Has nu metal gotten old yet? Not hardly (although it's probably due for a name change soon). Metal -- in all its infinite permutations -- remains a force unto itself, one that is largely impervious to the rules that govern the pop marketplace. Let's face it: As long as America's suburbs continue to spew out disaffected, sexually frustrated teenagers, there will always be an audience for bands that deliver rage and racket in equal measure. If anything, these fans' insatiable hunger for noise creates a demand for new, ever harder kicks.
Though metal is a fairly insular genre, every so often a band will unexpectedly bum-rush the mainstream. Case in point: the Southern California-based Linkin Park. Their 2000 debut, ''Hybrid Theory,'' moved some 8 million copies and became the best-selling album of 2001. Linkin Park accomplished this minor miracle by marrying indelible melodies to their melodrama and liberally dosing the resulting tunes with hip-hop bluster. They are like several bands in one: Singer Chester Bennington is adept at dream-weaver crooning and bloodcurdling screaming; guitarist Brad Delson can demolish your skull with his wrecking-ball power chords; and rapper Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn add that oh-so-trendy urban flava. It's a can't-miss formula that appeals to headbangers and homeboys alike.
Now, on the heels of their stopgap 2002 remix album, ''Reanimation,'' comes the Park's actual sophomore effort, Meteora. Not surprisingly, it sticks close to the ''Hybrid Theory'' template, offering music that's by turns pretty, bludgeoning, and rhythmic. Perhaps the most arresting track is the least metallic. ''Nobody's Listening'' is almost pure hip-hop, although it's built on, of all things, a bedrock of Japanese pan flutes. Shinoda raps what could stand as the disc's manifesto: ''I got a heart full of pain/Head full of stress/Handful of anger held in my chest.'' He goes on to explain that the stress ''[gives me] something to write on,'' while the pain ''[gives me] something I can set my sights on.'' As with so much metal, mental torment is the dominant topic. (Question: Why do so many otherwise thoughtful people say metal is dumb when the notion that life is pain -- a key theme in loads of headbanging anthems -- is a central tenet of so many of the world's philosophies and religions? Just wondering.)
Linkin Park and producer Don Gilmore (who also twirled knobs for ''Hybrid Theory'') have constructed a thunderously hooky album that seamlessly blends the group's disparate sonic elements into radio-friendly perfection. ''Don't Stay'' hits like a sledgehammer, with a hoarse Bennington delivering the overheated vocal bark-and-lunge style. ''I don't need you anymore/I don't want to be ignored,'' he roars (as if there were any chance of ignoring music this brutally insistent). ''Somewhere I Belong,'' the first single, starts out all tender and gooey before toppling you into a raucous rap-metal vortex. ''Just stuck/Hollow and alone/And the fault is my own,'' raps Shinoda (unflinching self-recrimination being another hallmark of the modern-day metal man). ''Hit the Floor'' has a terrific stuttering-guitar motif that's damn near the aural equivalent of electroshock therapy.
And if you're looking for a big, sappy mosh-pit ballad, then ''Easier to Run'' is your cup of schmaltz. Bennington sings passionately about how it's -- you guessed it -- easier to flee from life's challenges than face them head-on. ''If I could change I would/Take out the pain I would/Retrace every wrong move that I've made I would,'' goes the lyric, striking the sort of universal chord that makes for hit records in any genre.
''Meteora'' clocks in at under 37 minutes, but since there's almost no filler here, its running time is a plus. As on ''Hybrid Theory,'' Linkin Park manage to convey their message without profanity, so there's nothing to censor here, sir! (Canny lads, these.) ''Right now/Hear me out/You're gonna listen to me,'' sings Bennington on ''Faint.'' Of course, if ''Meteora'' follows even halfway in the multiplatinum footsteps of its predecessor, we probably won't have any choice.