It has been three years since Linkin Park last played in the UK. Now that they have finally resolved their spat with their record company - which threatened not just the band's third album, but their future - it is hard to tell who is happiest that they are back: the band or the fans who chant their name until breathless. "I'm getting off on you guys right now," says singer Chester Bennington. "For real. I've fucking missed this shit."
Not since Linkin Park's 2001 Hybrid Theory put nu-metal firmly in the mainstream have the Californian six-piece played a venue this intimate, and they make the most of the opportunity to press the flesh of the faithful. Bennington's ill-advised foray to the front row sees him dodging the sweat-covered limbs of crowd surfers, while Mike Shinoda, the rhythm guitarist who puts the rap into the band's rap-rock, stands between two security men who valiantly try to keep him out of reach of the grabbing hands of the mosh pit.
They have claimed that they want to break away from the scene that spawned them back in 2001, and expectations are high for the new Rick Rubin-produced album, Minutes to Midnight. Tonight though, the band play songs old and new with equal passion and belief. Aggressive guitars and thunderous, swarming rhythms assault Bennington's voice, which jumps from angelic whisper to murder-victim scream, plunging in and out of the dense drama of In the End and Lying From You. The band's mood is euphoric and the atmosphere electric as each choppy chord bounces off the walls.
Airing of their new material is brief, but the band's new direction is clear. Gone are Shinoda's raps, replaced by high, sweet vocals, with DJ Joe Hahn's scratches and samples swapped for more adventurous sounds. No More Sorrow sounds like Kasabian's Empire covered by Marilyn Manson, while Given Up is the ultimate shrieking anthem to self-hatred. When the rest of the band leave the stage, Bennington and Shinoda, sitting at a keyboard, display a chilling sensitivity, picking at the scabs of their trademark teen angst.
Shinoda plays good cop to Bennington's bad. While Shinoda laments the short set and early curfew, Bennington rails against it. "I don't give a shit," he says, pacing up and down the stage. "I know you don't give a shit," Shinoda patiently replies. After distracting his fired-up friend with a discussion - and glimpse - of Bennington's Superman underpants, there's a final romp through the blistering Faint, and all the band depart as heroes.
· At Download, Donington Park, on June 9. Details: www.downloadfestival.co.uk