described the track in an interview with Spotify in 2014:

“You know, Bush was president, we were at war and all that stuff and I felt like I really just said what I wanted to say in that song.”

The track was written as a political statement against the George W’s administration, a turbulent time of economic uncertainty and ideological polarisation not that dissimilar to our current day.

“[The line] ‘What did he say?’, that’s talking about Bush. The people in America are listening to him going like: ‘Oh my God, did you hear what he said?’ But the exact same thing is happening everywhere, people overseas are listening to him also going: ‘Oh my God, did you hear what he said?’

“…‘this is fucked up, this is scary.’… it was a moment when you felt from whether you were democrat or republican, you definitely knew the severity of your situation.”

‘Robot Boy’, from A Thousand Suns, 2010

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You say you’re not gonna fight

‘Cause no one will fight for you

And you think there’s not enough love

And no one to give it to

And you’re sure you’ve hurt for so long

You’ve got nothing left to lose

So you say you’re not gonna fight

‘Cause no one will fight for you

You say the weight of the world

Has kept you from letting go

And you think compassion’s a flaw

And you’ll never let it show

And you’re sure you’ve hurt in a way

That no one will ever know

But someday the weight of the world

Will give you the strength to go

Another politically charged work, A Thousand Suns is a concept album that dealt with the constant conflict between humanity and technology. The title is a callback to Oppenheimer’s famous description of the atomic bomb as being “as bright as a thousand suns” which was itself a reference to Hindu Sanskrit scripture.

‘Robot Boy’ is a dense track with multilayered melodies and harmonies that is so complex it’s impossible to play live.

“Some songs weren’t made to be played live,” shared Shinoda in an interview with Electronic Musician. “We decided to go for a more vintage vocal layering, ala the Beach Boys and The Eagles—again, to contrast a robotic, mechanical-sounding track.”

The song is an emotional call to arms, the band inviting the listener to power through any problem that might arise, with the promise that there is always a bright light at the other side. Bennington and Shinoda’s vocals weave in and out of each other to produce a climactic wall of sound that is as optimistic as it is joyous.

‘Pushing me Away’, from Hybrid Theory, 2000

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I’ve lied to you

The same way that I always do

This is the last smile

That I’ll fake for the sake of being with you

(Everything falls apart, even the people who never frown eventually break down)

The sacrifice of hiding in a lie

(Everything has to end, you’ll soon find we’re out of time left to watch it all unwind)

The sacrifice is never knowing

Why I never walked away

Why I played myself this way

Now I see your testing me pushes me away

Why I never walked away

Why I played myself this way

Now I see your testing me pushes me away

The world’s a stage, and this song talks about the little characters we sometimes play to fit certain circumstances or certain relationships. The irony of life is, sometimes these masks become so habitual, we can’t take them off anymore.

“How many people here have been in a relationship you just can’t seem to get out?” said Bennington to the crowd before performing the song in Wantagh back in 2007. “Whether is someone you love or a friend. I don’t know, maybe you have an asshole dad who kicked your ass on his home or something. This song is for you.”

If you know of someone who needs support, you can visit suicide.org for a list of international hotlines and resources.

What’s next for Linkin Park?

After the shock of Chester Bennington’s premature death, Linkin Park entered an indefinite hiatus to heal from the loss of their frontman and friend.

“When Chester passed, for the first week, I was completely lost at sea,” recalls Mike Shinoda in a 2018 interview with Vulture. “I realised in the middle of the week that there were certain things that were really scary for me that, in the long run, I wasn’t going to be able to avoid.

“One of those things was listening to [Linkin Park’s] music at all, and another was getting into the studio to write.”

During a recent Twitter Q&A, Shinoda, doubled down on his intention to carry on making music under the Linkin Park banner: “I have every intention of continuing with LP, and the guys feel the same. We have a lot of rebuilding to do, and questions to answer, so it’ll take time.”

During this temporary absence of Linkin Park, Portugal’s Hybrid Theory has allowed fans to continue to honour Chester Bennington’s legacy. The six-man act capture the same fury and honesty of the original group and have delighted Linkin Park fans to rave reviews.

In February 2020, Hybrid Theory will hit Australian shores with a show packed with Linkin Park’s most beloved songs. Aussie audiences will be able to experience hits like ‘In The End’, ‘Numb’, ‘Breaking the Habit’, ‘Crawling’, plus heaps more, in a show made by Linkin Park fans, for Linkin Park fans.

HYBRID THEORY LINKIN PARK TRIBUTE

Friday, February 7th
Rosemount Hotel, Perth
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Saturday, February 8th
The Gov, Adelaide
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Thursday, February 13th
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
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Friday, February 14th
Metro Theatre, Sydney
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Saturday, February 15th
Max Watts, Melbourne
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For all ticketing information head to Metropolis Touring.