Disturbed Rewrote Rock with Five Words

Disturbed's 'The Sickness'
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Reprise Records

In just five words, Chicago band Disturbed helped change the sound of heavy metal around the world: "Oh-ah-ah-ah-ah!"

Those grunts kicked off "Down with the Sickness," the de facto title track to the band's debut album The Sickness, released on March 7, 2000. The album was four years in the making - the end product of four metal lovers coming together and crafting heavy-duty songs that combined edgy riffs with melodies and lyrics that drew heavily on frontman David Draiman's staunchly independent worldview. "The level of conformity that people are forced into was disturbing to us and we were just trying to push the envelope and the name just sorta made sense," he later told an interviewer.

While The Sickness possessed some of the hallmarks of the then-popular nu-metal style at the time, Disturbed stood apart, from Draiman's versatile vocals - clean melodies one minute, raspy growls the next - to guitarist Dan Donegan's choppy riffs occasionally intermixing with pulsing keyboards, electronic rhythm and the occasional funky bass.

But Draiman was clear to point out the differences between them and their contemporaries. "We never had the stereotypical attributes that those bands had. We don’t rap; there's no turntable involved; no fusion in that respect," he told the Orlando Sentinel. "We play, in my opinion, classic metal. [Black] Sabbath, [Iron] Maiden, [Judas] Priest, Metallica, Pantera: these are the bands that made us want to play."

With the help of lead single "Stupify" and "Down with the Sickness," both of which became sizable hits on the rock charts, The Sickness reached No. 29 on the Billboard 200 and sold five million copies in America. That placement may seem modest, but it established their rock-solid fan base, who took five of their next six studio albums to the top of the Billboard 200 over the next two decades. The Sickness also featured the first of what would become a tradition on Disturbed albums: a metal cover of a classic pop song. Here, the band took on Tears for Fears' "Shout"; subsequent albums would feature takes on Genesis, U2 and even Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence," which became an unlikely pop hit in 2015.

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