Today marks around 12 months since the passing of Chester Bennington, another all too frequent day that sends shockwaves rippling through the music community. In this instance, more so than most, the sadness and anguish weren’t contained to the metal or rock communities, but the music world more broadly. Yet, as difficult as his death has been for countless people the world over, few would have felt his loss to the extent that friend and bandmate Mike Shinoda has. Our words couldn’t possibly describe how he would have been feeling, for grief is such a personal emotion, and so we won’t even try. But we can touch upon the various motivations that may have been at play when deciding to write, record and release Post Traumatic, a 16-song LP released in June.
A desire for catharsis. A desire to create something that pays tribute to his friend. A desire to continue creating and doing what he loves in spite of what happened to his friend. A desire to help others deal with loss. A desire to figure out what the fuck was happening and how he was going to move forward. All this and more plays out across the album in spades, though it is the latter which seems the driving force. Whilst the musical and lyrical content is undoubtedly dark at times, it doesn’t dwell in its own sorrows for too long. The record shows Shinoda’s emotional journey over the past year, with the darkness slowly giving way to moments of light, fun and, ultimately, hope.
The opening three tracks were released earlier in the year as an EP, together forming the ‘Trauma’ aspect of the record. The opener sets the scene, particularly with its recordings of voicemails Shinoda’s friends had left him which offered their condolences, love, and support. From the outset, we know this will be rough. It will be raw. It will be intensely personal. “Over Again” arguably drives this point home strongest, with Shinoda rapping like a man on the brink of collapse, one unable to hold back the flood of tears and grief as he sacrifices flow and precision for raw emotion. “Watching As I Fall” is the first musical heavy-hitter, with a massive dubstep-infused beat pummelling the listener. The opening line perfectly encapsulates this section of the record, with Shinoda quoting ‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky’ from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”. The line is famous for sounding nearly indistinguishable from ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy’, and in this instance, it makes no difference. Whether Mike kisses his dear friend goodbye or the place in the sky where Chester might now reside, the message is loud and clear. That Chester was likely a Hendrix fan only highlights the care with which Shinoda has written this record.
“Nothing Makes Sense Anymore” and “About You” round out this section of the record, with their titles in and of themselves telling the story. We then shift gears with “Brooding – Instrumental”, a track that serves as the bridge between two sections of the record. At this point, it becomes apparent just how central of a cog Shinoda’s songwriting is to Linkin Park. This interlude could easily be a Linkin Park song, and the same could be said for most of the remaining tracks, if not in their original form then certainly as variations. The instruments being used and the choices of melody and tone simply scream Shinoda, but the fact this isn’t a Linkin Park album becomes evident as we hit “Promises I Can’t Keep”. The music is more upbeat as we enter the ‘Transition’ period of the record, one of uncertainty where the initial shock has worn off, but Shinoda still doesn’t know what to do or feel. Whilst the songwriting is excellent, the execution in Shinoda’s singing lacks the punch this track deserves. His vocals have improved tremendously over time, but he cannot become that which he is not overnight. One can imagine Chester belting out the chorus with power, the gravel and grit in his voice adding another dimension to the song. Thus, the meaning behind “About You” circles around again, each song relating to Chester regardless of whether Shinoda intended it to. His memory is omnipresent, impossible to exclude or avoid.
Having gone through the broadly termed ‘Trauma’ and ‘Transition’ sections of the album, “Ghosts” seems to herald the third and final section: ‘Hope’. “Ghosts”, “Make It Up As I Go” and “Can’t Hear You Now” can all count themselves among the album’s highlights, with astonishingly catchy melodies, upbeat tempos, colourful chord progressions and a distinct sense of hope. Whilst the lyrical content occasionally clashes with these themes and tracks such as the aggressive “I.O.U” go against the grain, for the most part this section’s vocal delivery and instrumentation brings through a sense of calm and comfort that simply isn’t there earlier in the record. In doing so Shinoda ensures the record is a dynamic journey full of ebbs and flows, one which offers hitherto unseen insights into the man behind the mic.
Crucially, Post Traumatic holds up even when looking beyond the context. The songwriting is tight, the melodies catchy, the beats interesting and knowing when to go hard and when to slow things down. There is a diversity in vocal delivery, with clean singing, rapping, sampled vocals and a slew of guests who manage to add their own flavours within the parameters of Shinoda’s songs. Post Traumatic isn’t a perfect album, but it doesn’t need to be. The fact it exists at all is a testament to Shinoda’s courage and determination. And to his credit, it goes beyond existing. It’s a fantastic body of work, arguably the best release he has been involved with since at least Minutes to Midnight, and it will doubtlessly help millions of people the world over go about their day-to-day lives. If it in any way helped him do the same then it must be considered a raging success.
Mike Shinoda’s Post Traumatic was released on June 15th. You can grab it wherever records are sold. Don’t forget, even when times are hard: we love you. You’re not alone. Reach out to someone. Tomorrow will be better.