Before David Draiman, the vocalist for heavy metal band Disturbed, got married and had a child, many of his lyrics stemmed from personal pain and frustration. He vented about the psychological turmoil caused by a number of dysfunctional relationship, the suicide of a close friend, and being taken advantage of by opportunists who posed as friends. Now he’s found sanctuary at home and the kind of love he was missing for so long. Even so, he’s more fueled by angst than ever.
“My new impetus for making heavy music is being scared to death of the world that my child has been born into,” he says on a sweltering summer day from his air-conditioned New York hotel room. “If anything, it’s increased my aggression because I now have this little being to defend and the odds of the world are against everyone. You read any of the stuff that drives any of us nuts on any given day, and it puts more and more doubt into your head in terms of what this world is turning into.”
Draiman doesn’t want to go into any detail about what political leaders he’s particularly incensed about or what policies or activities are most galling to him. He has learned from experienced that sometimes it’s best to keep his mouth shut. During the four years Disturbed were away, Draiman maintained a strong profile in the metal community by regularly sharing his thoughts about the world via Twitter and Facebook. In addition to posting casual thoughts and personal anecdotes, he wrote about the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, fervently defending Israel and calling out anti-Semitism wherever it reared its ugly head. In late June, he deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts after being baited and harassed by Internet trolls who disagreed with his views or were simply looking for a target to lash out at.
“I’m pretty much done with political commentary,” he asserts. “I’ve said everything I could possibly say. I’ve been a big mouth for long enough. And honestly, people don’t want me to be a politician, they want me to be the frontman for Disturbed. They want me to be the guy who sets them free from all the bulls— for a while, not the one who injects it into them. I accept that role and embrace it.”
The return of Disturbed with Immortalized, their first album in five years, might have happened sooner, except for the past two years Draiman and his wife have been consumed with raising their son, Samuel Bear Isamu, who was born Sept. 12, 2013. As much of a blessing as the child has been, the demands of being a parent have sometimes been overwhelming. “This kid has aged me five years in two,” Draiman says, only half-joking. “He still doesn’t sleep through the night. He’s got allergies. He’s prone to fever seizures if he goes over 102 degrees. He just had tubes put in his ears because he was getting chronic ear infections. It’s one thing after another. He’s a beautiful, gorgeous, smart, amazing little boy, but he’s extremely labor-intensive.”
Difficult as he has been to raise, Samuel Bear Isamu played a crucial role in the band getting back together. The singer had been in touch with Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan, bassist John Moyer, and drummer Mike Wengren on and off throughout the past four years, but it wasn’t until January 2014 that Donegan visited Draiman at his home in Austin to see the baby that the two old friends started seriously talking about reuniting Disturbed. Two months later, Draiman flew to Chicago for a group dinner and everyone agreed it was time to reignite “the sickness.”
While new single “The Vengeful One” (which has spent eight weeks in the top 25 of the Hot Rock Songs chart) and much of Immortalized should be instantly familiar to anyone that has ever headbanged along with hits like “Indestructible,” “Stupify,” and “Inside the Fire,” the new album also features a variety of musical surprises. The electronic-enhanced, melodic rocker “The Light” is the band’s most toned-down, radio-friendly number to date; “Fire It Up,” which begins with the gurgling sound of a bong hit, is a euphoric ode to recreational marijuana use; “You’re Mine” is a heartfelt love song Draiman wrote for his wife, ex-WWE wrestler Lena Yada; and “The Sound of Silence” is an acoustic take on Simon & Garfunkel’s classic, revamped with a new piano line piano, weeping strings, and spare guitar.
“The idea this time was no limitations. Let’s go wherever it feels right,” Draiman says. “When I sit back and listen to the entire record, I’m so very proud and happy we went in all these different directions. It’s fresh and new. Even the stuff that sounds like the Disturbed you expect to hear, still, to me, feels next level.”
Unlike some of his peers, who close their blinders to music outside of the hard rock or metal genres, Draiman listens to a wide variety of songwriters, including Josh Grobin, Andrea Bocelli, Bob Marley, and Dr. Dre. “I’m a fan of good music, period,” he says. “What makes something pop? It’s really just the bed it’s placed in. If I grab melodies by Black Sabbath or Metallica and take them out of their musical bed and put them into a pop context, it’s not like they wouldn’t translate. If you come up with a great hook, no matter where you plant it, it’s going to bear fruit.”
Draiman has every reason to feel confident about his band new album. Not only is Immortalized an eclectic, contemporary metal album that brims with infectious rage, it marks the band’s re-emergence following a four-year hiatus that began when Disturbed was at the top of the hard rock hierarchy. As it turned out, to endure in the long run they had to vacate the mothership for a while.
“When you record and tour year after year without a break, it starts to feel like you’re on an assembly line,” Draiman explains. “That can be counterproductive not only to a band’s development but also to the fanbase, who get into a mode where they think, ‘Oh, well, they’re going to have another record or tour next year. If I don’t see them this time they’ll be coming back around.’ Well, we’ve learned from experience that absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder for both band and fans.”
“It all came down to questioning: Did we want to do it yet?” Draiman says. “Did we have enough symptoms of withdrawal from not playing live to pull us away from our beautiful families and back into the fray? And the answer was yes. We all had our fix of peace and being a human being for a while and stepping away from it enough to the point where we were really missing it and fiending for it. We felt ready, reinvigorated, and re-inspired to come back.”
A couple weeks later, Donegan emailed Draiman some song ideas, and the vocalist started combining the guitarist’s riffs with new vocals melodies. Then he hit a wall. The more he tried to write parts that complemented the tunes, the more he questioned the quality of the material he was coming up with.
“I’m very, very judgmental of myself,” Draiman reveals. “It’s not that I wasn’t coming up with ideas, I just wasn’t trusting them. Sometimes I need someone to validate what I’m doing and confirm to me that I’m heading in the right direction.”
Instead of working separately from his bandmates, as he had done for the better part of Disturbed career, Draiman returned to the group’s stomping grounds of Chicago to directly work with Donegan, Moyer, and Wengren. Right away, Disturbed started coming up with new ideas for songs and each musician provided input on everything they wrote. “When you’re overly reliant on technology to make an album [from different locations], you really sacrifice something,” Draiman says. “That same electricity and chemistry is not there. From the start, the chemistry this time was so dramatic, obvious, and powerful that we thought, ‘God, why didn’t we do this sooner?’ I guarantee you we’re never gonna go back to being removed from one another from here on out when it comes to writing.”