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Disturbed went through a healthy "Evolution" on latest album
The album title "Evolution" implies change.
But the members of Disturbed were not, well, disturbed by that prospect on their seventh studio album, which came out in October. And neither were the heavy rock troupe's fans, who gave the group its sixth consecutive Top 5 debut on the Billboard 200.
"I'd be lying if I said to you that we weren't a little bit frightened," frontman David Draiman says by phone. "But at the end of the day a great song is a great song, whether it's heavy or not. And going in uncharted territory for us during this recording and writing process was really in incredibly fulfilling experience. It was a wonderful adventure to be part of."
The Chicago-formed group planted its flag in the heavy metal world in the mid-'90s, becoming an out-of-the-box success with its five-times platinum debut album "The Sickness." The quartet has mined the metal ever since — and continues to — but some surprising circumstances also helped Disturbed try a few new things this time out.
One surprise was its cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" from the 2015 album "Immortalized." Released as a single, the heavier but still faithful take on the pop classic soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart and three-times platinum sales. It was also a hit worldwide, and gave Disturbed license to experiment with different dynamics when the group returned to the studio for "Evolution," its seventh studio album, earlier this year.
"I don't think that we needed license, per se, but it definitely gave us confidence," Draiman says. "We certainly didn't need anybody's permission to go in whatever direction we wanted, but when you have success doing something so radically different than what you're known for stereotypically, then sure, it gives you the confidence to go and push the envelope further and continue to go in uncharted territory."
Disturbed — which includes guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren and bassist John Moyer — planned to take things even further when they commenced "Evolution." Starting shortly after the end of the "Immortalized" tour, which itself came at the end of a four-year band hiatus, Draiman and company's original idea was to make an acoustic-oriented EP. As the band kicked into gear, however, it became prolific once again, and in time the electric instruments came out. Disturbed began blending in acoustic instruments as well as a different dynamic sensibility that harked back to time its on the road.
"In our pre-show dressing room warm-up, listening to music to get us amped, it used to be very heavy and very metal and very hard rock," Draiman recalls. "But during the 'Immortalized' tour we had been listening to a lot of classic rock — Zeppelin and Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Styx ...
"The beautiful thing about those records was the incredible amount of dynamics in them. You had so many different flavors and you were taken on this musical journey — it wasn't just one style smacking you or caressing you in the face consistently. It was a variety, and it took you on this journey and we wanted to do that with our music, too."
The proof in that is all over "Evolution." The set, recorded in Las Vegas with producer Kevin Churko, has plenty of powerhouse rock such as "Are You Ready," but it's really defined by the more dynamic ebb and flow of "A Reason to Fight" and "Hold On to Memories." Even "In Another Time" starts with a kind of gentle, airy ambience before it blasts off into metal mayhem.
"It's not easy," Draiman says of the creation process. "It's not that automatic sense of comfort that you get from going into the territory you're used to navigating. There certainly was a personal, internal apprehension of a sort, but that was quickly overcome by how beautifully (the songs) were manifesting and how they ended up making us feel."
There were a few other changes for Disturbed in the making of "Evolution." The sessions featured bassist Moyer, who doesn't take part in the writing process, back in the studio for the first time in eight years. "We felt like we wanted to have his particular style of playing as a part of the sonics on this record," Draiman explains. "Evolution" also marks the first time that Disturbed's mascot, The Guy, is not on the album's front cover. Apparently he's going through an evolution of his own.
"He's on the inside jacket in fetal form, attached by a double helix and an umbilical cord of sorts, just indicating there is a transformation occurring," says Draiman — who also caused a stir by removing the chin piercings that were a personal trademark but, he says, became unwieldly, and also made him more recognizable after the success of "The Sound of Silence" and its accompanying video.
"It just really became a pain in the butt," Draiman says. "Even performing with them was always cumbersome. They dangle all over the place and weigh your lip down. Truth be told, at age 45 it just felt kind of awkward walking around with them.
"And I don't think anybody is going to buy or not buy a Disturbed record or ticket because I am or I’m not wearing my piercings. It just makes me feel happier. I feel less encumbered, and it actually helps me feel more confident right now."
Currently on the road in North America, Draiman and his bandmates also plan to take on Europe during the spring and summer, with the rest of the world to follow. But the group is deliberately keeping things open-ended beyond that.
"We're definitely back in the groove," Draiman says, "but it's not going to be as cyclical as it has been in the past. We're being a little more selective with our touring. We're all older, we all have families and commitments outside the band. So we're trying to re-evaluate how we do what we do so we can balance everything.
"That's a change, too, but that's OK. As long as we feel it's a change for the better, we'll do it."
Disturbed and Three Days Grace perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $49 and up. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313presents.com.
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