Tribute: Chester Bennington brought rock ferocity to Linkin Park's innovations

Chester Bennington performs during the second day of the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival, on Sept 22, 2012.
Chester Bennington performs during the second day of the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival, on Sept 22, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS
Chester Bennington of Linkin Park performs at the 40th American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, on Nov 18, 2012.
Chester Bennington of Linkin Park performs at the 40th American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, on Nov 18, 2012.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Beginning in 2000, Linkin Park brought the collision of hard rock and hip-hop to its commercial and aesthetic peak, with their lead singer, Chester Bennington, delivering intense, almost physically palpable emotion alongside the grounded rapping of Mike Shinoda.

But how Bennington - who was found dead on Thursday morning in his California home - truly set himself apart was with his flexibility, taking on different vocal personas, depending on the demands of the song. That made him an anomaly for his era: a 2000s progressive who rooted his singing in the tenets of 1980s and 1990s rock, and someone who knew how to extract feeling both from careful whispers and gnarled yelps.

He had many guises. On Numb, from Linkin Park's second album, he started out plaintive and became gutturally desperate at the hook: "All I want to do/is be more like me/and be less like you."

On Walking Dead, a collaboration with DJ-producer Z-Trip, he was languorous and mildly sleazy. On New Divide, a mid-career hit from, of all places, the soundtrack to the 2009 film Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, he was dream-like and practically sweet. On Crawling, from Linkin Park's debut, he brought gale-force anguish, vivid and baptismal.

Bennington's ability to pair serrate rawness with sleek melody separated him from the other singers of his era and also from the ones he grew up on. He was an emo sympathiser in a time when heavy metal was still setting the agenda for mainstream hard rock, and a hip-hop enthusiast who found ways to make hip-hop-informed music that benefited from his very un-hip-hop skill set.

Chester Charles Bennington was born March 20, 1976, in Phoenix, Arizona, the youngest of four children. His mother was a nurse and his father was a police detective prone to pulling double shifts.

Bennington described his childhood as unhappy, citing his parents' divorce when he was 11 and frequent molestation by an older friend.

 

Bennington married Talinda Bentley, a schoolteacher and former model, in 2006. In addition to his wife, he is survived by six children

Bennington was both the most powerful and, in a way, most conventional member of Linkin Park, which he joined in 1999 after some time fronting other hard rock and grunge-influenced bands. (The band also included Shinoda, Brad Delson, Dave Farrell, Rob Bourdon and Joe Hahn.) In Linkin Park, he was something of a throwback: an impassioned, fervent hard-rock singer in a band intent on remixing hard-rock conventions at every turn. The band's uniqueness emerged in the ways they upheld rock tradition while acknowledging the urgency and inventiveness of hip-hop production. Remarkably, the amalgam did not feel subversive - more an inevitable evolution of a genre that had been stubborn and slow to change.


Chester Bennington speaks before the band is inducted into Guitar Center's RockWalk in Los Angeles, on June 18, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

The late 1990s were heady times for the intersection of hard rock and hip-hop. Linkin Park, which released their debut album, Hybrid Theory, in 2000, were the most streamlined and pop-friendly of that generation's king-size bands - less shambolic than Korn, more mature than Limp Bizkit.


Chester Bennington and wife Talinda arrive at the 2012 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, on May 20, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

They also baked formal ambition into their release cycle: Between 2000 and 2004, when the band were at their most influential, Linkin Park released two studio albums, and also a remix album and a full-length mash-up album with Jay-Z. They continued releasing a combination of major label albums, EPs and annual collections of demos and alternate mixes for the fan-club faithful.

The division of labour in Linkin Park was crucial - Shinoda handled the bulk of the rapping, earnest and slightly lumpy, and Bennington complemented him with fierce, tightly controlled shrieks and tempered, reflective crooning.


Members of rock band Linkin Park (from left) Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdon, Joe Hahn, Brad Delson, Dave Farrell and Chester Bennington put their handprints in cement as they are inducted into Guitar Center's RockWalk in Los Angeles, on June 18, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

In a 2015 interview with AltWire, Bennington cited as formative influences the grunge icons of the 1990s, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, but also industrial outfits such as Ministry and Skinny Puppy and hardcore punk bands such as Minor Threat and Fugazi.


Linkin Park, fronted by lead singer Chester Charles Bennington (right), performing at Rock in Rio USA 2015 music concert in Las Vegas, on May 9, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

It was for that reason that Linkin Park were able to survive the rise and precipitous fall of the rap-rock era. Bennington was a rock music polymath, so on later albums, as the group emphasised electronic music and even a touch of new wave, Bennington was able to sound more or less at home. Their most recent album, One More Light, was released in May and debuted atop the Billboard album chart.


Chester Bennington performing at the Padang stage for the Singtel Singapore Grand Prix festivities, on Sept 25, 2011. PHOTO: MYPAPER

Even though his music helped put an end to the mealy, gritty hard rock of the 1990s, Bennington still felt simpatico with the singers of that era. When Scott Weiland split from Stone Temple Pilots, Bennington took over as lead singer, touring with the band for two years and recording new music. And he was close with Chris Cornell, frontman of Soundgarden: Just two months ago, he sang Hallelujah at Cornell's funeral.


Chester Bennington performs during a concert in Wroclaw, on June 5, 2014. PHOTO: EPA

On YouTube, you can find a handful of videos of the two men touring in the late 2000s, singing a version of Hunger Strike, the elegant dirge originally performed by Cornell with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam (in the supergroup Temple Of The Dog). In these performances, Bennington's vocals are scraped-up and eager. In one clip, filmed at a 2008 concert in Irvine, California, the two men were joined onstage by some of their young children, turning a song about unimaginable loss into a family song-and-dance party, fleetingly free of pain.


Chester Bennington visiting Music Choice at Music Choice Studios in New York City, on Feb 21, 2017. PHOTO: AFP


Chester Bennington performs at the 43rd edition of the Pinkpop Music Festival in Landgraaf, on May 27, 2012. PHOTO: EPA


Chester Bennington and Linkin Park perform at a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, on Feb 4, 2011. PHOTO: NYTIMES


Chester Bennington (right) and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park rehearse before the MTV Music Video Awards, in New York, on Sept 2, 2001. PHOTO: NYTIMES