The first time I stepped into Jilly’s Rockworld in Manchester, I laughed. There, in the dark main room, a mass of people were throwing themselves around the dancefloor in a way I’d never seen before. “Yeah, it’s kind of silly,” smiled my boyfriend at the time.
I was 17 and I’d never been to a rock club, or any club. I’d got into nu metal via Papa Roach, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, who had all been played on the radio. I’d bought the albums, posters and bracelets, and this was my next initiation rite. What I didn’t realise was that within a matter of hours I’d be on that dancefloor, overcoming my initial judgement and my own self-consciousness, and that I’d barely leave it during the next few years.
In the early 00s, exposure to metal depended on whether you had the MTV2/Kerrang! TV channels, how much money you had to buy CDs, and if you had like-minded friends who could lend you/copy theirs. In Rockworld, there were DJs, and they played Disturbed. I had no idea what I was listening to, only that it made me feel weirdly empowered.
They didn’t limit their selection to the band’s breakout hit, Down With The Sickness, either. There were the other singles from their debut album The Sickness: Voices, The Game, Stupify. Under the hot, multicoloured lights, I’d sweat out exam stress and get caught up in friendship and relationship dramas, only 10 miles from home but feeling like I had some kind of independence and identity.
Nu metal and its culture was sweeping suburban Britain. But while the 11-year-old mini moshers in Year Seven had their Slipknot hoodies and giggled over swearwords and extremity, I had Disturbed and all-nighters full of new people and experiences.
The press lauded Slipknot for their masks, live shows and dead crows, while Linkin Park came out top for polish and sales. Limp Bizkit were celebrated for their attitude and image, and Korn for their intensity, bagpipes and hip-hop mates. But Disturbed? All journalists talked about were David Draiman’s chin piercing and his ‘monkey noises’.
Magazines took the piss out of the singer, branding him ‘Mad’ Davey Draiman – although the straitjacket he wore onstage and in the Stupify video probably didn’t help. Metal Hammer weren’t innocent, later getting the Jewish singer to pose in a dog collar and putting him on a cover with the tagline: ‘The Freaks Issue’. When we interviewed him in 2018, he admitted that he’d made stupid comments in his youth, but still wonders why, out of all nu metal’s singers, he was so heavily vilified.
None of this dented Disturbed’s popularity, not least because nu metallers embraced the label of freak. In the clubs, Down With The Sickness was a unifying anthem. The verses provided a perfect build up; the choruses a perfect release. There was a bounce about them that was fun with a side of edge, and a level of accessibility that set them apart from other nu metal bands – David barked, shouted and whispered, but never screamed, his voice authentic and melodious.
As Disturbed evolved, those qualities stayed intact – the catchiness, and a blunt vocal and lyrical honesty that wasn’t ‘cool’ but helped them to connect with thousands. Where others fell by the wayside, they’re still here. See: the runaway success of their cover of The Sound Of Silence.
While fellow class-of-2000 albums Infest, Hybrid Theory and Chocolate Starfish… are rightly held up as nu metal gold, The Sickness is rarely spoken of in the same breath, unless it’s to reference its biggest hit. But the singles that frontload the album still sound massive, while the rest of it boasts more vocal gymnastics and no small amount of melodic heft. Even their cover of Tears For Fears’ Shout was a laugh (let’s not talk about Droppin’ Plates, though…).
Years later, if I hear anything from The Sickness while I’m out, I’ll still get excited and annoy the person next to me. If there’s a dancefloor, I’m grabbing their arm and dragging them onto it. Disturbed are the People’s Nu Metal Band, and it’s time to give their debut album the praise it deserves.