Pop quiz, hotshot: What do Disturbed, Green Day, Extreme, Faith No More and Mr. Big have in common? If you guessed “a huge hit single that sounds nothing like the rest of their catalogue,” you're bang on. 2015 saw the surreal curiosity of Disturbed, one of the true survivors of the nu-metal boom at the turn of the century, turn their attention to a bombastic and orchestral rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's classic single ‘The Sound of Silence’. Three years on, the band still play it every single night – and rather than serve as a schism between different schools of fans, they see it as a unifying moment.
“I'll tell you something for nothing, brother: Every night, it's the most important part of the show,” says David Draiman, the band's lead vocalist. “It's the one thing that brings every single person in that room together. The same people that were just tearing into one another in the moshpit five minutes earlier are standing there, still as a statue, either close to tears or openly weeping. There's this massive release of emotion as a group, and it's something we all so desperately need. The world's gotten even worse since we started playing it, so we need it now more than ever.”
This unexpected success and stylistic departure has informed a good portion of Evolution, Disturbed's seventh studio album. While there are still a selection of songs that are more traditional alt-metal fare for the Chicago natives, the album also offers acoustic detours and hitherto-unseen balladry that offers a side of Disturbed you never thought existed. According to Draiman, the acoustic songs on the record were originally intended to be a standalone EP. “It felt natural to go into that kind of stuff,” he explains.
“We wanted to take that opportunity, as it was something we'd never had the chance to do before. It was this amazing creative experience – it was just falling out of us as we were working in the studio.” The plans for the EP were subsequently dropped when newer, heavier material began emerging in the creative process. Taken by the disparity between the two sides, Draiman and co. were inspired to merge them together.
“Every song we'd put together, whether it was acoustic or heavy, felt very distinct,” says Draiman. “As we started to toy with an album tracklist, it made more and more sense for them to be intertwined. We wanted people to go on a bit of a journey when they listened to this album, and I think that's something we've achieved.”
Draiman notes that the near two years that Disturbed spent on the road in support of 2015's Immortalized had a huge part in the direction they chose to take on Evolution. This was not so much apparent in the shows themselves as it was the backstage playlist that would run before the band would take to the stage each night. “For years, all we listened to was old-school heavy metal – Maiden, Priest, Metallica,” says Draiman. “On the last cycle, the playlist had completely changed. It was all heritage classic rock. Zeppelin, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac... hell, even Styx. They all made such diverse records, and went in so many different directions across their careers. I think – as a band – that was something that we were yearning for.”
With Evolution's release imminent, Disturbed will inevitably circumnavigate the globe once again in support of it. Just as their cycle is beginning, another is ending: Paul Simon, the man behind ‘The Sound of Silence’ who famously emailed his approval of the Disturbed cover to Draiman himself, is currently on his farewell tour. It begs the question as to whether Draiman has ever considered the end. To be blunt: Not yet.
“I'm 45 years old,” he says. “The way I see it, I've still got a good ten to 15 years left in me, at the very least. The one thing you've got to be careful of, particularly in hard rock and metal, is the challenge of performing. You don't want it to ever get to the point of not doing your songs justice. You gotta figure out when is the right time to say when.”
Evolution is out Friday October 19 via Reprise Records/Warner Music.