Music

Disturbed: Indestructible

On their introspective fourth album, Disturbed manage to envision an apocalypse of sorts without needing to militarize anyone else's tunes.


Disturbed

Indestructible

Label: Reprise
US Release Date: 2008-06-03
UK Release Date: 2008-06-02
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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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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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