It’s not uncommon to hear Disturbed referred to as a “polarising” band. It’s not because of any particularly controversial aspects of their music; it’s likely quite the opposite – that in their polished amalgam of mainstream metal, they’ve struck certain creative compromises that have paved the way to commercial dominance. And with a sound that has remained largely the same – a brawny synthesis of Pantera, Tool and 90s nu metal – there’s an inescapable sense of playing it safe. But while metal audiences tend to cast suspicion, if not outright derision, on mainstream success, it’s inarguable that Disturbed are one of the most commercially successful metal acts of all time. Their streak of five albums debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200 is a feat equalled only by Metallica and the Dave Matthews Band. It’s therefore both fitting and ironic that they’d title their latest album Divisive.
Disturbed’s eighth offering is a 10-track affair that frontman David Draiman has described as “about 90% heavy as fuck” and “10% of caring, loving goodness.” Setting aside such wanton puffery, the latest outing from the Chicago metallers is wholly devoid of surprises. For the band’s loyal supporters, this is very good news. Since the late 90s, Disturbed have mastered the ability of crafting muscular, radio-friendly anthems that have varied relatively little over the years. Long embracing the idea that what isn’t broken isn’t in need of repair, Divisive puts this principle into practice.
Straight off the bat, their trademark sound erupts throughout the first single, Hey You – a bouncy, industrial-powered banger with razorwire riffs and the percussive squall of bassist John Moyer and drummer Mike Wengren. David Draiman’s rapid-fire, staccato delivery recalls the band’s early nu metal origins, but the chorus swells with the anthemic grandeur of more recent efforts. Unstoppable is an unrelenting beatdown with a blasting riff and shout-out chorus that absolutely begs to appear in a Cobra Kai training montage. Along with Love To Hate and Take Back Your Life, the album’s strongest moments invoke the polish and power that make modern metal so doggedly compelling.
The theme of Divisive, according to David, is both “partisan tribal warfare” and the corrosive effects of society growing “addicted to outrage.” The ripping title track certainly speaks to these themes, as does Bad Man, a vintage slab of alt metal recalling their Ten Thousand Fists era, raining down sheets of heavily distorted power chords and Mike’s thunderous rolling toms.
It’s not all riffs and rainbows. Don’t Tell Me – a paint-by-numbers power ballad featuring Heart’s Ann Wilson – features some gorgeous fretwork from Dan Donegan, but overall it lacks the sort of memorable hook that you’d typically find in such songs. Feeding The Fire plays it safe with brooding, mid-tempo pacing and a saccharine chorus that you’ll be hard-pressed to recall when the album finishes.
Anybody waiting for Disturbed to throw a curveball into the mix really hasn’t been paying attention. The veteran metallers have always favoured refinement over revolution and their focus remains on writing, playing and producing a very specific style of polished but aggressive metal that sounds as good in a football stadium as it does from the beer-sodden floor of a tiny club. Polarising or not, Disturbed have reasserted their claim to the modern metal throne and Divisive will surely delight their existing fans, while picking up a few more along the way.