The four years since Linkin Park’s second album, 2003’s Meteora, had been the Californian’s first opportunity to take a significant collective breather since they exploded on to the scene with One Step Closer in 2000.
“We felt that we needed to go and hang out with our friends, to go grocery shopping and do normal stuff like that,” reflected Chester of that period of decompression. Ever the workaholics, several members of the band soon got itchy feet, so took the opportunity to explore other projects. For Mike, that was hip-hop outfit Fort Minor; for Chester, Dead By Sunrise, the line-up of which featured Ryan Shuck, a founding member of Orgy.
These endeavours resulted in delays to work beginning on LP album three. Given this loss in momentum and extracurricular activities, there was speculation that all may not be well in the band’s camp, which the band took in their stride.
“There were a lot of rumours that we broke up,” said Chester shortly after the release of the album. “That’s cool because at least people were thinking of us. But we were never close to breaking up – not even in the shittiest times. Not even when I had a lot of personal stuff going on that wasn’t to do with the band.” Chester was referring to the divorce from first wife Samantha he went through during these intervening years. “That’s always a good time,” he told Kerrang! later. “I felt someone, like, came up to me and said, ‘Here’s a big pile of shit. Eat it!’ I also got re-married [to second wife Talinda Bentley], so I had, you know, a constant contrast. I couldn’t be fully happy with the new life I was starting and couldn’t, you know, end the other life.”
Whether to add stability to proceedings, encourage new ways of thinking, or both, Linkin Park recruited Rick Rubin to co-produce Minutes To Midnight alongside Mike. So began a period of collaboration that would continue with the band’s next two albums, A Thousand Suns (2010) and Living Things (2012). In another change to convention, the band spent far longer on the record than they had before, clocking up more than a year of studio time. Speaking to Kerrang! in 2007, the band were open about working with the man responsible for helming classic albums by Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer, particularly his unfiltered feedback on lyrics they’d agonised over.
“It’s frustrating to have someone dismiss something in 30 seconds that you’ve been working on for days,” recalled Mike, who admitted he’d encouraged the tough love approach from the legendary bearded producer. “Having your lyrics rejected is like being punched in the face.”
The subject of many delays in its release, when Minutes To Midnight was eventually unveiled, on 14 May 2007, it’s fair to say reviews were mixed. Despite Linkin Park’s concerted efforts to move away from a sound they didn’t want to be associated with, some still criticised them for sticking to the nu-metal formula. Others, meanwhile, suggested they’d left that formative style behind, praising their evolution into a more traditional rock outfit. So who was right? In truth, both sides had a point, because though Linkin Park had begun pushing the sound that made them megastars in new directions, they weren’t doing so as dramatically as they would later on.