By Alan Sculley
When Disturbed decided to disappear as a band, the members really meant it, not only going on a hiatus in 2011 that allowed them to pursue outside projects and personal activities, but dropping out of sight once they had regrouped so people wouldn’t know they were actually back together and making a new album, Immortalized, in Las Vegas.
“It was very tricky,” guitarist Dan Donegan said, looking back at how Disturbed kept all but a few people in the dark about the return to action. “I mean, we definitely pulled off some ninja moves in order to keep it a secret.
“A challenging thing for all of us was not telling some of our family members. I didn’t tell my dad for a long time. I think I told my dad at the very end of it. My mom only knew because she was spending a little more time at my house with my wife, helping out with the kids because I was gone for three months (for recording). So our closest friends, my best friends who were usually around me all the time for a couple of days a week, now I’m gone for three months.
“So me and (drummer) Mike (Wengren) did our best to try to fly home on the weekends as much as we could so if anybody was suspicious of us being gone, we were able to at least act like we were just busy during the week. But they’d see us out on the weekend or whatever.”
While in Vegas, the group members tried to avoid being seen together, often going to dinner or other places in pairs, using back doors to slip in and out of destinations, and in general, keeping a low profile.
“There were a couple of times when we got spotted,” Donegan said. “I guess, the one thing in our favor there was even if somebody called us out on it, we could just say ‘We’re in Vegas. That’s nothing shocking. We’re just out here kind of hanging out as buddies. We just happen to be in Vegas.’
“I think if we were seen together in like Wyoming in a studio or something, then we’re busted. They’re going to know we were only there for one reason. But in Vegas there were enough excuses to make up if we had to.”
The cloak and dagger worked. When Disturbed last June announced the August release date for Immortalized, it also sent the first single, “The Vengeful One,” to radio without advance notice. This created the sudden burst of attention the band wanted to create with the secrecy.
Immortalized became the fifth-straight Disturbed album to debut at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album chart, while the singles – “The Vengeful One,” “The Light” and “The Sound of Silence” — have gone No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock singles chart.
Disturbed began its hiatus at what might have seemed like an odd time. The group had been on a roll, pretty much from the moment it released its debut album, The Sickness, in 2000. It sold more than four million copies, and the three albums that followed – 2002’s Believe, 2005’s Ten Thousand Fists and 2008’s Indestructible – each went platinum.
The 2010 album, Asylum, didn’t reach platinum, but that may have been a function of the industry-wide decline in album sales. Disturbed was still headlining arenas and playing prime slots at major festivals.
But a dozen-plus years of staying on a songwriting/recording/tour cycle without extended breaks had taken a toll on Donegan and his bandmates, singer David Draiman, Wengren and bassist John Moyer. They needed to do something other than Disturbed.
The timing was especially good when it came to the personal lives of the band members.
“At the time of the hiatus, David was just about to get married, and during the hiatus he had his first kid,” Donegan said. “I have two kids and Mike had his second kid. So we had a lot of things going on in our personal lives. So it was nice to go home and have some normalcy to it and just be a dad and be a husband and do a lot of things that we want to do.”
During the hiatus, Draiman formed an electronic-edged band, Device, which released a top 15 self-titled debut album, while Donegan and Wengren formed the band Fight or Flight, which released the album A Life By Design? Moyer, meanwhile, worked with Adrenaline Mob and Art of Anarchy.
Donegan said there was never a question that Disturbed would return. The only question was when.
“We said you know what, the beauty of it is we’ll return when we feel like we’re all ready and the fire is there, when we’ve missed it so much that we feel like we have something to offer,” he said.
The itch started to need scratching during 2013, after Donegan flew from his home in Chicago (where the band came together in 1996) to Austin, Texas, where Draiman now lives. They realized they were missing Disturbed and began thinking reunion.
This led to an early 2014 get-together in Chicago between Draiman, Donegan, Wengren and their manager to start plotting their next steps. Donegan soon started coming up with some musical ideas that he e-mailed to Draiman for his input.
Over the next few months, the entire band convened for several writing sessions in which the initial song ideas from Donegan and Draiman were developed and refined until the band felt ready to go into the studio with producer Kevin Churko (known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne and Five Finger Death Punch, among others). These face-to-face sessions produced what Donegan feels was the most collaborative Disturbed album yet in Immortalized, as all four band members pitched in on music and lyrics.
The album that emerged sounds like the Disturbed fans have known and propelled to the head of the hard rock/metal class. Songs like “What Are You Waiting For,” “The Vengeful One,” and the title track are forceful but melodic rockers.
The biggest surprise on the album is the brooding version of the Simon & Garfunkel hit, “The Sound of Silence,” which features Draiman stretching his vocal range to new lows and highs and the group avoiding big guitar riffs and big drums in favor of a string section.
One byproduct of keeping Immortalized secret was the band had to wait until the album was announced to start planning for tours to support the album. That’s why the band is only now hitting the road. But Disturbed is going big with its show.
Donegan said there is pyro and plenty of other visual bells and whistles. In addition, the band is playing its longest shows of its career, highlighting new material and covering the hits fans expect, but leaving room for the occasional surprise.
“The set list isn’t always going to be predictable for us,” Donegan said. “We’re going to have the meat of the set that will remain the same, but we’ll dig into the archives, deep into the catalog, and pull out an occasional song to change things up so fans will get something they haven’t heard in a long time. It’s fun for us, too, because we’re playing songs that really have kind of been on the back burner for us and we really haven’t played much of before.”