Chester Bennington, 1976-2017
On July 20, 2017, the music world was shocked by the news of Chester Bennington's death at the age of 41. The Linkin Park singer died of an apparent suicide, leaving behind a musical legacy that was embraced by millions of fans around the world.
Linkin Park undoubtedly defined the wonder and power that could be achieved in heavy music, as well as serving as many's introduction into the rock world. Chester Bennington's voice, a combination of sweet sung vocals and completely vicious screams, were a big reason why the band resonated with so many. The group made their mark with initial singles like "Crawling," "In the End" and "One Step Closer" thanks to their debut LP Hybrid Theory, which would later go onto earning a Diamond RIAA certification with 11 million copies sold in the United States alone. Hybrid Theory would set the tone for the vulnerable, aggressive music that would come for the next decade.
Bennington was born on March 20, 1976, to mother Susan Elaine Johnson and father Lee Russell Bennington in Phoenix, Ariz. His childhood was riddled with a lot of trouble, as he was sexually abused by an older male when he was just seven. The abuse continued through the age of 13, and he was afraid to tell anybody in fear of being seen as a liar or gay. His parents would divorce when he was 11, and he eventually started down a path of drug abuse. At 17, he moved in with his mother, but was forbidden to go out due to his drug use. But the singer found his escape from all the turmoil through music.
Even at a young age, he would find relief in bands such as Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots, the latter of which ironically he would one day front. While still a teenager, he'd front a couple of bands -- Sean Dowdell and His Friends? and Grey Daze. None of them ever went anywhere beyond a few demo records, allowing Bennington to leave in 1998 to find a new band.
In search of a new future, Bennington would meet with the then vice-president of A&R at Zomba Music and was offered an audition with the future members of Linkin Park. He'd soon become fast friends with Mike Shinoda and the other members of the band, and they eventually signed to Warner Bros. Records where they would unleash what would eventually become Hybrid Theory.
Their debut disc often gets lumped in with the rest of nu-metal, but it would be hard to let it remain boxed into the narrow genre tag. Hybrid Theory succeeded most in adding on top of what had become prescient at the time of its release, the melding of hip-hop and rock. Linkin Park's music injected a heavy electronic influence beyond just the occasional record scratch, creating a more thoroughly textural beast than what had previously been heard in the genre. What resulted were songs like "Points of Authority," with an opening riff and flow that made listeners feel as though they were falling into another world. In subtle and less overt ways, the band would craft an aesthetic and feeling that shaped what this world might be: a cyberpunk-tinged sound that felt like it was grabbed from the near future.
At the center of Hybrid Theory's musical excellence was Bennington's vocals, as much of an instrument as anything else in the mix. His tenor range of singing created an instantly catchy, and addictive sound that would catch listeners nearly immediately. It could be at times shockingly vulnerable, and in the next second able to transition into an affirming scream on songs like "Crawling." His voice also provided the perfect counterpoint to Shinoda's more rap-like delivery, creating a simultaneous dynamic other bands couldn't achieve due to having one singer. There's a malleable quality to it that allowed for Hybrid Theory's diversity in sound. Songs could be extremely heavy, poppy or slow and its authenticity was hard to question.
They completely nailed a new sound, and Hybrid Theory was an extremely successful debut for the band. Released on Oct. 24, 2000, it landed at No. 16 on the Billboard 200, and in 2001 it wound up being the highest selling album of the year. The success would find them on huge tours early on, including the 2001 editions of Korn's Family Values Tour, and the explosive summer tour Ozzfest.
The band's rise to fame saw Bennington start to expand past Linkin Park into different appearances. For the 2001 Family Values Tour compilation, Bennington collaborated with Stone Temple Pilots on a live version of "Wonderful," a song suited for his talents. In 2002, he would release a solo song "System" as a part of the Queen of the Damned soundtrack, where he sung over an instrumental written by Korn's Jonathan Davis.
Things would truly reach new heights when Linkin Park returned to the studio, and eventually released their sophomore album Meteora. Building even further on the sound established by Hybrid Theory, the band further found ways in which they clicked together, each evolving their talents. Bennington's lyrics would become more nuanced, going past general ideas of depression and into even further personal places like his own fights with addiction on "Breaking the Habit." His battle with mental health and depression became a rallying point on the single "Numb," which connected with many listeners.
From Meteora, the band found themselves ascending past nu-metal and into the cultural canon of rock. Bennington would continue exploring his own artistry, forming the band Dead by Sunrise in 2005 during a writing period for their later third LP Minutes to Midnight. Dead by Sunrise would eventually come to fruition with Out of Ashes in 2009, taking Bennington's vocal textured to a punk-influenced kind of rock.
Linkin Park broke away from the nu-metal sound developed on their first two records with their 2007 effort Minutes to Midnight. The band shifted away from the metal influence to a more straightforward rock approach, with their huge single "What I've Done" becoming one of the most played tracks in the summer of 2007 and a soundtrack hit for the year's huge Transformers movie. It would also be the source of one of Bennington's most impressive vocal performances on "Given Up," where he belted out an 18-second long scream.
The stylistic choices wouldn't end on Minutes to Midnight, and on subsequent releases A Thousand Suns and Living Things, Linkin Park would further explore the reaches of electronic and experimental rock music. The band remained unapologetic about their decision to move away from the guitar centric sound of their earlier work, and stood behind their music.
In May 2013, Bennington would join Stone Temple Pilots as their new singer after the band split with Scott Weiland. It was a dream come true for Bennington, who grew up listening to the work of STP. The new pairing would go on tour together and record the five-song EP High Rise, which featured their singles "Out of Time" and "Black Heart." Bennington would amicably leave the group in November 2015 after feeling the balancing acts between the two bands and family time had become too much to continue.
The last couple years saw Bennington challenge himself in different ways. In 2014, Linkin Park would go onto release The Hunting Party, which featured arguably their most guitar-heavy work to date, having guest appearances from the likes of Helmet's Page Hamilton, System of a Down's Daron Malakian and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello.
This year (2017), the band released their most polarizing album, One More Light. It showed the band taking a complete transition away from rock music, working some with outside writers and exploring a pop direction. Bennington pushed himself vocally in ways he hadn't ever before. Fan outrage was high, but the band stood behind it, confident in their decision to advance their music into a new era.
Bennington was married to Talinda Ann Bently in 2011, and the couple had three children. In a previous marriage and another prior relationship, the singer had two other children, as well as another adopted child. Bennington was an ardent supporter of charitable causes through Linkin Park's foundation Music for Relief. The charity supported numerous disasters across the country, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the Japan Tsunami and many other causes.
Given the fact that many of Bennington's lyrics have to do in some way with depression, learning about his suicide is especially upsetting. His lyrics were the source of comfort and catharsis for many, able to convey incredibly personal feelings to a huge base of listeners around the world.
Our condolences to Bennington's family and the larger Linkin Park family worldwide. We are eternally grateful for Bennington for fronting one of rock music's most influential bands of all time, for being a source of comfort in each song he sang and with every lyric he wrote.
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