Oh, the irony of Disturbed choosing to title their new album Evolution. There aren’t many bands you can bank on more to keep the formula intact than Disturbed, and while, to their credit, they’ve managed to keep some level of quality through the years, it’s not saying much amidst the rest of the sea of second-wave nu-metal and lunkheaded radio-rock. And sure, it’s easy to scoff, especially when vocalist David Draiman has had his image and his penchant for gorilla noises memed by a good amount of the metal community, but when Evolution has been touted as the band’s best work to date – with Draiman even going as far to compared it Metallica’s Black Album in terms of its standing within Disturbed’s catalogue – it’s hard to not be even just a little curious. After all, these are the sort of claims that are thrown around with reckless abandon all the time, especially in this scene, but Disturbed at least have the history and the clout to make it something of a possibility if nothing else.
And on that basis, Evolution is definitely something, though what that something is hasn’t really been worked out yet. To start, it’s easy to say definitively that this is Disturbed’s most distinct album in some time; there will rarely be an occasion when this will be confused for a previous release. It’s almost as though Draiman’s much-reported removal of his talismanic chin piercings has been somewhat ceremonial here, unleashing the creative energy to make an album that’s part social commentary, part acoustic balladry that’s apparently been latent for all these years.
It’s totally and utterly stupid, yes, but it’s impossible to outright hate it, purely because Disturbed seem to be playing this without a hint of irony. This is an album from the poster boys of music for teenage boys to beat each other up to, and yet here they are, goading their fanbase to rise up against imminent evils on No More, and yearning for times before technology and social media on In Another Time. It’s not as if they’ve picked up any more tact in their execution through this either; the nu-metal riffs still chug along while staying fixated to the low end (albeit with some electronic production sprinkled in for that modern appeal), and Draiman’s elongated gargles continue to push forward some bassy authority on tracks like Are You Ready. They’re two factors that come across just as mismatched as they do on paper, with the lack of any sort of subtlety making it seem a lot funnier that it was presumably intended to. Kudos for branching out, sure, but political discourse is not Disturbed’s forte by any stretch.
But then, of course, there’s the real meat of the discussion around Evolution, namely the shameless capitalising off their cover of The Sound Of Silence by throwing in four acoustic ballads. And, look, that cover wasn’t good to begin with, so what exactly has possessed Disturbed to try again in such ludicrous volume is an absolute mystery, especially when none of them are all that good. The “best” is probably A Reason To Fight for at least growing into something with a bit more hard rock muscle, but between the twee folk-rock of Hold On To Memories and the attempt at a breakdown on Watch You Burn, it’s hard to see what end goal was even conceived here that couldn’t have been met through the regular, conventional means. And sure, the fact that Disturbed are deviating into new territory is admirable, like Draiman’s ruminations on death that have come from the losses of Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Vinnie Paul and his own grandmother on Hold On To Memories, or demystifying the celebration of death on Already Gone, but this feels even further out of their wheelhouse than the political material. It’s one thing to push what you’re capable of, but it’s another entirely to know where your limits are and just stop, and through the entire course of this album, it doesn’t feel like that thought has entered Disturbed’s collective head even once.
Whether that’s for better or for worse is a completely different matter, though. Maybe if they had stuck to their more conventional material, Evolution might have been a better, more consistent album, but with its litany of issues, it’s easily the most entertaining one of their albums has been in a good long time. And because of that, it really is a shame that this isn’t better, and that it’ll likely go down as the album where Disturbed tried to do something new and fell flat on their faces because of it. And with that in mind, the only real comparison this has to the Black Album is that, that one had Metallica’s big ballad on it.
For fans of: Stone Sour, Breaking Benjamin, Five Finger Death Punch
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Evolution’ by Disturbed is out now on Reprise Records.