Disturbed finds its groove

December 22, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

If Disturbed's latest CD, Ten Thousand Fists, were released as a gatefold LP, then you could better appreciate its cover art. Created by comic artist Greg Capullo and producer-artist Todd McFarlane, the image depicts a sea of people - black, white, old, young, disenfranchised - with fists defiantly upraised. The unity, the individuality captured in the drawing is as striking as the music inside.

"The cover is supposed to symbolize unity from every walk of life. That's what the music is basically about," says drummer Mike Wengren, Disturbed's available spokesman, who's calling from New York City. He and his bandmates - guitarist Don Donegan, vocalist David Draiman and bassist John Moyer - play a sold-out show at Rams Head Live tonight.

When Ten Thousand Fists appeared in September, it entered Billboard's pop album chart at No. 1 with first-week sales of 238,000. It was an impressive showing for the follow-up to Disturbed's last album, 2002's platinum-selling Believe. This time around, the Chicago band resists the heavy-metal tag.

"We don't pigeonhole ourselves in metal," says Wengren, 34. "We think our music is more rhythmic. There's a lot that gets attached to metal - the look, the weird vocals that really don't fit our music."

So what you get is straight-up hard rock: visceral and aggressively rhythmic. The songs on Ten Thousand Fists are powerful but melodic and radio-friendly for the most part. It is perhaps the band's most fluid album. The Sickness, Disturbed's 2000 debut, was strong, if a bit tentative in spots. Believe, the group's sophomore effort, was more ambitious with sweeping choruses.

"On the first two records, we were trying to find ourselves," Wengren says. "[On] this record, we combined the two. The first was more aggressive, and the second was more melodic. And we put those elements together on the new record."

During the three-year gap between Believe and Ten Thousand Fists, the band went through some changes. Fuzz, the original bassist, left and Donegan took some time off to marry and start a family.

"We never intended to spend so much time between records," the drummer says, "but things happen. It gave us more time to work on the songs."

The first single, "Stricken," is a rehash of 2000's "Down With Sickness." Elsewhere, the cuts feel like hard-hitting anthems, music meant to unite and drive the kind of crowd depicted on the album cover. The propulsive title track feels as if it belongs on a soundtrack to a movie about a group of teenage misfits. Instrumental solos are noticeably missing on the new album. The guys mostly surrender to the groove.

"We nitpicked the hell out of everything," Wengren says. "We spent more time nurturing the songs."

About midway through Ten Thousand Fists, the energy dips. Draiman's dark, intense narrating on "Overburdened" feels a little pretentious and overly dramatic. But his monster-like mutterings on the second half of the record never mar the solid musicianship, a hallmark that has distinguished Disturbed from other alternative-metal bands over the past five years or so.

"Our influences are bands like Black Sabbath and Pantera and Metallica," says the ChiTown native. "We try to honor their legacy with our musicianship."

Wengren realizes that his thunderous, metronomic drumming is essential to Disturbed's acclaimed sound. So while on the road, "I limit my party nights," he says. "I treat the job like I'm a professional athlete. I get my sleep. The music kicks my butt every night, but I try to kick it back."

The Disturbed show at Rams Head Live is sold out.)rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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