"What I'm trying to do from a lyrical perspective is bring back the majesty of metal," says David Draiman, defining Believe, the follow-up to Disturbed's multi-platinum debut, The Sickness. "With this album I wanted to speak about important things in a grand way, and even touch on things that may not seem so important, but come at them from a perspective that makes them inviting, delicious--even foreboding in a way."
Among his many distinguishing characteristics, Draiman has superb enunciation. As a singer, it provides his voice with a scalpel-like precision that razors through the great articulated noise his bandmates generate. Combined with leather-lunged projection, his voice can both bludgeon and slash at a level that transcends his lyrics' literal meaning.
Things get really nasty, though, when his voice joins his bandmates' dexterous rhythmic assault in what Draiman describes as "a constant blend of all the elements." The resulting attack during songs such as "Prayer" and "Liberate" telegraphs contusions along a listener's brainpan. There's a reason Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, bassist Fuzz and drummer Mike Wengren named 2001's victory lap around the U.S. the "Music As A Weapon" tour. Sharp enunciation and road-honed chops are merely part of the arsenal.
In conversation, Draiman's voice has the same quality that you hear on disc. But the delivery is... slower... and... more deliberate. The effect lulls rather than cuts. But when he speaks, he doesn't make small talk, he makes pronouncements. The band's second album, Believe, doesn't really require further explanation, in the way that other classic albums don't require explanation. But questions will arise when spinning the disc. Mainly, "How?"
"We have a responsibility," he begins. "Two and a half million people invested in us and believed in us with the last album. We owe it to them and to ourselves and to everything we stand for, to respect the lineage and the tradition and the purity of metal. We have to remain faithful to what metal--true, true metal--was first established to be in the name of Black Sabbath and a hundred other great bands: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Metallica, Pantera, even Soundgarden.... All of those bands had songs that spoke about grand things."
True metal groups honor the legacy whose thumbnail history David sketches above. It's one of the genre's endearing traits: fierce loyalty expressed loudly. Metal requires that quality from its best bands and fans in order to survive. As a product of natural selection, the oft-maligned genre has gathered strength from continuously swimming against the current over the course of its Ozzy-and-Iommi-conceived 33-year history.
Snatched by Disturbed from the flow of that tradition, this new brand of metal is like a shark. In their hands, the music is highly evolved, lean and muscular, and has a terrible efficiency and singleness of purpose. None of the twelve songs on Believe, for instance, stretches far beyond the four-minute mark, yet they each possess a strength and epic quality that requires other bands twice as long to convey, if ever.
Part of that boils down to simple math: Four musicians campaigning behind one album for 22 months. When Disturbed finally pulled off the road in late 2001, they took a month to recuperate and then began writing Believe. Two and a half months later they were recording the album in their hometown of Chicago with producer Johnny K. Like The Sickness, the disc was then mixed in New York by Andy Wallace.
A seemingly Herculean effort? Keep in mind that this is a band that doesn't like to sit idle for long. With the precious month the band had off between the road and rehearsal, Fuzz, for instance, built a garage and poured a driveway for his house. If that's what the band calls leisure time, imagine what they consider work.
"We've always had to work hard for what we have," explains Draiman. "Nothing comes easy to Disturbed. Such is life. It certainly hardened us. When you're put in the furnace for long enough, it hones you."
"Being on the road for 22 months totally increased our playing ability," agrees Fuzz. "It made us much better musicians."
"It's a different band," says Draiman. "We were eager to explore new territory and challenge ourselves."
"We wanted to prove that there's not just one formula that works for this band," adds Donegan, who conceives the musical framework for the songs before they're arranged by the group. "I didn't want to duplicate what we did the first time around. There's nothing exciting about that."
Ironically, in order to explore fresh territory, Disturbed duplicated the working environment that produced such winning results with The Sickness. The band's loyalty--again, the true-metal variety--shines through in that decision, as does its pragmatism. As Fuzz says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a sentiment echoed by his bandmates.
"We write what we write without overthinking it," says Donegan. "That's part of the reason we chose to record again in Chicago with Johnny K., who's been a friend of ours since we were a local band. It put us back in a familiar environment where we could just do what we do."
"We're our own worse critics," admits Wengren. "We're always pushing each other to become better musicians and I guess better people, too."
The results are evident on Believe. If The Sickness put Disturbed on the map with signature cuts like "Stupify" and "Down With The Sickness," the new album refines that signature into an even harder alloy on songs such as the title track, the first single "Prayer" and the pit-ready "Rise" and "Bound."
"We're not reinventing the wheel," says Donegan. "But when all of our different playing styles and influences come together, it's a fresh sound. There are old-school elements to what we do, but it's done in a modern way. Even though we're characterized as a metal band, I don't think there are any metal bands out there that sound like us."
Draiman's singular voice burns the final brand on all things Disturbed. This time out, however, he waits until "Intoxication"--a full six songs into the album--before unleashing his signature sound. Robert Plant has his "baby, baby, baby." Rob Halford has his vibrato wail. Draiman has his feral roar, the guttural noise that opened "Down With The Sickness" and subsequently launched a million extreme sporting events.
"The noises... oh, how they love the noises," he says with a chuckle. "When 'Down With The Sickness' broke as a single, some people forgot about the rest of the song. They would say, 'Come on, make the noise!' What the fuck am I? They wouldn't ask me, 'Can you sing that one line?' Or 'What are the words to that part? Or 'How does that melody go?" With this album, I was determined to let people know that I can do much more than just make animal noises."
If that point was already clear to those who listened to The Sickness as an album, the way that work was intended to be heard, it's undeniable now. The scalpel-sharp enunciation, the leather-lunged projection, the rhythmic assault, and, yes, even "the noises," combine to deliver Draiman's grand messages. The arching theme? Belief.
"I encourage self-exploration and internal truth--defining one's own belief. People need to seek out that which they are able to believe in. Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe in the future of humanity? In God? In the death of god? In the things that you cannot see in the spiritual realm? Are you afraid of the dark? The light?"
Tellingly, perhaps, the album closes with a track called "Darkness," whose intense mood is conveyed with a spidery acoustic guitar arpeggio, a pecked piano melody and a haunting cello line. As a final address to his audience, Draiman offers his most tender vocal performance, singing, "Dare to believe for one last time. Then I'll let the darkness cover me, deny everything, slowly walk away to breathe again on my own."
"'Darkness' is a nice closure to the album," says Donegan. "It ends the album in a way that leaves us room to go in any direction we want with the third album. I don't like to concern myself with anyone's expectations but our own."
"For inspiration, we look to any band that has stood the test of time," adds Wengren. "We don't want to be a band that's known for just one song. We had a successful debut album. Now we're building on that and seeing where it takes us."
Draiman, being Draiman, puts it more succinctly: "There's so much more to prove."