Trust, me there’s nothing like listening to Chopin while you’re blasted on vodka, with the possible exception of cranking Disturbed with a couple shots of Jack Daniel’s or Maker’s Mark. I’m looking forward to Disturbed’s fifth CD, Asylum, scheduled to come out at the end of the month. The song “Another Way to Die,” which one can sample on YouTube presently, contains their trademark sound, but I can also discern a bit more complexity, at least in the guitar work. I realize it might sound juvenile for me to get excited about a rock band’s new release, but I don’t get much enjoyment out of life. Don’t begrudge me this one indulgence, okay?
I won’t bore you with a run-down of Disturbed’s discography and all my favorite songs. Instead, I’ll throw out some general comments to explain why I like them so much. In my opinion, bands like Disturbed, Tool and, say, Avenged Sevenfold—all of which I like—have carried the metal or heavy rock torch into the 21st century. I don’t know many “old school” rockers who don’t like these particular bands. It would be a stretch to put these bands in the “progressive metal” genre à la Dream Theater and Steve Vai, but they do have progressive elements. Disturbed’s four-CD corpus to date is impressive. Some songs are better than others of course, but meiner Meinung nach there isn’t one bad song in their repertoire.
Disturbed has managed to create a unique sound, not an easy feat in the world of metal. (By the way, the term “metal” doesn’t do them justice, and frontman David Draiman, rightly, eschews such categorization.) Draiman has an amazing voice; his ability to sing in lockstep with the staccato power-chord chugs and tight syncopation that characterize the band’s overall sound is extraordinary. Like Maynard James Keenan of Tool, he has a knack for squeezing a vocal melody out of monotone power chords and his lyrics are usually pretty darn good and clever. I like thinking bands that cast a wide net in lyrical content. Disturbed addresses religion without being preachy or hateful, politics without being partisan, and social issues without coming across self-righteous.
I’ve become a big fan of Dan Donegan as a guitarist and songwriter. He seems to have an indefatigable supply of original guitar riffs and he provides a nice palette of sonic textures. He’s no virtuoso, but in a way that’s what I like about him. He has improved from each CD to the next. He didn’t play any guitar solos in the first two CDs, for instance, but now he comes up with interesting solos once in a while. He’s largely self-taught, I understand. The drummer, Mike Wengren, is dead-on with his double-kick and judicious use of toms and Chinese-crash cymbals.
A band with working-class roots in Chicago, Disturbed’s tight sound and lyrics convey the early-21st-century angst of living in the era of the American Imperium, with injustice and social confusion in the heartland and military conflicts abroad. A central motif of the band, like that of Rush and Queensryche and others, is the individual crying out for autonomy amid a sea of conformity, corruption, and confusion.
I appreciate the fact that they take a thoughtful approach to what they do; their painstaking care with songcraft no doubt enticed me from the get-go. I don't want to exaggerate my interest in the band, but their songs, it would seem, have woven themselves into the fabric of my life in the last decade. Disturbed’s first CD, The Sickness, featuring the hits “Stupify” and “Down with the Sickness,” came out in 2000 when I was in a progressive metal band. I remember listening to the “middle eastern” part of “Stupify” while setting up my keyboards and guitar on stage. It was so taken aback by the song. When I was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona I got Disturbed’s third CD, Ten Thousand Fists, and listened to that thing over and over and over. In a weird way, the music gave me comfort during a time in which I felt lonely and seemingly forlorn.
Speaking of the military, I appreciate Disturbed’s appearance in Kuwait for the troops back in 2008. You can find the performance on YouTube. The band members got a taste of some of the training that soldiers go through. I don’t know the political leanings of the band’s members, but it really doesn’t matter anyway. They could be leftist or right of center, but they seem like good guys who wanted to do their part in supporting our men and women in uniform. Nice.
If you don’t like metal, you probably won’t like Disturbed. Moreover, you might hear a few songs and think that they all sound the same. An outsider listener would make this mistake. I’ve never been to one of their shows, and it pains me to know that they’ll be playing a doubleheader with Avenge Sevenfold in early October when I’m away at Fort Jackson. I’ve watched their live performances on YouTube, however, and they admirably reproduce their sound live (minus little extra guitar and electronica parts that Donegan throws into the studio version). I anticipate another great album from these guys, something that we'll probably help define my time at Fort Jackson this fall.