If history has not been kind to the nu-metal scene that afflicted American rock around the millennium, it is largely because it was atrocious. A grim amalgam of showy angst and bellowed, testosterone-driven rage, it spewed out some of the most cack-handed, irony-free bands ever to walk the Earth (the nadir: Limp Bizkit).
Thankfully, Californian five-piece Linkin Park comprehensively outgrew nu-metal to become far more aesthetically engrossing. They also did so while becoming enormously commercially successful: with 30m sales, 2000’s Hybrid Theory remains the bestselling debut album of the 21st century.
Seventeen years and seven studio albums down the line, they have worked their way through a sizeable range of musical rethinks. They embraced leftfield electronics and teamed up with Jay-Z, while their newest album, this year’s One More Light, was co-shaped by a bevy of big-name electropop producers and contains no discernible traces of attitudinal rap-metal whatsoever.
It is to their undoubted credit that they have reinvented themselves in this manner while maintaining a ferociously loyal following and losing none of the primal intensity of their live show. Tonight’s opening track, Talking to Myself, is a sleek Justin Bieber-style pop-R&B nugget, but flailing singer Chester Bennington, a kinetic blur of muscle and sinew, still delivers it as if bleeding every word.
It’s admirable that these middle-aged men no longer wish to be a mere conduit for teen angst, especially when the barbed, Rage Against the Machine-like debut single One Step Closer reminds you just how rudimentary their original template was. It’s a sign of exactly how far they have come when Stormzy materialises on stage to spit an insouciant, none-more-London rap over their recent collaboration, Good Goodbye. The contributions of the band’s own rapper, perma-grinning Mike Shinoda, dovetail adroitly with Bennington’s feral howls rather than seeming intrusive.
Linkin Park’s prime achievement is to be genuine musical adventurers even this late in the day, rather than mere dilettantes. In a two-hour-plus show there are inevitable lulls – new song Battle Stations is tinny, weedy electro-slop – but by the time the encore finds Bennington and Shinoda caught in a spotlight and crooning the ruminative Sharp Edges like a buff, tattooed Simon & Garfunkel, it’s clear this brooding band are oddly immune to middle-age spread.