There have been some bold claims coming out of the Disturbed camp with regards to seventh album Evolution (Reprise Records); and for one of Rock and Metal’s biggest, most successful and most stable acts to be making noises about a release setting them up for the next phase of their career, this must mean the feeling in the camp must be that this album is “the one” – the definitive release. From the redesigning of the logo, the stripping away of the Heavy Metal demon that has fronted most of their stock, to the slick and calculated pre-release campaign, there is a weight of evidence that Disturbed have gone away and found their new selves.
From the off, the music on Evolution backs this up. Hard. Opening pair, ‘Are You Ready?’ (yes, Dave, we are!) and ‘No More’ deliver exactly what the band had promised. There is a refinement on a tried, trusted and loved formula but the thickness is still there in the guitars, the rhythms and riffs are both classic Disturbed, and yet also a touch of something a little enhanced. And there he is! the indefatigable, highly distinguishable David Draiman adding a powerful, masterful overlay with clever touches in the excellent choruses that indicate a level of thought and depth to the choices and development of harmonious delivery. As a pair, these two tracks are up there with Disturbed’s best. Evolution is off to the strongest of starts.
And then the album falls of a cliff. Hard. Crashing on the rocks below, never to recover as all momentum is torn asunder with the insipid, soulless dreariness of ‘A Reason To Fight’. Credit for the next point must go to our Chief Ed, as his insight on the matter sticks with me and I have to share his point, this feels like desperation to follow up on, and cash in on (and I don’t use the term lightly), an audience that fell in love with ‘The Sound of Silence’ from 2015’s Immortalized.
That said, a ballad at track three, as much as it sucks all impetus from what had begun as a driving, Heavy Rock album of worth, need not be a death knell, just a misstep in the tracklisting, if it is followed with something more dynamic than the plodding ‘In Another Time’. “You move like an electric zombie” stumbles Draiman (so, we’re not even talking any profundity of lyric here) in an unintentional self-referential moment that sets the tone for the remainder of Evolution to pass by in a mix of stodgy, plodders and uninspiring, dull softer songs.
Twenty-seven years after its release, the shadow of “The Black Album” still looms, casting a monolithic, Death Star-esque shadow over the world of Rock and Metal, as band after band aspire to it. Some do better than others – Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail To The King (Warner Bros.) for instance – but, in particular when a band themselves trumpet a new release as “their Black album”, as Draiman has done in the build-up to Evolution, the warning signs are flashing neon and at a dangerous speed. For when bands aim for a Black Album, what they really mean is they think they’ve found the formula to haul them up to stadium status, not, as was Metallica’s aim and achievement, they’ve reached the climax of a journey to evolve and develop not just their sound, but the sound of Metal music as an entity into a digestible whole, still resplendent with each facet – lyrical depth, crunching riffs, diversity, integrity – that is essential in good Heavy Metal. Metallica didn’t write Metallica just to become massive; they wrote it and by doing so took that final step into becoming massive.
While you’d be hard pushed to find a band honest enough to call their new album Regression, that would be a much more apt title. Evolution is not the one, and if Disturbed were being honest, they’d realise Ten Thousand Fists is already the closest they’ll get to their Black Album moment. And they should be glad to have that, in addition to several other great albums that litter their canon. Most bands don’t have those moments, those diamonds in their arsenal.