(2002) Disturbed – Believe: Anniversary Special

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I guess not many of us anticipated that such a pedigree name in the nu-metal pantheon as KORN would straight up release a kick-ass album in 2022, showing that the rumors of the genre’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Of course, the standard nu-metal bag of tricks is no longer merely about choppy tempos, percussive guitar riffs, and druggy-angsty lyrics. One of the early experimentalists to streamline the nu-metal aesthetics more towards the tried-and-true virtues of old-school heavy-metal songwriting was the Chicago-based metal quartet, DISTURBED, whose second studio album, “Believe,” released on September 17th, 2002, via Reprise Records, marked a subtle but distinct shift away from the popular nu-metal format of the era. The vocalist, David Draiman, scrapped the in-your-face vocals of their 2000 debut “The Sickness” almost completely in favor of a more melodic style. The only song to feature his signature banshee barking on this outing is the track titled “Intoxication,” which already resonates by far with the strongest vibes from their nu-metal past. By and large, this sophomore studio offering is a straightforward riff maelstrom, throwing in also their trademark syncopated staccato riffs here and there. On “Believe,” the approach is a tad more sophisticated and mature, if you will, especially in comparison with the stereotypical nu-metal code of conduct. This album subtly suggests what nu-metal sounds like after it has grown up and no longer wears baggy trousers, dreadlocks, or prominent facial piercings. (Well, Draiman still had the double chin thing at the time of this record, but you get the point…)

Lyrically, the album is heavily focused on religious and spiritual themes, no doubt inspired by tragedies such as the September 11th terrorist attack at the WTC twin towers and the death of Draiman‘s Orthodox Jewish grandfather occurring at the time of the album’s conception. The spiritual approach is reflected also on the album cover; it sports a custom symbol mixing the Christian crucifix, Islamic crescent, the Jewish star of David, and the Wiccan pentacle. Befittingly, the album opens with the leading single, “Prayer,” the music video of which was met with a bit of controversy at the time. The video is based on the story of Job from the Bible; upon its release, various media outlets refused to air the video, citing that its imagery hit a raw nerve in the wake of the WTC attacks in the United States. In defense, the band stated that the video, along with the song, was supposed to be uplifting, as the lyrics are about getting through obstacles in life. Once again, this goes to show how no one is a prophet in their own land.

Despite the fact that “Believe” debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, the critical reception was somewhat mixed, ranging from enthusiastic appraisal to some wisecracks summarizing the outing as seldom unlistenable, never inspirational, but consistently merely okay. Over the years, DISTURBED has surely become one of those bands that elitist music snobs vehemently like to hate. Draiman‘s idiosyncratic barking can become a nuisance after a while, that’s true, but on this selection, it is administered in moderation. The overall quality control regarding the riff origamis, vocals, and general songcraft is pretty tight and the sales trajectory gently suggests that the band did something right here: in 2008, “Believe” was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on the same day when their debut was certified 4x platinum.

Believe” yielded three singles, “Prayer,” “Remember,” and “Liberate,” all of which could be regarded as some sort of hits. One of the unsung highlights on the album is the somewhat introspective cut, “Mistress,” that plots a riff trajectory uncannily similar to the breakthrough hit, “Voisiko Tänään Olla Se Päivä,” by the Finnish nu-metal outfit 51 KOODIA from way back. No doubt the Slavic rock ruffians had their hearts beating to this Chicago bunch. Another standout cut is the album closer, “Darkness,” featuring the cellist, Alison Chesley. The song is a somber, acoustic ballad, a sort of precursor for the band’s haunting rendition of the vintage Simon & Garfunkel hit, “Sound of Silence,” released in 2015.

In retrospect, DISTURBED‘s sophomore effort comes across as a fine selection of next-level nu-metal bangers. It falls easily into the category of albums that make you say, some 20 years later, “Oh, well, whadda ya know; this is better than I remembered!” It was the band’s cautious first step in a new direction that was to yield class-A metal hits such as “Indestructible” and “Inside the Fire,” later on. “Believe” was a statement of sorts, postulating something along the lines of, “Nu-metal is dead, long live nu-metal!”

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Prayer
  2. Liberate
  3. Awaken
  4. Believe
  5. Remember
  6. Intoxication
  7. Rise
  8. Mistress
  9. Breathe
  10. Bound
  11. Devour
  12. Darkness

Lineup

David Draiman – vocals

Dan Donegan – guitars, keyboards

Steve ”Fuzz” Kmak – bass

Miken Wengren – drums, percussion

Alison Chesley – cello