Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010
Zoltan Bathory and Jason Hook team up for heavy metal glory on the new Five Finger Death Punch album, War Is the Answer. Got any questions?
Zoltan Bathory prefers not to think of himself as the leader of L.A.’s Five Finger Death Punch, even though he formed the power metal band and, by his own admission, retains creative veto power. To hear Bathory describe himself, he’s more the Moses type, guiding rather than commanding. “I would say I provide the overall vision of where we’re heading, and then shepherd my bandmates in that direction,” the Hungarian-born guitarist explains. “But I’m not driven by ego—it’s about what’s good for the band. If someone says they don’t like something I’m writing, I drop it. It doesn’t really matter anyway. I write a million riffs per second, so I’ll just grab another one.”
Listening to 5FDP’s recently released sophomore effort, you might be tempted to take Bathory’s million-riff boast at face value. On War Is the Answer, he and the band rampage through an hour of fret-sweating changes and fist-pumping choruses like the product of an unholy threesome between Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden. The follow-up to 2007’s hit The Way of the Fist—which sold more then 350,000 copies and earned the band opening slots on treks with Korn and Slipknot—War also introduces the latest addition to the Five Finger fold: lead guitarist Jason Hook, whose extensive résumé includes stints playing with Alice Cooper and Vince Neil. Hook had been working with 5FDP as a session guitarist prior to becoming a full-fledged member of the group, which also includes singer Ivan Moody, bassist Matt Snell and drummer Jeremy Spencer.
“His personality was an immediate match for ours,” Bathory says. “And even if it hadn’t been, I know he would have adapted instantly.” Apparently, Hook’s professionalism also earned him Bathory’s blessing. “When you’re working as a hired gun [as Hook had been], there’s no such thing as fucking up,” Bathory says. “If you fuck up, you’re fired.”
Spoken like a true leader.
GUITAR WORLD Did you have any specific goals when you went in to make War Is the Answer?
ZOLTAN BATHORY We all wanted to make a record that was a progression from The Way of the Fist. We have an established sound, and we definitely wanted to keep that, but we also wanted to broaden our horizons. The Way of the Fist was very metal; this one is more hard rock. But the most important thing is always the song. I love shredding and all that stuff, but the song comes first.
JASON HOOK I think War Is the Answer is more mature. The first record is basically all face-peeler metal, and I love it, but I’m more of a song guy. The one thing I often find missing in metal is structure and payoff. A lot of times it just sounds like random aggression.
GW Jason, how did you come to replace Darrell Roberts as 5FDP’s lead guitarist?
HOOK Jeremy [Spencer] was one of the first friends I made when I moved to L.A. in the mid Nineties. We were in several projects that fizzled, and eventually he worked on my solo album, Safety Dunce. When Zoltan and Jeremy were developing Death Punch, I was listening to their very first recordings. I remember telling him, “This is really cool. You should stick with Zoltan.” As they started to develop, it became an issue to find a second guitar player. They went through several guys, and then Darrell wasn’t working out for whatever reason. So they asked Jeremy if I would be interested. Turns out they were playing around with that idea all along.
GW Zoltan, why wasn’t Darrell working out?
BATHORY I’m not gonna elaborate on why we had to let him go, but at the end of the day we did, and it fixed the problem. Musically I’m a huge fan of Jason’s playing; we have very similar kinds of picking styles. Jeremy showed me his stuff and I was like, “Damn, that guy picks like me!” When Jason heard Five Finger Death Punch, he said the same thing to Jeremy.
GW Jason, were you conflicted at all about leaving behind the session-guy world for a permanent position in a band?
HOOK At that point I was pretty sick of the hired-gun thing. I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always been into recording, so I just wanted to be around creative people. When you’re a hired gun, you’re always around crotchety, bitter people who think they’re rock stars. That wasn’t my vibe at all. I wanted to be in a band where everyone was shooting for a common goal.
GW How do you two divide guitar duties?
BATHORY If Jason can play a solo better than I can, I let him play it. I could be like, “Hey, man, I started the band,” but I have a guy who can shred my head off! I put little melodies and stuff behind it, but basically I just wanna listen to him play. We experiment together; we don’t arm wrestle. If he shows me a solo and I’m like, “I like the first half, but maybe the second half could go to something more melodic,” we have that discussion. He’s not like, “Bro, that’s my fucking solo!”
HOOK Zo is a really creative guy, but he recognizes that the team is stronger than the individuals. When I joined the band, I literally moved into Zoltan’s house and was there for about two and a half months. Every morning we’d have coffee and just throw around riffs. There were multiple computers running and electronic drum machines going.
BATHORY The record had to be done in a fairly short amount of time; it had been nearly two years since the last one. So we wrote together but chopped up the responsibilities. “Jason, you do the solos, and I’ll track the rhythm tracks.” And Ivan [Moody] was in Denver working on lyrics.
GW The next-to-last song on the album is a somewhat unlikely cover of “Bad Company” [the hit song by the classic-rock group of the same name]. How’d that come about?
BATHORY It’s funny, actually—I didn’t like the song at all at first. I grew up in Europe listeningto Iron Maiden and English punk, so I didn’t really know the song; it didn’t mean anything to me. But Ivan loved it, and it ended up being one of the songs we threw into our set on the road. We were headlining shows after the first record and basically just needed stuff to play! Everyone would ask us if we were gonna record it, so eventually we figured we’d give it a shot. And once it was recorded with our sound on it, I was like, “Wow, I love that song!” When Ivan was recording the vocals, I could just tell that he’d been singing the song for his whole life, and suddenly it just came to life for me.