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Five Finger Death Punch

Every so often there’s a metal band that rears its ugly head above the parapet of an industry already saturated with the genre outwith its control – love ‘em or loathe ‘em, the ‘orribly monikered semi-supergroup FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH look, by all accounts, to be here for the long haul. While the odd curse and swear word has always generated a bit of controversy in bygone years, it seems rather irreverent when a group uses the “f” word – growled and gnarled beyond belief – to syllabise each and every verse, probably to compensate for shortcomings in the poetic front. But don’t the kids in America just love it.
Formed 2005, in Sacramento, California, FFDP procured their group name from a phrase used within the martial arts community that came to light via cinematic attributes of its star turns. The initial line-up of suspects arrived when Hungarian-born guitarist Zoltan Bathory (ex-U.P.O. bassist) and drummer Jeremy Spencer (ex-W.A.S.P.) roped in bassist Matt Snell (ex-Anubis Rising) and Denver-raised singer Ivan L. Moody (ex-Motograter) in order to rehearse and record tracks that turned out on a self-produced debut album, THE WAY OF THE FIST (2007) {*6}. Mixed by Logan Mader, the group inked a deal at Firm Music, who released the set just as short-stop second guitarist, Caleb Andrew Bingham, made way for former W.A.S.P. axeman Darrell Roberts – a find indeed. The album itself steadily climbed the charts, and soon it was as high as No.107; their schizoid nu-metal thrash ’n’ grind appealing to fans of METALLICA and SYSTEM OF A DOWN et al. Part pummel and pout, half hardcore and heavy, FFDP could switch from a growl to a hook line and sinker chorus at the drop of a bandana, examples coming by way of `The Bleeding’, `Ashes’ and `Salvation; note too that in its re-promoted format, the group added versions of `From Out Of Nowhere’ (FAITH NO MORE) and `A New Level’ (PANTERA). A subsequent tour supporting KORN made inroads into the hearts and minds of the monster metal brigade.
When Roberts decided to bail (his berth taken by Canadian-born Jason Hook), FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH were determined to succeed, and succeed they did when the Kevin Churko-produced sophomore set, WAR IS THE ANSWER (2009) {*7}, rocketed into the Top 10; their inaugural record for the fledgling Prospect Park imprint. Very much in the mould of OZZY OS or Serj Tankian fronting a sonic-period industrial MINISTRY – although power-ballad NICKELBACK-esque arena-rock dropped in from time to time – writer Bathory fused a tightrope of angst-ridden metal on the likes of `Bulletproof’, `No One Gets Left Behind’, `Dying Breed’ and `Hard To See’. One for semi-detached metallers was the rather unnecessary cover of BAD COMPANY’s `Bad Company’ – had it really been 35 years since the classic rock song embraced our ears?
Further personnel comings and goings saw the unknown Chris Kael take over from Snell for the group’s third album, AMERICAN CAPITALIST (2011) {*6}. While it was difficult to make out their political revulsions and stance in each growling/power-ballad, songs of the confrontational and cathartic nature were a-plenty as one could head-bang in one’s own bedsit mosh-pit to `Under And Over It’, `Menace’ and `100 Ways To Hate’.
Churning ideas by the bucket-load, Moody and Co duly announced they’d written too many songs, thus the splitting of their next project. Smashing in at No.2 (Top 30 in Britain for once), THE WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN AND THE RIGHTEOUS SIDE OF HELL, VOLUME 1 (2013) {*7}, was, in hindsight, the best of the pair, highlighting the voice of JUDAS PRIEST’s Rob Halford on opener, `Lift Me Up’. Not a hint of prog-ivity in sight or concept misapprehensions, FIVE FINGER… chugged along as per usual, fitting in a few light choruses to boot. Augmented also by Maria Brink (of In This Moment) on `Anywhere But Here’, and enlisting the help of horror-core meister Tech N9ne on a metallic cover LL COOL J’s `Mama Said Knock You Out’, volatile titles such as `Watch You Bleed’, `I.M. Sin’ and `Burn MF’ were almost obliterated by these weird combinations.
Released into the Top 3 only a matter of months later while the first episode was still riding relatively high in the charts, THE WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN AND THE RIGHTEOUS SIDE OF HELL, VOLUME 2 (2013) {*6}, was its poorer cousin. Although it still packed a death punch – or three – guts ’n’ glory highlights came thick ’n’ fast through `Here To Die’, `Wrecking Ball’ (without a CYRUS cloud in sight!) and `Battle Born’; but why oh why oh why the painful destruction of their IGGY POP-cloned take of the once giant trad-folk dirge, `House Of The Rising Sun’? As in the words of HUSKER DU: “Makes No Sense At All”.
As enterprising as a SEPULTURA or LIMP BIZKIT exercise in full-blown angst, 2015’s GOT YOUR SIX {*6} breathed fire and brimstone into the nu-metal scene – if initial tracks were anything to go by. Hostile and confrontational, Top 3 combo FFDP embraced chunky, throbbing riffs (as well as the odd, old-school soft-ballad touch by way of `Digging My Own Grave’), never letting up their GBH-sound from the opening title track and `Jekyll And Hyde’, to `No Sudden Movement’, `Question Everything’ and the bruising `Boots And Blood’.
On the back of a retrospective “best of” buffer, “A Decade Of Destruction” (featuring a cover of The OFFSPRING’s `Gone Away’), Ivan Moody and Co pummelled our earlobes with another transatlantic Top 10-er, AND JUSTICE FOR NONE (2018) {*6}. A mixture of nu metal gnarling, interspersed with whiny blues ballads (none worse than a cover of KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD’s `Blue On Black’), only `Fake’, `Top Of The World’ and the crap-rap `Sham-Pain’ resonated with any force; the sloth-like re-tread of the aforesaid `Gone Away’ was the proverbial plastic straw that broke the turtle’s back (one for the environmentalists!).
Personnel changes ensued by way of Spencer’s back injury (he later became a first responder/reserve in Indiana’s police force); his permanent position filled by Charlie Engen. Ivan Moody was now tee-total and therefore re-focused for the nu-metal quintet’s eighth album, the Better Noise-endorsed, Kevin Churko-produced F8 (2020) {*8}. Uncharacteristically oxygenated by an eponymous orchestral piece that set the calm-before-the-storm tone nicely, normal service was resumed by way of bombastic balls-out `Inside Out’, `Full Circle’, `Living The Dream’, `This Is War’ and end piece, `Brighter Side Of Grey’.
© MC Strong/MCS Dec2013-Mar2020

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