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Music Review: Disturbed – Asylum

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I remember hearing Disturbed’s single “Stupefy” for the first time, from their debut album The Sickness. It was intense metal, taking no quarter, begging no mercy, driven by mad guitars and the strange cackling vocals of David Draiman.  It was metal the way metal was meant to be.  The song “Down With the Sickness” has always stuck with me, too.  Those vocals are just eerie.  Ever since, I’ve always looked forward to more music from Disturbed.

The Sickness is still my favorite.  There’s just some intensity, some edge to it that makes it stand out.  I appreciate how Disturbed’s music has remained constant over the years.  There’s never a question as to whether a song is from this band or not.  That sense of identity makes them continually successful.  They’ve just released their fourth album, Asylum.  It is Disturbed metal, the sound they’ve spent ten years perfecting.  Asylum sounds metallic-ly superb when played loud – very loud (and, really, how else does one listen to metal?).  The recording and engineering for is impressive.  I love it when you can feel the bass and kick drum in your gut and that happens repeatedly over the course of the record.

It starts off with an instrumental, “Remnants,” which is something they’ve never done before.  If they don’t do it again it won’t upset me greatly; there’s nothing I found overwhelmingly fabulous with the music.  It almost feels like it’s going to take off a few times but it just lingers and finishes.  I think the rest of the songs followed that same pattern.  “The Infection” has a catchy chorus and some good hammering riffs right at the end.  “Warrior” is like a clone of “Invincible” in thematic terms, at least.  “Another Way to Die” is their environmental dirge, a theme everybody’s taking up in some fashion these days.  “The Animal” is about a guy who turns into a werewolf.   I kind of worried when I read and heard that. I really didn’t want Disturbed to go Twilight-ish mainstream.

Curiously, though, my favorite track, and the one that seemed to have the most energy and enthusiasm is the unlisted track thirteen.  It’s a cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  It was very well done, even if it didn’t capture the longing of the original version.  Disturbed is getting good at these covers of hits from a different genre in the 80s – like “Land of Confusion” from Ten Thousand Fists.

Draiman still has the best vocals for metal.  It’s a blend of piercing notes, ala good old thrash bands, and the gritty power of hard rock/metal.  And he’s always done a fabulous job of blending the lyrics and guitar melodies.  Their rhyming patterns and cadence are, to be sure, very cool but they are also quite expected by now.  The voice of Disturbed isn’t bad either.  They state that they are more straightforward with lyrics on Asylum.  True enough.  There’s the werewolf song that’s easy to figure out, the ecological lament, the madness from a lost love.  There’s lots of duality and conflict in their words; they like darker lyrics and themes.  That kind of upfront approach can be good for metal, though nebulous darkness makes things mysterious.

An asylum can be a loony bin or a safe haven.  Disturbed have, in a sense, stayed in their asylum, producing music that is powerful, melodic, and still just Disturbed.  It’s not a milestone of metal, not an artistic departure for the band.  The band states they want Asylum to be “a piece of music to help you get through the chaos and madness of the world in which we live.”  Well, it can be comforting in a sense.  A safe haven.  It’s music you’ll feel comfortable with because you’ve heard it before and you already know you’re going to like it.

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