Album Review: Disturbed - "Asylum"

Disturbed always leaves me in a strange place as a metal fan. The selfish, select, protective metal fan in me wants to write them off as another example of metal overproduction; a band that some record label wants me to like. Conversely, the honest music fan in me can’t help but admit that they have written a whole bunch of incredibly catchy songs.

As a side note, someone whispered to me that Disturbed will be talking with fans on Ustream about the album on release date, which is Tuesday the 31st (5:30 PM EST.) So if you're a fan, scope that out for yourself.

It feels like the radio just got done with “Indestructible” and here we stand again, this time faced with “Asylum.” There’s good and bad news here.

The good news is that Disturbed is still successfully treading that fine line between metal legitimacy and mainstream success. There are really stellar moments sprinkled throughout the album, exactly the kind of hook-laden thick guitar marching that has been the signature of Disturbed for a solid decade. The songwriting is nothing particularly new, so fans of Disturbed or of that sound in general will be in a nirvana of sorts.

The bad news is that David Draiman’s one-gimmick vocal style has become cliché. At this point, probably through no fault of his own, the man is viewed as somewhat of a parody of himself. What was so, if not innovative, at least new in 2000 is a shade of the same old rind now that it’s 2010. The downside of the songwriting staying the same is that not much is new and fresh here. Between 2000’s “The Sickness” and 2002’s “Believe,” that’s about as deep as the band’s bag of tricks got.

Dan Donegan has stepped up some for “Asylum.” It’s his precise if not blistering soloing that helps the great moments like “Infection” stand out from the more mundane verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure of the album’s lesser tracks (“Crucified,” “Warrior” spring to mind.) While I’m not going to be the biggest defender of “Serpentine,” it’s mixed in such a way that Donegan sounds almost like he’s somewhere else, or like he was dubbed in from another song. Normally I might put that in the “bad” category, but it gives the tune a nice split-level effect without which it would have been a completely generic song. A little more of that, and Disturbed would have really had something on their hands.

Aside from that, I like the initial atmosphere and ferocity of “Animal,” which gives a nice sense of prowling around in a cage waiting to be fed. “Another Way to Die,” sounds a touch too close to a video game soundtrack for comfort, but is still a really solid peace that could get a room moving. “My Child” is the kind of riff-rocked song dealing with parental angst that has always been the bread and butter of Disturbed. It’s a heavy selection that can make you break out the half-grin usually reserved for guilty pleasures. “Sacrifice” comes out of that and emphasizes the heavy beat, and then “Innocence” presses for a more galloping speed, and then finishes with a nice snap to close the album. The three song sequence is the album’s best run, even if none of those songs are as memorable as “Another Way to Die.”

An interesting quirk that tends to happen with Disturbed and returns will full honors on this album is that the lesser songs aren’t really bad. Not any single one of the album’s lowlights makes you turn off the speakers in disgust. Rather than being bad, the worst sin they commit is being either generic or disposable.

Same old, same old for Disturbed. It’s not earth-shattering because there’s nothing really new happening. Clearly, the band has mastered the kind of hard-hitting song that they want to write most frequently. Whether or not the band is in a rut is a tougher argument to make; it’s tough to change sounds when the one you have has worked out so well for you. Like AC/DC and so many other bands, if you like any other Disturbed album, you’ll dig “Asylum.” If you don’t, or if you’re tired of Draiman’s quasi-cartoony yelp, don’t bother.

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