Two years again, Chicago outfit Disturbed memorably covered Genesis’ “Land of Confusion”. I say memorable because this wasn’t a limp tributary imitation branching off the original design, but a reorganization to suit the band’s own purposes. Version A’s cover artwork parodied With the Beatles, the follow-up parodied… What? Neo-Nazism, the triviality of global bureaucracy and greed? The original was flung-around wobbly sing-songy moralizing, while the post-millennium adaptation used that hook as a sneering polar opposite to its militarized showdown of good vs. evil. The medium by which all this was realized, by which one could bring out the darkness in Genesis, if you like, was a goofily likable anime music video. Disturbed’s imprisoned mascot, a red-eyed muscleman in a cape, breaks from his chains and saves the world from an inflated man full of money. It’s pulled off with just a brush of far-flung cartoon action-heroism, but also ran through with a shot of malice and blighting prophecy.
On Indestructible, the band’s fourth album, that austereness carries over in a fresh batch of all-originals (save for an embarrassingly inept cover of Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis” that is thankfully not included on the tracklist). Disturbed present the listener with a barrage of two rhythmic powerhouses: singer David Draiman and the pile-driving riffs of guitarist Dan Donegan. Guitarist and vocalist work hand-in-hand here, forcing each staccato-inflected beat of the music forward. They’re masters of monotone heavy metal, with the coolest mascot this side of Iron Maiden’s Eddie. So are they declaring themselves unbreakable, or their socio-political commentary they dramatically introduced us to with “This is the world we live in”?
On previous effort, Ten Thousand Fists, the band slowed down a little to let their words and instruments resonate. On Indestructible, perhaps in part of living up to its name, they’re back to busting out the noise: playing molten, chiseled ostinatos to parallel their oblique calls to revolution. This is compounded by Draiman, a gruffly admonishing frontman who’s unwilling to allow any emotion to seep into his stocky commander’s bark. The band even finish the disc with a cut called “Façade”, celebrating Draiman’s stony composure; those that interpret his machismo for inexpressiveness will find him as banal as ever here. Firmly stuck in a song-driven domain, this is not as much an album or even a collection of songs as a series of terraced dynamics geared to accelerate into full power in their last burst.
If melody is not abundant in the cockpit of Disturbed’s metal machine music, however, the bridge of “Deceiver”, one of the disc’s most diverse songs, should serve a fine crash course for anyone in doubt how absolutely Draiman stamps his assertive personality on a song. His sharp, spat-from-a-barrel diction lends him a tart directness that always works to the advantage of the whole, and prevents the distillation of their fiery immediacy. Rhythmically, he has a strong sense of how and when to intonate; his dry, bone-on-rock growl is more engaged in sticking it to the man than the vocal monkeying of old. On the former, he emphasizes the word “Die!” with bloodthirsty insistence, tightrope-walking in the groove left by Donegan’s guitar.
Single “Perfect Insanity” is another energetic flex, as one element slams into another, developing the bestially undulating progressions out to the end with deliberated vigor. Besides being an upbeat romp about losing one’s mind, it’s a representation of the rest of Indestructible, which is, as expected, almost universally dark. Calling on evil, insanity, and alienation, heavy metal’s lyric fodder since Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Indestructible is determinedly introspective. Who else could wind down a song with the mantra “I try again to find / The thing that was my mind?”
Disturbed are sometimes so caught up working their own caricature, they compromise the probable ironic intention of a line like “Indestructible master of war” by delivering it straight-faced. At the same time, they can unwittingly pander to the overly ponderous (such as the chorus of “Deceiver”), tripping them up into disruption and goofiness reminiscent of David Draiman’s tantrum way back on 2000’s ‘Down with the Sickness’. The band’s lyrics are wordily idiosyncratic, though Draiman, who truly does deserve more credit, brings them to authoritarian fulfillment.
Luckily, there is some precious melodic meat to mull over, contrasting Draiman’s dour melodies enough to pull them through. Donegan now solos on nearly every track, an unremarkable practise that consists mostly of high-intensity doodlings on a few notes. His finger-strutting downwards-progressing riff and the anticipating double-beat played by drummer Mike Wengren on “Deceiver” has a certain weather-worn paranoia, though his actual fuzzy guitar tone —a primal, feedback-hungry sizzle—never changes. Likewise, samples of Middle-Eastern melodic motifs, such as the one that sprinkles the title track (it’s faint but it’s there), again allude to a bigger picture, a broader political scope for Disturbed than a chip off the now mostly-developed nu-metal block, but a glorious artistic era is always just beyond being tangible.
Patience is required on Indestructible, as with every Disturbed album to date, to enjoy and appreciate its muscular reliability. The usual samey complaint can be liberally applied to the disc; the band are unwilling to change or experiment with their surging rhythmical constancy, something that has always served them so well. As always, their personality is distinct, though their root is as ever based in the unknown backwoods of dozens of other axe-brandishing size-rockers. Structurally, they could afford to loosen up a bit, too, as you still feel you could predict their every move a mile away. However, this fails to undermine the fact that, rhythmically, Disturbed are perched on a tighter foundation than they’ve ever been.
2005’s Ten Thousand Fists and Indestructible are like companion pieces to each other, but as of yet there is nothing I can discern with the hook-boosted rebellious streak of “Ten Thousand Fists” or elegant composition of “Overburdened” (speaking of which, what happened to Disturbed’s handsome ballads?). During one rare moment of spontaneity on Indestructible, drums and guitars pummel through conflicting times on a cut titled “The Night”. This, of course, suggests a climate of turmoil, one that disappointingly fails to materialize here. Let me extend that into a metaphor of missed opportunity for Disturbed, a band without any real motivation to go down the political path other than enjoyment flirting with the imagery. Have you ever seen David Draiman at a political rally? Have his jabs at the establishment ever been more than veiled maybe-it-is-maybe-it-isn’ts, or a grab-bag opportunity for their mascot to jump around in a music video?
In failing to take up the sword as they should, therefore, they wind up sounding a little lost on Indestructible, stabbing their weapons without any reasons behind each parry, setting up vague agendas they cannot follow through on. Despite this, it’s still a reliably solid, passable hard-rock soundtrack for 2008.
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// Notes from the Road
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