Linkin Park's new album, "The Hunting Party," is by no means a commercial failure, but when it didn't debut at No. 1 on Billboard magazine's album chart upon its release in July, the band's vocalist/rapper/guitarist Mike Shinoda got condolences from a number of friends.
His band, after all, had topped the album chart with each of its four preceding albums - an unprecedented streak of chart-topping debuts on the U.S. charts.
Shinoda, though, sounded like he wasn't surprised when "The Hunting Party" came in behind Lana Del Rey's "Ultraviolence" and Sam Smith's "In The Lonely Hour" in the United States.
"I feel like the Billboard chart is for one thing," Shinoda told a group of reporters during an early August teleconference interview. The group co-headlines with Thirty Seconds to Mars at the Xfinity Center this Saturday.
"It's for the first week album sales, and this is not really a first week album sales kind of album. It's a statement album. It's a live album, an album that should be taken to the (concert) stage."
Of course, Shinoda could take solace in knowing that "The Hunting Party" did go No. 1 in 67 other countries. He and his bandmates can also feel good about the album on a musical level, as it's been one of the best reviewed albums of Linkin Park's career and fans seem happy with the music as well.
"Every single person that I've met since we released this record has told me that they love the record," said singer Chester Bennington, who also participated in the teleconference interview. "They appreciate what we do, but they've kind of been waiting for us to rock out for a while."
But "The Hunting Party" is a bit of a musical risk for Linkin Park.
Mixing frequent use of rapped lyrics with its aggressive guitar rock sound, the album comes at a time when hard rock is almost entirely absent on the top 40 charts. Many of the songs even feature guitar solos - something Linkin Park has rarely built into its songs.
Of course, changing up its sound is nothing new for Linkin Park, which formed in Agoura Hills, Calif. (near Los Angeles) in 1996. And "The Hunting Party" is actually something of a throwback to the first two Linkin Park albums.
The group's 2000 debut CD, "Hybrid Theory," and 2003 follow-up, "Meteora," both featured hard-hitting rap-rock - a sound that was popular at the time.
But Linkin Park soon showed it had an adventurous musical spirit. The band started breaking the rap-rock mold with the 2008 album "Minutes To Midnight." There were only token moments of rap-rock on that CD, as the band crafted a mix of bracing rock songs and softer, more spacious and melodic tracks. Then on 2010's "A Thousand Suns," the group, while re-introducing some rap, pushed further in new directions, prominently exploring more of an electronic-edged sound and even including musical transitions between some songs.
The 2012 album, "Living Things," once again found Linkin Park adding new wrinkles to its sound. Some elements of metal and rap-rock came back into the sound and many of the songs amped up the electronic feel of the music, while also emphasizing the melodic dimensions that were present on "Minutes To Midnight" and "A Thousand Suns."
Fans, obviously, responded to what Linkin Park did on those two albums - as well as "Living Things" - which made taking the left turn toward a heavier guitar-oriented sound on "The Hunting Party" less scary.
"A lot of our fans have come along for the ride on the last (few) records, and we really did go and stretch our wings and see how far we could take (things)," Shinoda said. "I think, for us, like going through that process of trying things and making sure that we're creatively excited and energized helps us create music that still sounds like Linkin Park regardless of what vibe the song is."
It's easy to know why "The Hunting Party" works for fans. It's a visceral album that doesn't sacrifice catchiness at the expense of intensity.
Big, hooky guitar riffs and the slamming drumming of Bourdon (who had to build up his conditioning to play the songs) power songs like "All for Nothing" "Keys to the Kingdom" and "Wastelands." There's even a touch of hardcore in songs like "War" and "A Line in the Sand."
Linkin Park is playing a few new songs as part of a career-spanning set on its current tour with co-headliner Thirty Seconds To Mars. The new songs are translating well to the stage, as Bennington feels "The Hunting Party" captures the feel of a Linkin Park live show.
"There's this, like, raw kind of more prompt and in-your-face attitude about the band when you see us live," Bennington said. "Even like our mellower songs, there's an edge to them that you get in a live performance that kind of gets lost in the studio. And I think that with this record, like, we've kind of captured a lot more of what we're like live in the sound of the record. And I think that's exciting."