VERSUS: Hybrid Theory vs. Toxicity

VERSUS: Hybrid Theory vs. Toxicity

Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them to each other, to see which one was the better record.

In this edition of Versus, we are going back to the 2000's. We survived Y2K,  smart phones weren't as popular or prevalent as they are now, and metal was in a transitional period. The metal community had begun to groan and wane with the frat-boy stereotyping of the nu-metal genre and wanted something different, they wanted change. Two bands would come out of the 2000's with some of the most recognizable songs, multi-platinum (even diamond) record sales, making these albums some of the biggest selling records of the 2000's. Yes, they may not be the heaviest bands, but the impact and influence they had on many popular bands in modern metal and metalcore now, makes this a unique matchup for this series. Let's put these two heavyweight records into the ring and see which record will stand tall in this matchup I'm calling "The Nu-Alternative"

In this corner, we have Linkin Park with their 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory. Appearing on popular tours like Ozzfest & Family Values Tour would help create buzz and hype for the band. Hybrid Theory would sell over twelve million copies. One of the strongest and highest selling debuts in metal history, some even citing it as one of the most successful nu-metal albums of the genre, breaking the stigma and traits of titans like Limp Bizkit but making the genre radio-friendly and catchy. Is this album's legacy worth the praise and recognition it deserves?

The album opens with "Papercut", a nice up-tempo riff into palm muted guitars by Brad Delson as Mike Shinoda's raps kick in. Chester Bennington's vocals on the chorus add swagger and I love his highs when he hits them. The chorus is catchy with an earworm-like guitar piece as we head into the bridge of the song. Bennington's vocals are so good on the bridge, in-between the riff and the DJ scratches by Joe Hahn. When his cleans from the bridge overlap the chorus' clean vocals, it sounds so good in a pair of a headphones.

Then that legendary opening guitar part of "One Step Closer" kicks in. The song that introduced the world to the band, myself included, the song is just so good. The vocals are on point, from gritty cleans to the chorus-tinged backing vocals on the chorus just sound so good and sound's 2000's as hell, but God was this song a great example of how the band was able to make a metal song catchy and create a memorable hook. Then the iconic bridge where every teenager with angst in their bones screamed along to the "Shut Up When I'm Talking To You" lyric along with Bennington. Following that is "With You". I love the chugging opening guitars with accented effects before the ringing guitars kick in before the verse. Shinoda reappears after being absent from the past track, coming back with strong flow and emotional lyrics. Bennington's anguishing vocals when they kick in add so much anger and intensity. Drummer Rob Bourdon's in-the-pocket drumming during the turntable break and the bridge punch through hard in the mix. "Points of Authority" features a crunchy, lo-fi sounding riff before the drums and the riff kick in, amidst the turntable scratching. Bennington's clean singing and gritty vocals sound so strong and shows he is not only a great screamer, but a strong clean vocalist. I love the effects during the chorus, among the ringing guitars throughout it. Shinoda appearing on the bridge, sounding more aggressive, channeling that 2000's nu-metal tone and delivery, but not being obnoxious or having that frat-boy energy, which fits the song. I love the ending turntable/sampling section with the band bouncing off it very well.

The opening sample of "Crawling" into the turntable scratch and bass into the chorus just hits so strong. The sobering reality in the vocals and lyrics, along with Bennington's somber and self-reflective vocal performance, with Shinoda accenting his vocals into Bennington's anguishing scream. The song really lets the vocals and lyrics deliver with not a lot of music going on behind the vocals, creating that unease and anxiousness. With the chorus, you can picture a sea of people singing along when the band was at their peak. The closing piece of Bennington's overlapping vocals is just musically so peaceful and harmonious to the ears. "Runaway" has a very simple sounding guitar section into the verse as the sample and atmosphere are the focus on the verse section. Bennington and Shinoda play off each other so well, both knowing when to hang back and when to shine. The ending bridge section is a great example of this, with Shinoda accenting and getting his parts in perfectly in between Bennington's blood curdling screams, as the song hits the chorus one more time. On "By Myself" after a heavy as heck sounding guitar piece, the song drops the tempo to a rap movement and ethereal atmosphere with the riff peaking through before Bennington's throat shredding scream on the pre-chorus kicks in and the song's pace picks up. Adding a dark and melancholic vocal delivery in his anguishing screams. That breakdown at the end before the final chorus where Bennington is just shredding his vocal chords on the chorus is just so aggressive and intense as it heads back in.

Then comes one of the band's biggest hits with "In The End". That recognizable piano piece in the opening before Shinoda's rapping and little flurries of Bennington's clean and sad sounding vocals. The chorus kicks in, and I swear, Linkin Park is a band that perfected that catchy chorus while still having a pretty hard sounding riff behind it. Shinoda's relationship-themed vocals makes the listener reflect about how what we have all been through and makes it relatable. The bridge of Bennington leading the charge with his vocals, channeling emotions of regret, anger, and feelings of heartbreak can be heard in his vocal delivery. Closing out the song again with that iconic piano piece. Truly one of the band's best songs.

I love "A Place For My Head" with a western-sounding opening guitar riff, with intermittent turntable scratching as Shinoda's vocals kick in. The chorus is catchy as hell, with Bennington's cleans ringing through the chorus and on the second pre-chorus behind Shinoda's rapping. I also love the string section that plays behind Bennington's vocals before his guttural screams kick in and the song just makes you wanna bang your head along with the drums. And the 2000's version of a radio-friendly breakdown at the end of the song is such a strong ending. With "Forgotten", with both vocalists taking turns in the intro, the song has an unmatched energy that must have been fun to record. The chorus is such an earworm. I was singing it myself after writing this article. After the instrumental track "Cure For The Itch", the album closes with "Pushing Me Away". The song is classic Linkin Park. The beautiful marriage of metal, hip-hop and performance in the band and both vocalists makes it a strong closer to the album to one of the most successful records of the 2000's.

Their opponents, is System of A Down with the band's second album, 2001's Toxicity. Following the success of the band's 1998 self-titled album, the band would continue to work with legendary producer Rick Rubin on this album. The band would create an eclectic and diverse sound on Toxicity. Channeling other genres like folk, prog rock, jazz, alternative and nu-metal. With guitarist Daron Malakian contributing more harmonies and sometimes lead vocals on the album, alongside main vocalist Serj Tankian unique and avant-garde style vocal performance, the album would skyrocket the band into popularity alongside their opponents today. Toxicity would debut at number one on the Billboard 200, going platinum in six weeks, eventually going triple platinum by 2002. How do these Armenian geniuses stack up against their opponents in this matchup?

"Prison Song" opens the album with its frantic speed up/slow down of the band with Serj Tankian's ominous whisper vocal sections before the pace picks up into a panic before the verse section. Guitarist Daron Malakian's manic vocals on the pre-chorus and chorus is the start of a beautiful harmonic marriage the band would be known for. I love the breakdown near the end of the song with Malakian's gutturals, mixed with Tankian's political messages throughout it. Bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan are a great rhythm section, and keep the track on pace when both vocalists start hopping all over the place. "Needles" has a great fast-paced riff before chugging palm-muted guitars and fast, up-tempo drum strikes by Dolmayan, especially in the pre-chorus part. Malakian takes lead vocals on the bridge, with Tankian accenting his wailing vocals, then the door kicks in with dual screams and the intro riff again before back to the chorus. I love "Deer Dance" and the opening riff, into the sliding guitar playing with Dolmayan riding the hi-hat as Tankian's vocals become more theatrical and also aggressive, while also being comforting near the end. The panic-laden "Jet Pilot" has an almost Middle-Eastern-tinged sounding guitar intro through the verse section, before the chorus returns to the intensity of the opening. I love the anxiety-like build of "X", the chuggy, bass ringing riff as the band joins in hits so good in a good pair of speakers. Dolmayan hits so hard on the drums on the verse section, as Tankian's aggression and fury can be heard throughout the song.

Then comes "Chop Suey!", probably the band's biggest and most well-known hit. The recognizable opening acoustic guitar strum, with plinking electric guitars, into the drum fills by Dolmayan, is such a great build to the song. The frenzied vocal performance of Tankian with his speed, aggression, and dynamic vocals, then harmonized by Malakian cemented the band's legacy of having some of the best harmonies in music. The bridge section of the song with the mother, father screaming section and vocal hopping by Tankian & Malakian before Tankian's accented cleans shine through the crescendo of the song, with beautiful accompanied piano played by Tankian. "Bounce" picks up the pace and mood from the previous song to a frenzy. I always laugh and sing along when Tankian starts singing pogo like seven times. A fun song that gets the listener going and the crowd pumped, especially the pre-ending breakdown piece. "Forest" has a toe-tapping drum section, while Tankian gets more sporadic and theatrical in his vocal performance. The chorus is heavy with letting the guitars hang in the background with Dolmayan & Odadjian adding a thump and a heaviness to the song. The slow, downtrodden guitar of "ATWA" slows the pace of the album, with Tankian & Malakian harmonizing. I love the drum fills by Dolmayan as the song kicks in. The song has a weird duet feel to the song, with the dual vocals, as the rhythm section punctuates as the vocals get more aggressive and demanding throughout the second part of the song.

"Science" has a fast-paced opening guitar riff. The driving bass of Odadjian, ringing through the opening and the main verse adds dynamics. A chugging riff throughout the chorus, along with the driving bass, adds more punch and power to Tankian's vocals on the track. The gritty, distorted guitars with drums kick off "Shimmy". This is the trademark sound of System of A Down. A heavy riff, driving drums, incoherent and random lyrics with up-tempo and manic vocals. It is a good song and definitely a good example of how the band delivers their own unique sound.

The album's title track has a plucking opening guitar piece before the thud of the drums, guitar and bass. Dolmayan & Odadjian really shine in the opening with thumping bass and in-the-pocket drumming. The atmospheric guitars fill the space of the song as Tankian delivers his somber vocals. The pre-chorus chug begins to peak back through as the intro riff returns as the chorus and the band is firing on all cylinders throughout the song. I love the closing guitar riff into the breakdown section by Malakian, Dolmayan & Odadjian just showing the band wants you to bang your head one last time as Tankian's cries to the skies come to a driving conclusion on the track. The gurgling bass by Odadjian on "Psycho" creates an unease in where the song is going before Tankian delivers the chorus of the song, in an almost call and response feel. A fast paced riff on the verse with matching drums, amongst Tankian's manic, yet entrancing vocals demands your attention in the performance.

The album's closer "Aerials" features a beautiful syncopation of guitars and bass as the songs blend into one as the drums build and kick in. I love the band accenting Tankian's highs during the chorus, along with Malakian adding his harmonies to the chorus. Tankian's vocals are deeper and not all over the place, which adds a melancholic feel and accentuates his lyrics in the delivery. That closing crescendo when the vocals sync up before the heavier version of the opening riff still gives me goosebumps and closes the album out beautifully and harmoniously.

This one is going to be a tough one for me. Both of these albums truly are amazing records and still hold up over twenty years later. Linkin Park took the elements of nu-metal and commercialized it, while making it their own and a defining sound that bands like Bring Me The Horizon & Architects have cited as influence. System of A Down showed that you don't have to be formulaic and broke the mold with the band's sound, vocals and lyrical content, while also educating people on political issues like the Armenian Genocide. But after deep diving and re-listening to both records again, I would have to choose Linkin Park with Hybrid Theory. I was actually debating this as being the very first ever tie in Versus history. Overall, Hybrid Theory is just a stronger, musically sound record and is more influential to the current sound of the time and what it would influence in modern day, radio-friendly metal and core genres. Toxicity is still a classic from the time and truly System of A Down's best album, but in my opinion, I think some songs could have been cut and I think would have made it a monumental record and would have potentially beaten Hybrid Theory. I cannot reiterate HOW CLOSE I really was to making this a tie, literally changing my decision at the final minute.

Linkin Park would follow up Hybrid Theory three years later with Meteora. The album was considered another huge success for the band, going seven times platinum. The band would start to shift direction in sound with their fourth album, 2010's A Thousand Suns, and move away from their nu-metal sound from their first two albums following this release. The band would release their last album with 2017's One More Light, before lead vocalist Chester Bennington would tragically take his own life that same year.

During the band's lifespan, both vocalists would start solo careers and side projects. Bennington would form the side project Dead By Sunrise and release one album, Out of Ashes in 2009. Shinoda would form a hip-hop side project Fort Minor and release one album The Rising Tied in 2005. He would also release his first solo album Post Traumatic in 2018, which was his dealing with the passing of Bennington, which received positive reviews and had a similar sound to Linkin Park's most recent material at the time.

System of A Down would follow up Toxicity with 2002's Steal This Album! receiving favorable reviews from critics and fans. The band would release two albums in 2005, Mezmerize and Hypnotize, before the band would go on a hiatus that lasted almost fifteen years. The band would reunite in 2020 to record two singles, "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz". Proceeds from the songs were to help the Armenia Fund and for humanitarian needs for displaced families from the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. No new music has been announced since then from multiple members of the band.

During the hiatus, many of the band members would work on several side projects. Tankian would start a solo career with his debut Elect The Dead in 2007. Following that release, Tankian would make more eclectic and diverse sounding records following that release. Spanning multiple genres like jazz, hard rock and symphonic.

Malakian and Dolmayan would start their own project Scars on Broadway. With a sound similar to System of A Down, they would release their self-titled debut album in 2008. They would follow it up with 2018's Dictator, retitling the band as Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway. Malakian has said that with the songs for Dictator were meant to be for a new System of A Down record, but due to the uncertainty of the band's future, he decided to release it with this project. No new music has been announced from this project as of time of this article.

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS: Hybrid Theory vs. Toxicity - Online Poll - StrawPoll
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Hybrid Theory, Toxicity…

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