Linkin Park’s ‘Meteora’ Surprise: Unheard Chester Bennington Songs
Enough time has passed since his band’s first record that the Linkin Park singer Mike Shinoda has reached the stage of his career where his children’s friends are shocked to learn he was in one of the biggest bands of the 2000s. “The reactions are hysterical,” the musician, 45, said in a video interview from his home studio in Los Angeles.
He offered a knowing smile about what it meant that it had taken so long. “I think we gradually got comfortable with being elder statesmen,” he said about being discovered by the next generation. “But I’m really grateful for the respect that the band is enjoying from younger people, whether it’s fans or people who are making music.”
Linkin Park has not released a new album since May 2017, two months before its other frontman, Chester Bennington, died by suicide at 41. But while assembling material for a 20th anniversary reissue of the band’s second album, “Meteora,” Shinoda came upon something fans haven’t heard before: a handful of unreleased, close-to-complete songs that have sat in the band’s archives for two decades.
The first of those tracks, “Lost” — built around Bennington’s passionate vocals, and out on Friday — was pulled from one of Shinoda’s dormant hard drives. “Everything came back,” he said, about rediscovering the track. “That was that day. That was that thing. I remembered us having this conversation about which songs should make the cut.”
The song, which was fully recorded and mixed in 2003, was ultimately left off “Meteora” because it was similar to “Numb,” an album single that reached No. 11 on the Billboard chart and has 1.9 billion YouTube views. Today, it serves as an example of Bennington’s potent talents during the band’s commercial peak. (“Meteora” went seven-times platinum; the band’s 2000 debut, “Hybrid Theory,” has an RIAA diamond certification for sales over 10 million.)
“He could take that thing he was singing, and just sledgehammer it through somebody’s heart,” Shinoda said with reverence. “I’ve grown to appreciate what we had even more, because it’s hard to get that. I work with people where I go, ‘Oh, can you sing it this way?’ And they just can’t.”
Brad Delson, the band’s guitarist, called “Lost” a “surprise gift” from Bennington. “The performance is so beautiful, delicate and clear,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of great Chester vocals, and this is among the best.”
The band also revived two nearly completed songs: “Fighting Myself,” which Shinoda finished mixing last year and called “a definitive Linkin Park track,” and “More the Victim,” released in a version that’s “basically the furthest we got with it, in terms of a demo.” Shinoda said “Fighting Myself” received a light touch during the mixing process to preserve its period authenticity.
“I really wanted to keep it true to the initial intention, because I didn’t want to taint this time warp,” he said. “What I love about the three new songs is that all of them represent a different facet of the band, as it was in 2003.”
“Meteora” was made at a critical moment in Linkin Park’s career. “Hybrid Theory” was the best-selling album of 2001, outpacing LPs from established superstars like ’N Sync, Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child. This seemingly instant success placed more attention and pressure on the band, which began writing the songs that would make up “Meteora” while on tour.
“Our attitude, going into the sessions, was that we had everything to prove,” Shinoda said. The fusion of sounds from “Hybrid Theory” — emotive singing alongside nimble rapping, hip-hop rhythms underneath distorted guitars — was already being mimicked across the industry, and the band was eager to prove its creative versatility. “We said, ‘We wrote this formula, so we got to rewrite it, and let people know we’re bigger than that,’” he explained. “‘Because if we don’t start to pivot, we’re going to get stuck forever.’”
The super deluxe version of the “Meteora” reissue, due April 7, features “Work in Progress,” a collection of edited tour footage shot by the band’s in-house videographer, Mark Fiore, who captured what Shinoda called “weird, fly-on-the-wall stuff.” The boxed set also includes five previously unreleased full-length concert recordings, taken from a period when the band was constantly on tour at stadiums and arenas around the world.
Shinoda said that assembling the “Meteora” set inspired different feelings than the “Hybrid Theory” anniversary, which the band marked in 2020 with a similar boxed set. “We were still processing Chester’s passing at the time we were putting that stuff together,” he said. “Now, the tone for me was much more celebratory.”
As Linkin Park matured and its members started families and pursued other commitments, the band inevitably began to shift. The new collection offers a portrait of a group that was still ascending, and working as a unit to achieve all its goals. “When we made ‘Meteora,’ the band was everything,” Shinoda said. “We had so much dedication to what we were building at the time, but there was also that wonderful naïveté. We were just flying by the seat of our pants.”
No version of Linkin Park has played live since a 2017 tribute concert to Bennington, where his vocals were sung by a committee of guest musicians including Jonathan Davis of Korn, Machine Gun Kelly and Alanis Morissette. Currently, there are no plans for the band to stage a similar performance, or record without Bennington. “I don’t think we can predict that,” Shinoda said. “You have to let things travel in whatever direction. If and when it’s the right time, that’ll occur to us.”
But the process of assembling the reissue has provided another means of considering how Bennington may have wanted the band to proceed without him. In particular, Shinoda said he “felt confident” that the singer would have endorsed these expanded editions. “Historically, he was always way more bullish about putting out stuff,” he said. “A typical Chester reaction would have been, ‘Why not just make the album 15 songs?’ When I thought about that, it was very reassuring.”