Fists of Legend

Five Finger Death Punch deliver two hard-hitting discs with The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, featuring guest spots from metal icons Max Cavalera, Rob Halford and others.

Since releasing their debut album, The Way of the Fist, in 2007, Five Finger Death Punch have been on a roll. That record, as well as two subsequent full-lengths, 2009’s War Is the Answer and 2011’s American Capitalist, have each sold upward of 500,000 copies, and the band has quickly risen to the ranks of full-fledged arena headliners. Such success is something of a rarity in today’s metal world, and yet the members of Five Finger Death Punch—singer Ivan Moody, lead guitarist Jason Hook, rhythm guitarist Zoltan Bathory, bassist Chris Kael and drummer Jeremy Spencer—have hardly been resting on their laurels. In fact, upon entering the studio late last year to begin recording the follow-up to American Capitalist, the band decided to embark on its most ambitious project yet, cutting not one but two records of new material.

The result is this year’s The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1 (which was issued this past July) and Volume 2 (released in November). Together, the two albums collect more than two-dozen new FFDP tracks, including bonus cuts and B-sides. And while there is plenty in the way of the hard-hitting-yet-melodic power rock that has come to define the Five Finger Death Punch sound, the albums also find the band journeying outside its comfort zone, delving into ballads, instrumental interludes and spoken-word vocals. Furthermore, the discs are spiked with a handful of guest appearances—including Sepultura and Soulfly founder Max Cavalera, In This Moment frontwoman Maria Brink, hardcore rapper Tech N9ne, Hatebreed leader Jamey Jasta, Demon Hunter singer Ryan Clark and the Metal God himself, Rob Halford, who appears on the raging Volume 1 opener, “Lift Me Up.” There is also a pair of oddball cover songs: LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and the traditional folk tune “The House of the Rising Sun,” both of which are given the full-on FFDP aggro treatment, similar to what the band did with its breakout cover of Bad Company’s “Bad Company.”

Taken together, the two discs are a whole lot of Five Finger Death Punch and offer up some of the band’s most diverse music yet. Bathory explains that the band felt it necessary to release all the music now rather than holding on to some songs for use on future albums. “We didn’t want to keep anything back,” he says. “Because we don’t know where we’re going to be 18 months in the future or what kind of mind frame we’ll be in or what kind of record we’ll want to make. So this music, and these records, is a time capsule of us now."

It’s also enough material to tide fans over for a long while. Which is fortunate, as, according to Hook, much of the next two years of the band’s life will be spent “touring, touring, touring.” He laughs. “Because after making two full studio albums at once, we’re definitely not in a hurry to get back into the studio anytime soon.”

How did it come to be that the band decided to record two albums’ worth of material at the same time?

JASON HOOK When we started writing album number four, we only planned on writing, you know, album number four. But the different thing that happened this time was that we came into the studio prepared. We had brought a portable studio on tour with us the year prior and began logging riff ideas on the road. So when we came in on day one of sessions for the new album, we had maybe eight or nine songs already prepared, which is something we’d never really had before. Those got tracked quite quickly, and that sort of put us way ahead of schedule. From there we said, “Let’s just keep writing.” And before we knew it, we had 20 songs, and we couldn’t really isolate which ones we wanted to chop off the list. At that point somebody suggested just doing two records, and that was it.

Both Volume 1 and Volume 2 are pretty hard hitting, but you also throw in slower songs and covers on each one. Clearly, you didn’t set out to have each disc centered around a certain vibe.

HOOK No. And actually everything was pretty much recorded at the same time. We didn’t shuffle the deck, so to speak, and figure out which songs would be on which album until the last minute.

ZOLTAN BATHORY Though for a moment we did have the idea to title one album The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, with one darker and one lighter, and put them out at the same time. If we had done it that way, at least the title wouldn’t have been so damn long! [laughs] But we thought, 25 songs—that’s a lot of material to drop on the fans. And all the songs may not get the attention they deserve. So we opted to separate the albums by a couple of months, which seems to be the average amount of time it takes for a listener to get familiar with a record.

Volume 1 is notable for having some great guest spots from other metal singers—Max Cavalera, Jamey Jasta, Maria Brink and, of course, Rob Halford. How did those come about?

HOOK Well, obviously, working with Rob Halford was a highlight. He’s a fantastic guy, and it was really fun to hang out and hear old stories from Judas Priest tours. That came about because we were listening to “Lift Me Up,” just the raw track, and somebody suggested that it sounded like an early Priest song. It kinda has that pump to it. Then somebody else threw in, “Imagine if we got Rob Halford to sing on this.” And before you know it, phone calls were being made. Rob got the music, loved it and wanted to be a part of it. Then it became, “Well, what if we tried to get somebody for this and somebody for that?” And it sort of spiraled out of control. I heard that Max Cavalera initially sang his lines on Volume 1’s “Dot Your Eyes” in his native Portuguese.BATHORY Yes—and we didn’t tell Ivan he was going to do that. When we got Max’s track back and Ivan listened to it the first time, it was the funniest thing to see the look on his face. He was like, “What did Max just say? Did he change the lyrics?” [laughs] It took him about four or five seconds, and then he said, “Oh, shit!” And he got it.Can you talk about your gear on the record?BATHORY Right now I have my two Dean signatures—one is like a superstrat, because I’ve always liked that shape, and the other is the AR-6, which we named because it has what looks like an AR-15 rifle handle on it. It has carbon-fiber inlays and comes in cool colors, like Ferrari red. It puts together the things I like—sports cars, guns and guitars. If you put a stripper pole on it, it’d be perfect! For amps, I use Diamond Nitrox heads, which have these huge, oversized transformers and the power to handle the low frequencies. Then I use some TC Electronic effects, like the G-System, and I have a Dunlop MXR Smart Gate. I might use a little bit of delay or reverb or chorus on my lead tone, but otherwise I go straight into the Diamond. I also use super-heavy strings—a .066 on the low B and a .013 on the high. They’re like cables that can pull a ship. HOOK I’ve been using my signature Gibson M-4 Sherman, which is named after the medium-weight tank used in World War II. It’s an Explorer-type body but modified for the modern player. I have super-jumbo frets that are great for heavy rhythms and fast leads, and I took some of the body wood away, which allows you to get up high on the neck. Ampwise, I’m a dedicated and loyal Marshall user. I even have a Marshall tattoo on my back, as fucked up as that is. I’m committed! Every solo I’ve ever played in the studio has been recorded through the same JCM 800, with a Boss Super Overdrive pedal thrown in front. I’m also touring with a few of the Yngwie Malmsteen YJM heads. As far as pedals, I’ve been using the TC Electronic stuff pretty consistently. They have a unit called the G-Major 2 that pretty much covers all the bases. It’s kind of like your top pedals—modulations, delays, reverbs—all put into a rack. I also have a couple of MXR effects—a Phase 90 and a Flanger—that I use here and there. But that’s it. I keep it real simple.How did the two cover songs on the records—“Mama Said Knock You Out” on Volume 1 and “The House of the Rising Sun” on Volume 2—come about? BATHORY The LL Cool J idea had actually been around for a long time. Back with our first record, we had a pretty good amount of success, but we were still a new band. We were headlining big places, but we didn’t have enough material to fill a headlining slot. So we started searching for possible cover songs to play to fill up the remaining 20 minutes of our set. That’s what led us to do “Bad Company.” And in that same time period was when the idea of doing “Mama Said Knock You Out” came up. I played around a little with the riffs, just to see what it sounded like, but we never did it. Then this time it came back around. Plus, we got Tech N9ne to guest on it, who to me is sort of an underground hero. What about “The House of the Rising Sun”?BATHORY That was the first song I actually ever learned to play on guitar. So for me it was somewhat full circle. And then the lyrics, they’re about drinking and gambling and that whole lifestyle—which is perfect for us because we live in Las Vegas, and if you’re talking about drinking and gambling, Ivan is your guy. That’s what he’s been doing for quite a while. The song completely goes with him, because he’s had to work to get control over both of those things. Are these issues he’s still struggling with?BATHORY He’s doing much better. The issue with him was he was drinking hard liquor, and a lot of it. And Ivan was never a fall-down drunk; he just grew up in circumstances where the people around him were alcoholics. But the thing with Ivan is he’s a functioning alcoholic. He can destroy two bottles of vodka, and you wouldn’t even know he’s drunk. The only way you’d know is he starts using words that don’t fit in a sentence. You look at him like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” But it was a big problem for him for a long time. Because if you know Ivan’s personality, he’s also the type of guy who rebels against anything and everything. He wants to put a boot up the ass of everything that is socially respectable, just to see the reaction. Mix that together with a little liquid courage and you can just imagine what happens: there are no brakes. But now he’s more focused, less crazy. Your characterization of Ivan brings up an interesting point: you guys all come from very different backgrounds, yet you seem to function surprisingly well as a unit.BATHORY Well, the common area between us is that we all have the same drive to do this. But beyond that, we are as different as can be. Ivan and I are like yin and yang. He’s the anarchist, burn-down-the-house kind of guy, whereas I grew up on a military base and I’m militant to the core. The crew calls me the General. Everything I do is coming from The Art of War [an ancient Chinese treatise on military strategy] and Eastern philosophy. That’s because I came through the minefields of a communist country [Bathory was born in Hungary]. And then Jeremy’s kind of the joker. He keeps things light. Jason, meanwhile, grew up in Canada and moved to L.A. and slept in his car. And he’s the musician’s musician. Jason goes to sleep with his fucking guitar! You need one of those guys in your band. Where do your individual tastes fall on the musical spectrum?HOOK I actually think my background is a little less heavy metal than the other guys. I grew up on classic rock bands, stuff like Deep Purple and Kiss. Zoltan, being European, his background is just that real hardcore thrash metal. And then Ivan likes American metal—Pantera, Slayer, Testament. Jeremy does too. The end result of all of that is a soup made up of all these ingredients. Jason, you’ve played guitar for everyone from Alice Cooper and Vince Neil to the Bulletboys and Mandy Moore. How have your various experiences shaped you as a musician?HOOK It’s given me a wide vocabulary. I’ve had to “chameleon” myself into many situations as a hired gun, which sort of forced me to adapt quickly. Because you need to cover a lot of territory as a guitar player to be able to fit into all these gigs. I used to fill up my storage locker in L.A. with every amp I could find that could produce every different sound I could imagine. I’d have all kinds of acoustics and nylon-strings and baritones, because there was a point where I thought, I’m just going to become the ultimate utility man. And people were like, “Why are you buying this stuff? You already have this, you already have that.” And I’d say, “Yeah, but this one’s a little different and I’m gonna need it for something, someday.” [laughs] Then, when it came to becoming a part of Death Punch, I figured I could bring all these different elements to our music. You guys have become one of the best-selling and biggest new bands in metal in pretty quick time. Why do you think you’ve done so well?BATHORY One thing is the lyrics. We talk about everyday social and human issues; we don’t talk about Vikings and dragon warriors. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we just don’t do it. So, emotionally, the music connects with people. Sometimes when Ivan writes a song, it’s so raw that he has a hard time singing it onstage—you can see tears in his eyes. I even have a hard time watching him sing it, like, “Look at this kid torturing himself!” But the fans can feel that it’s real.I also think that, compared to other metal musicians, we have a different opinion about music. To me, there’s a distinction between being a player and being a songwriter. Just because you can play well doesn’t mean that you can write a song. Music is a very sophisticated way of communicating. You want to paint a picture and take people on a journey. And people can challenge that and say, “Well, this is too simple a song.” And to that I say, Isn’t it better to write a song that will speak to millions of people? I can write a difficult song with three time signatures and make it technically challenging, but isn’t that a little bit like jerking off? And, also, which one is harder to do? I believe it’s much harder to write a song that will speak to millions of people. And the proof is that there is no musician in the world that says, “Oh, I want to have 17 fans because I want to be true.” That doesn’t happen.Do you feel like as a result of your success you get picked on or criticized by the more underground factions of the metal world?HOOK Sure. But as the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. People have their own tastes in music, and that’s okay. We’re not pretending that we’re going to make everybody a fan. There are some people that maybe don’t like Five Finger Death Punch but love some other incredibly dark thrash band that I can’t listen to myself. But the difference is, I wouldn’t go out of my way to try and make another person feel negative about something they like. I don’t feel compelled to put someone else down for their musical choices.To each his own. HOOK Absolutely. So what can I say? We work very hard on this stuff, and we don’t take our success for granted at all. We feel very fortunate that people are embracing it as much as they are. But first and foremost, we do it because we want to feel fulfilled by it. Whatever happens after that is beyond our control.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.