"Some people can sing about mythology or Viking warriors running around –and that’s great- but it’s not what we do. As artists, our job is to push the buttons.”
Instant success can be both a blessing and a curse, which is quite logical: if you achieve success too fast, the rest of your career is basically trying to maintain that level or go even further, which is something very challenging even for the best in the game.
This is why when we discuss bands like Five Finger Death Punch there’s a certain dynamic that is worth analyzing and discuss.
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If we talk about modern American Metal bands, there is hardly a few couple of bands that can encapsulate what this particular is about than Five Finger Death Punch and that is remarkable given the natural progression that the genre has gone through in this country.
We are talking, without a shadow of a doubt, about one of those rare and sudden success stories that are much more than it meets the eye.
We are going to tell you the story of this band, its origin and how it has become one of the most commercially successful Metal groups of the United States in such a short period of time.
Five Finger Death Punch, for those that might not be familiar with this group, is a modern Metal band that was formed in Las Vegas, Nevada, back in 2005 and took the name from a kung fu film.
The band has gained a lot of prominence from the very beginning of their careers and they have become one of the main representatives of the modern American Metal wave, which mostly focuses in strong riffs, a lot of distortion and very aggressive vocal performances.
While it’s true that Five Finger Death Punch has many similar characteristics to those musical trends that we have explained, they have also shown a very peculiar vocalist in Ivan Moody and becoming somewhat of a more eclectic band throughout the years, gaining multiple awards along the way.
Of course, one of the key factors when discussing about this band is their somewhat political lyrics and themes, which has resulted in them gaining criticisms throughout the years.
“We’re definitely misunderstood,” said guitarist Zoltan Bathory on an interview about that situation. “We’re not a ‘political’ band, per se. We’re entertainers. But we’re socially relevant –and that’s affected by politics. Everything is culturally, politically and personally relevant; that’s why it connects.”
Regardless of their political spectrum, one cannot deny that this is a band that has been quite honest and straightforward with their views and intentions, often trying to do what they think it’s the best situation given the circumstances.
Five Finger Death Punch during Rock am Ring at Nürburgring, Nürnburg, Rheinland Pfalz, Germany on 2017-06-02, Photo: Sven Mandel
“It’s about determination. When you have that will to be successful, it’s in your core. Starting out as a kid, I didn’t even have a guitar. I couldn’t afford one. I was living in Hungary where people make $100 a month –so I made one from a coffee table and some broken guitar parts.”
We have to go back to 2005 to talk about the early days of Five Finger Death Punch. The band was founded by guitarist Zoltan Bathory, who came from harsh times in Hungary during the times of the Iron Curtain at the height of communism, and drummer Jeremy Spencer.
They would record material with bassist Matt Snell who joined in 2006 and they would send the tapes in which they recorded their demos to then Motorgrater vocalist Ivan Moody, to see if he was interested in becoming part of the project–turns out he was and, along with Bathory and Spencer, he would become one of the most consistent members in the band’s discography.
It’s worth pointing out that, at this point, the band was working with a really low budget and they were trying to use anything they had on their pockets to self-produce what would become their debut album, The Way of the Fist. “We recorded it in my living room, actually,” Bathory said in an interview. “Every single guitar, every single bass guitar, everything that was recorder, was done in my living room in California.”
The band already had an stablished lineup and they were heading in the right direction to get results beyond their wildest expectations at that particular point of their careers.
“I took some time off and came back home to Denver and I got an email from a guy named Zoltan –I was pretty much done with music at that point, to be honest with you- asking me to come out and audition for him.”
It’s always fascinating to look on the days where The Way of the Fist was released because there are few bands in these modern times that can claim to have made an impact on the American Metal scene these days and that is exactly what the guys of Five Finger Death Punch with this particular album, which has sold more than 500.000 copies since it was published in 2007.
It’s worth pointing out that before the release of this The Way of the Fist, Five Finger Death Punch released an EP called Pre-Emptive Strike, which came out a few weeks before their debut and this included a couple of songs that generated a buzz before them hitting the scene with stride.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Way of the Fist is the fact that it was recorded in a studio in California with the help a couple of seasoned professionals in the later stages of the recording process, such as producer Stevo “Shotgun” Bruno, who is much more known for his work with Mötley Crüe and Prong, and their mixer Logan Mader, who has played throughout the years with many modern Metal bands that have been very influential to the sound of Five Finger Death Punch, such as Soulfly and Machine Head.
We mention these aspects because that Groove Metal influence from pioneers such as Soulfly and Machine Head has proven to be monumental for this band at short, medium and long term, which is something that shows with this particular debut album: it’s a direct, heavy and distinctive work, already showcasing Ivan Moody’s classic vocal style that would become one of the band’s most important and unique traits. “It was a different sounding record from anything else on the scene at the time; it had a different sound and vibe,” Bathory said.
If you’re someone who is familiar with the work of this band, then you only need to look at the list of this album to see why it became such a great head start for the band: the title track, The Bleeding, A Place to Die, White Knuckles, Death Before Dishonor or Meet the Monster are very strong songs which showed that Five Finger Death Punch was here to make a difference in the scene.
Another aspect that contributed to the band’s instant success at the time was the following tour, in which they hit the road with Korn on their Family Values Tour–that provided a great deal of exposure for the band and it helped present them to a fanbase that was eager to listen to a new alteration of a sound that had become somewhat repetitive.
“I think it comes down to the members. How much do we have in us? Are we wanting to go out there and make another four albums? We do. Do we enjoy touring 10 months out of the year? Yes, we love it. The old saying is that the pay is great but the hours suck.”
By the time that Five Finger Death Punch released War is the Answer in 2009, there was already a certain degree of expectations regarding what they could do. After all, they were following that maxim that the second album is always one of the most difficult because you have to progress and at the same time maintain the same level of impact that the debut had, which was something this Nevada-based band was starting to cope with at the time.
This second album was released through Prospect Park and it would also be the bands last album with bassist Matt Snell, who would leave the band later on in 2010. This is something worth mentioning because lineup consistency has been one of the band’s biggest strengths throughout the years and every departure would have a certain degree of consequences in their sound and writing style.
War is the Answer was a very successful and impactful album for Five Finger Death Punch’s career, going as far as achieving the number 7 place on the Billboard 200 charts and going platinum with more than one million copies sold as we speak, which is a monumental accomplishment in these modern times where not many new bands can brag about that particular aspect in the Metal scene.
If we focus on the musical side of things, this album showed a certain progression in the band’s sound: here we can listen to a band that was enjoying the confidence of their debut’s success and having the experience of having recorded before.
Despite popular belief, Five Finger Death Punch has never been vastly supported or backed by powerful labels, which has been one of the biggest criticisms attached to this group: that they are a band created by a certain corporate label to make money from. “The band never had tour support,” Bathory said. “We had great fans, and we sold merchandise because the fans loved what we did. It is actually a completely self-made band in that aspect.”
“The music is what makes it cool and I just roll with it. It’s stuck now and everyone’s into it, so what do I know?”
Looking back on 2011’s American Capitalist is always fascinating because it represents another step in the right direction for Five Finger Death Punch and it’s yet another example about how shameless and upfront they are regarding their own political stand, regardless of what people may think of them.
Musically speaking, the album was fairly commercial and accessible, but it was backed by a very solid musical structure and a series of hit singles that would prove to be monumental for the band’s future at medium term.
There was a lot to like about this album, with a set of singles that had a big commercial impact, such as Remember Everything, Back for More and The Pride, thus showing that while Five Finger Death Punch has a very distinctive sound, they were also progressing in a few aspects to a more experienced and mature sound. It’s also worth pointing out that this was the band’s first album with bassist Chris Kael.
The album’s title and their lyrical content received criticism because of what it represented from a political point of view and has even become one of the main reasons the band hass received backlash throughout the years. Zoltan Bathory, due to his Hungarian background, has been quite honest and upfront in that particular subject:
“With most rock bands, they feel like they have to attack the establishment,” Zoltan said in an interview promoting American Capitalist. “It’s such a typical approach: ‘Stick it to The Man’, and ‘Down with the system’, and on and on. But that’s kind of nonsense, you know what I mean?”
“Take what you do, for example: Let’s say you write for a magazine, and then one day you become the editor, the top guy. How would you feel if everybody who used to read you said ‘Oh, fuck this guy. He’s The Man.’ Suddenly, you’re being attacked for being good at your craft and achieving success. And that’s what happens with bands, too.”
This was a pretty direct message, one that many Metal bands don’t usually say and it speaks volumes of Five Finger Death Punch’s attitude towards the business side of things and their perceptions of how the world works in many different aspects.
“We have ideas and ideals, and we’re not afraid to share them. When you deliver a message, people are either going to go ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. But that’s better than being an average band that doesn’t risk being polarizing.”
There are albums that can make or break a band, and when they become a massive success, they become this pivotal moment in which they have a become a very important and recognized group, which is something that happened to Five Finger Death Punch with the release of their fourth album in 2013, The Wrong Side and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1.
In the words of Bathory himself, “the band was tighter than ever”, and it shows throughout this album. Not only it was the best charting album of their careers until that point (it reached the second place in the Billboard 200 charts), but it’s also highly-regarded among their fans and it was the work that cemented their place as one of the most popular Metal bands in the United States.
This album also has the curious note that it counts with multiple guests throughout the songs, such Rob Halford from Judas Priest or people like Max Cavalera and Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed in the deluxe edition of this release.
A song like Wrong Side of Heaven, which was one of the main singles of this album, has become one of Five Finger Death Punch’s biggest hits and it’s the one single that most casual listeners know this band from, which has provided them with a long of exposure since the release of that album.
“Arguing about one little section in one song isn’t a good reason to break up the whole band. Sure, people are passionate about the music, and everybody tries to lobby for their parts, but you have to look at the big picture. Learn what’s important.”
As you can imagine, released a few months later in 2013, this was follow up to their previous album and it was a great way to keep the momentum after what was one of their most commercially successful works until that point of their careers. The Wrong Side and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 2 maintain that degree of success and it contributed to make 2013 perhaps the best year in the band’s career, at least in terms of artistic and commercial impact.
From a musical point of view, there is much to like about this album and it received a pretty good reception from the critics and the fans alike, which is something that doesn’t happen very often and specially for a group as divisive in many aspects as Five Finger Death Punch.
The album has sold more than half a million copies, which is one of the biggest Rock albums of the last couple of years and it was number 1 on the list of Top Rock Albums, which goes to show the level of prominence that the band had developed throughout the years.
Despite the massive success that the band was achieving during this period of their careers, the upcoming years would show many of the group members, especially two of the founding ones such as Ivan Moody and Jeremy Spencer, struggling with their addictions and this was a very complicated time for the band, in which they were not quite sure about their foreseeable future.
Jeremy Spencer would actually release a book (Death Punch'd: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch's Metal Mayhem) many years later about his struggles with addiction and he mentions one particular breaking point for him when he was in Mandalay Bay and his heart skipped a couple of beats. “It was a relief that I pulled through and I knew it was time to fix it because that last episode had to be the final one,” Spencer said, explaining why he needed more than one intervention to overcome his addiction issues.
Regardless, the band carried on despite of all these complications and had a successful tour, which was once again quite long, in typical fashion from the band’s part.
“It never sank in until this last time in rehab, but I admitted to myself that I am worth it and I can love me, even if the rest of the world does not. It’s taken a long time for me to feel successful, but I am the perfect imperfection.”
Got Your Six didn’t sell as much as the other albums, but it was still a best seller by the industry’s modern standards, selling more than 110.000 copies in a week and yet again achieving a number two position in the Billboard 200 charts, giving the band a sense of consistency from a commercial point of view.
If we focus on the musical aspects, we have to say that Got Your Six is certainly heavier than the band’s past releases and it was very well-received by their fans. Five Finger Death Punch has been a pretty consistent outfit in that regard and their work tends to follow a very clear musical direction. Songs like Wash It Away, Jekyll and Hyde and My Nemesis have modern classics of the band and very successful commercial hits, branching out the band towards the most mainstream side of the Metal realm.
As we already stated, this is a band that has been characterized by doing long tours and this case was no exception, with them hitting the road with groups such as Papa Roach or From Ashes to the New, plus being part of the main stage of the Download Festivalof 2015.
The following years were very tumultuous for the band, suffering a lawsuit from their label, Prospect Park, in 2016 because, apparently, they were going to record another album with another label and they didn’t inform their current one. There was also a situation with Ivan Moody, who claimed was leaving the band at the end of 2017 due to the personal problems regarding his addiction, but he was convinced to deal with said issues and come back because they only wanted to carry on with him.
The one who actually left was Jeremy Spencer, who recorded their 2018’s album, And Justice For None, and ended up leaving shortly after.
“I’m like Spock and he’s like Kirk.”
2018 felt like a great victory for Five Finger Death Punch as a collective musical force because they were able to overcome addictions, departures and legal problems to come back to do what they do best, which is making music and the album And Justice For None felt like a grand return from a band that has always been characterized by working hard and trying to offer special.
This was important for the band because 2017 was a very complicated year in which they only released a Greatest Hits compilation called A Decade of Destruction, and they were mostly immersed in their legal problems with Prospect Park, with this seventh album being their last one with this label. Fortunately, it was fitting farewell and the album is classic Five Finger Death Punch, playing all the tropes and hooks that you can expect from a band of their ilk.
It’s also worth pointing out that the album was already completed in 2016, but the lawsuit was stopping them from releasing. Fake and Sham Pain were the main singles from the marketing campaign and they became two of the biggest hits coming from And Justice for None. The band went on tour and they replaced Jeremy Spencer with Charlie Engenduring the promotional tour, which started as temporary but later on became a permanent departure, becoming the longest running member of Five Finger Death Punch (and founding member, at that) to effectively leave the band. As we speak, the band is currently working on their next studio album.
The band has won multiple awards throughout the years, such as the Revolver Gods Awards, Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards, Loudwire Music Awards and many more, along with multiple nominations.
Overall, Five Finger Death Punch is a modern success story that has been defined by consistency and hard work, overcoming multiple challenges and conventions to be their own musical creature and achieving a pretty considerable success, even going as far as selling millions of copies in an era where illegal digital downloads have become the norm in the music business–that, all by itself, is a massive accomplishment.