In one month, the world will be gearing to face the one-year anniversary of the death of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. His death has brought about a huge surge of mental health awareness and brought countless music fans together in mourning and in celebration of his life. All the same, the impact of his death still holds strong in every fan's heart.
It's not just the fans who struggled with his loss. His family, his friends, and his bandmates perhaps faced the worst of the pain. Yet the pain was met by an insatiable urge to act for many of them. His wife Talinda Bennington launched 320 Changes Direction, a movement to bring awareness to mental health around the world. Dave "Phoenix" Farrell launched a podcast. And, of course, Mike Shinoda met his grief with creativity by launching a solo career, complete with highly personal and intimate music. Not six months since his debut Post Traumatic EP and less than a year since his best friend's passing, Mike Shinoda releases his demons and looks ahead in Post Traumtic, his debut record about the journey out of a very dark spot.
Post Traumatic comes in two parts. The first half deals with the past, and looking back at the tragedy, questioning what to do from there on out. The first three tracks come from the EP: 'Place To Start' gently opens the record, but with a heavy message: "I don't want to know the end, all I want is a place to start." 'Over Again' deals directly with tragedy, finding the perfect blend of anger, distraught, and uncertainty. Recorded on the day of and the day after Linkin Park's Hollywood Bowl celebration of Chester's life, 'Over Again' is riddled with pain and angst. Shinoda weeps "Sometimes you don't say goodbye once, you say goodbye over and over and over again" during the choruses, to say that no matter how hard he tries, he cannot escape the demons and memories that haunt him. The more energetic 'Watching As I Fall' takes on a more aggressive hip-hop beat, its anger unfocused and undirected, as if to say that he doesn't know where to direct his own emotions.
The first half of the record really comes from a dark place. 'Nothing Makes Sense Anymore' is full of powerful metaphors that attempt to get across just how lost Shinoda feels in the world, the synth-led, percussion-less track seemingly empty, yet filled by the pained emotions in Shinoda's delivery. 'About You' follows up with more aggression, with sharp verses that are angry but still misdirected, a ghastly verse from blackbear adding a different perspective to the track. Instrumental 'Brooding' follows with Radiohead-like textures and a thick, dark volta akin to a Linkin Park demo called 'Space Station.' 'Promises I Can't Keep' ends this half of the record, the poetically delivered verses continuing Shinoda's uncertain narrative, asking "What's the difference between a man and a monster" in the first verse before admitting in the second, "I had so much certainty / Til that moment I lost control / And I've tried but it never was up to me."
Post Traumatic is not just the pain of being lost, however. It's a documentation of grief, and with grief comes the gradual path to acceptance. That's exactly what comes starting with 'Crossing A Line,' the album's turning point. The notably more optimistic-sounding track opens with Shinoda's grand chants of "They'll tell you I don't care anymore, and I hope you'll know that's a lie / 'Cause I've found what I have been waiting for, but to get there means crossing a line," Shinoda calmly gathering himself as he prepares to make that step forward across the line, towards recovery. But just because he's crossed that line doesn't mean its a straight path to the end: 'Make It Up As I Go' with K.Flay discusses this, its bouncy and big atmosphere providing for both frustration but optimism for what comes next. 'Running From My Shadow' acknowledges that even as he moves forward, there are still forces trying to grab him back, but he still forges ahead, grandson's ghastly verse leading into a big, confident guitar solo that roars with energy. Even 'Ghosts,' a poppier track, acknowledges these same memories, comparing them to spirits, but instead of trying to hide from them or run, he embraces them, because he knows its inevitable that they will be part of the process: "The lights go down / Holding every memory close / Tonight is for our ghosts."
Perhaps most important to Shinoda are the people and the memories that help him move forward. 'World's On Fire' is a very sweet song directed towards his wife Anna, thanking her for being there for him even when it seemed like his whole world was falling apart. The chorus sweetly chants "When I just wanna disappear, you're the one who keeps me here / The world's on fire, all I need is you," thanking her and the people around him that supported him through these tough times for keeping him grounded. 'Hold It Together' acknowledges how he was attempting to keep himself grounded on his own, perhaps more frustratingly as he replies "I'm just trying to hold my shit together / Together, darling" in the choruses. The frustration is a double entendre: a tired response to the common questions of "are you okay" as well as the impossibility of facing this alone.
In doing it alone, Shinoda had to unplug, as he does in some more hip-hop centered song. 'Lift Off' is full of obscure references, from the Challenger Space Shuttle to Jared Leto to Bambi, a hook by Deftones' Chino Moreno adding a spacey, otherworldly vibe and Machine Gun Kelly offering a verse full of weathered responses that all add up to telling the haters to get out. The space-themed track offers up a very "forget the naysayers, move forward" vibe, Moreno's hook seeming to "take off" in order to escape that negativity: "I'm off of the earth, on a ride alone / I'm drifting away, out of time, I flow / Away from the truth, away from the night." 'I.O.U.' is even more filthy, this time Shinoda taking over all rapping duties as he goes hard over a old-school, dirty beat. The album ends on 'Can't Hear You Now,' which ties everything together. From only hearing the cries of the past from 'Over Again' to ignoring those same voices and choosing to move forward instead of being held back, ending the record not at the end of the journey, but optimistically set on the path to that final destination.
With certain scenarios, perhaps a journey like this will never quite end. That doesn't mean one shouldn't try reaching it. Mike Shinoda releases his demons and looks ahead in Post Traumatic, his debut record that starts in a dark hole of impossibility that doesn't even know where the start is and ends on a hopeful path towards the light. There's nothing we can do to change the past, but we can take the past to make a better future. And Shinoda has shown us that even when the world around you may be falling apart, there's always going to be a reason to move forward, even if your journey has no end.
Favorite Tracks: Over Again, Nothing Makes Sense Anymore, Promises I Can't Keep, I.O.U., Lift Off
Least Favorite Track: Hold It Together
Rating: 98 / 100
Stream or buy Post Traumatic on Apple Music, and follow our 2018 Playlist on Spotify: