There are certain bands that some people almost seem predisposed to loving. Not just from a musical standpoint, although that's certainly one of the biggest factors. You can also connect with a band based on where you are in your life, your general preferences, and sometimes your limitations. If this all sounds oddly specific and feels like it's teed up specifically for me to launch into another story that probably happened over 20 years ago, I feel offended that you would think of me as being that predictable.
I feel even more offended that you're 100% correct.
For 18 year old me, the band that seemed to be genetically engineered in a lab to check all of my boxes was Disturbed. Already well-versed in the likes of Metallica and Korn by that time, Disturbed hit my eardrums like a nu-metal brick wall - vocals that were aggressive but more growl than scream. Guitar riffs that were somehow sludgy as hell but crisp and clean at the same time. Bass and drums that brutally pushed forward the momentum of every song whether you were strapped in and ready or not. Most importantly, it was music that demanded to be played loud. As a senior in high school when The Sickness came out and a sophomore in college when Believe dropped, I had a lot of time on my hands either driving to and from work or in my dorm room to crank both albums as loud as they would go, future hearing be damned (no, for real it sucks please use earplugs at shows). Naturally, I tried to replicate this sound on my own - on the same birthday where I got Believe on CD, my parents also got me a guitar amp that was the bane of anyone living next to me the remaining 2+ years at college. I was extremely limited in my playing skills, especially when it came to soloing, which is why I appreciated that most Disturbed songs were by-and-large guitar solo free. Throw into the mix that they were from Chicago, the closest big city to where I grew up, and you've got a package I was unable to resist. If I hadn't liked Disturbed, my friends and family were well within their rights to question why I didn't come down with the sickness (sorry I had to do it at least once).
With Disturbed bringing their Take Back Your Life tour back to the Chicagoland area, I knew I had to head down to Credit Union 1 Amphitheater in Tinley Park to catch the show. With lead singer Dave Draiman being a close personal friend of mine for just over 18 years (more on that later), who was I to not see an old buddy when he swings through town, especially with support from Jinjer and Breaking Benjamin?
Hailing from Ukraine, metalcore outfit Jinjer kicked off the evening with an absolute punch to the face and kick in the stomach of metal sound. It's rare that a band makes you feel like you're being absolutely pummeled with their sound, but Jinjer absolutely fits the bill. Watching the band take the stage, those unfamiliar with their musical style might have been a little thrown off. Drummer Vladislav Ulasevich has the easygoing nature of the guy who lives down the street. Guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov's bucket hat and bassist Eugene Abdukhanov's long hair and beard could have them mistaken for musicians in a jam band. Only when singer Tetiana Shmailyuk takes the stage with every inch below the neck covered in either leather or tattoo do you have a hint of what's about to come.
A true Ship of Theseus in band form, none of Jinjer's original members remain with the band. But it's hard to imagine any other iteration of the band being able to deliver this type of music any harder or louder than Shmailyuk and the others do. A chugging machine of guttural screams and melodic breakdowns, the band mostly stuck to songs of 2021's Wallflowers. Crushing the audience over the head with their sound on fan favorites like 'Vortex' and 'Copycat', the band continued its pattern of defying expectations closing out their set with 'As I Boil Ice', which is the band's signature metal sound mixed with breakdowns of reggae and a full minute and a half of jazz-esque time signatures played over noodling guitars. Not just giving the crowd a chance to come down from the pummeling they just received, but almost forcing them to, was the perfect compliment to the sonic tidal wave that crushed everyone in attendance up until that point.
As much airplay as I gave to Disturbed's Believe when it first came out in September of 2002, an under-the-radar album released just three weeks prior was ultimately the album I played the most. Did you know that there used to be commercials for albums on tv? And not just compilation CDs or Best of Kenny G boxed sets, but actual albums by new artists? A good thing too, because that's the only reason Breaking Benjamin ever got on my radar in the first place. On the strength of their first single 'Polyamorous' that I had drilled into my head over and over every commercial break, I picked up their debut album Saturate and was immediately hooked for a lot of the same reasons I loved Disturbed. But while both bands were propped up by soaring choruses set over riffs so crunchy they could hold up in a bowl of milk for an entire week, Breaking Benjamin was more broody where Disturbed was angry, but with a much catchier, more mainstream rock sound.
From then on, Breaking Benjamin has always been a constant in my life. I got both friends and family into them. Caught them in concert a few times. I still have clear memories of sitting at my computer the summer between my junior and senior year of college trying to track down and download all the individual tracks off the band's sophomore effort We Are Not Alone on Kazaa weeks before the album officially came out (sorry, Lars!). And while I hadn't seen Breaking Benjamin live since 2005, I could always count on a new album every few years (the band's current 5 year gap since 2018's Ember is the longest of their career) that carried on their sound and style despite turnover within the band over the decades.
That consistency was on display as the band (singer/guitarist Benjamin Burnley, bassist Aaron Bruch, guitarist Keith Wallen and Jasen Rauch, and drummer Shaun Foist) sounded as great as ever tearing through a 13 song set that pulled heavily from both We Are Not Alone and 2006's follow up Phobia. Stacking up to four guitars at once and splitting vocal duty up amongst the band during some songs, Burnley and the band played a loud, energetic, and appreciative set, with Burnley stopping several times between songs to talk about how Chicago crowds have always come out in full force for their shows, even going back to their early touring days. Is this something he says to every city they play? Maybe. But I want to believe that Chicago crowds are better than any other in the world so that means I will believe everything that supports that and call anyone saying the contrary a liar.
Speaking of Chicago crowds, I promised to tell the story about how Dave Draiman and I became best friends. Back in 2004 I went to see Korn at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago (with a band called Breaking Benjamin(!) in support) and due to a family hookup, was able to sit in the guest balcony overlooking the side of the stage. The section was a regular hangout for radio contest winners, people who knew the band, etc. At one point right before Korn takes the stage, I see a bunch of people in the crowd below me start to cheer. They were cheering...for me? They were cheering for me!
They were not cheering for me.
I hadn't noticed it, but at some point Dave Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed (still rocking the metal goatee piercings at the time) had sat down in the seats next to me. That's who they were (rightfully) cheering for and trying to get the attention of. And while I didn't really get to say a proper hello (I said "I really love your music!" and he nodded back with his hands put together in a prayer position), there were a lot of words that we left unsaid but over the course of the rest of the show (he left his seats after like 2 songs, probably to go backstage). We basically came away from it not only best friends, but the kind of best friends that don't need to speak to communicate. And he demonstrates this on a regular basis by not answering any of my Instagram messages or tweets.
Regardless, it was great to see him and the rest of the band (guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren, and bassist John Moyer) as they took the stage blaring 'Hey You', the lead song off last year's Divisive. Prowling a stage that was constantly in various states of 'on fire' ranging from 'wow, that's a lot of fire' to 'holy shit, the whole stage is on fire', Draiman looked and sounded just like he did on the night we became best friends, immediately tearing into back to back hits 'Stupify' and 'Ten Thousand Fists', both Donegan and Moyer jumping in the air during choruses, Father Time be damned.
One of the qualities that separates Disturbed from their contemporaries is their earnestness, which isn't a word you necessarily associate with heavy metal acts. But in a genre that's prone to extremes and rife for (sometimes unintentional) parody, it's sometimes hard to draw the line between a band committing to a bit or delivering their music with a small side of tongue-in-cheek. And Disturbed has never been a band of subtlety. Quite the opposite - they've always been a band of extremes and absolutes. Songs called 'Immortalize' and 'Indestructible'. Album titles like Ten Thousand Fists. These are names and phrases that could easily come off as cheesy or trying too hard...if they didn't fit the band delivering them to a T. When Draiman growls about being an Indestructible Master of War, he does it with the conviction and sound of a man who absolutely believes that to be true. You can easily see Draiman in barbarian times, leading a hoarde on a ransack of a nearby town.
But that kind of earnestness isn't just an advantage when it comes to asking the crowd to shove more fists into the air than dollars I have in my bank account. Distrurbed have never been afraid to flip to the other side of the coin and show their vulnerability. On full display during stripped down acoustic songs like 'A Reason To Fight' (the band's ode to overcoming mental health struggles) and their smash hit cover of 'The Sound of Silence', the band's openness to expressing their feelings and spirituality is something I've always admired about them. In the late 90's and early 2000's, even a whiff of religion could get you slapped with the commercially dreaded 'CHRISTIAN ROCK' label, which dogged all kinds of bands from that era from Creed to Evanescence. It's also this kind of honesty and openness that have turned once chaotic mosh pits into family friendly affairs, as multiple kids 14 and under could be spotted throughout the general admission pit. A natural offshoot of a band having the kind of staying power Disturbed has had over the decades.
But just because Disturbed isn't afraid to show a softer side doesn't mean they can't still rattle a venue down to the studs. Steamrolling their way through a 17 song set spanning their entire career (with obligatory bass, guitar, and drum solos mixed in as is metal concert tradition), the band threatened to demolish Credit Union 1 right on the spot. And that's not a clever way to talk about how hard they rocked. I mean they did, but by the time they played 'Inside The Fire' to close out their encore, it seemed they were taking the song title literally as almost every part of the stage was literally on fire.
Like I said, they can be a band of extremes.
Disturbed Setlist at Credit Union 1 Amphitheatre - Tinley Park, IL 8.30.23
Ten Thousand Fists
Are You Ready
A Reason To Fight
Land of Confusion
The Vengeful One
The Sound of Silence
Down With the Sickness
Inside the Fire