CMA Awards 2018
Five Finger Death Punch Overcome the Odds for 'Justice'
After years of turmoil, band lands fifth straight No. 1 on Hard Rock Albums chart.
How did one of the most successful metal bands of the last 20 years know it might be partying a little too much? For Five Finger Death Punch, it was when former Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, a man that wrote the book(s) on excess, told the group that it needed to slow down.
“That’s when you know it’s time to step on the brakes a bit,” guitarist Zoltan Bathory says of Sixx’s warning that came several years ago at a show. And while getting straight took issuing an ultimatum to frontman Ivan Moody amid a legal battle with its record label, the end result is FFDP’s seventh album, And Justice for None; a revitalized band with a renewed focus; and a return to touring that includes a summer co-headlining amphitheater trek with Breaking Benjamin and special guests Nothing More and Bad Wolves.
Since its formation in 2005, the Las Vegas quintet has been a machine. Heavy enough to play with hardcore bands like Hatebreed but palatable enough to have multiple hits at rock radio, all six of FFDP’s previous albums have gone gold. However, it took 18 months of legal limbo between the band and its label, Prospect Park, before And Justice for None was finally released. It started when Prospect Park sued the band in 2016, accusing it of turning in a substandard album to finish its deal; the label refused to release it. Conversely, FFDP alleged that the suit was a vendetta by label head Jeff Kwatinetz, who had been fired as its manager. The suit was finally settled in October 2017, and with the May 18 release of And Justice for None on Rise Records, the act is free from Prospect Park.
But even before its legal woes, there had been indications that not all was well in the FFDP camp. Moody had cut some shows short, and fans claimed he appeared drunk at others in 2016 and 2017. Bathory called himself “the sober one trying to steer the ship and stay on course.” Moody got to the point where the band replaced him for tours with All That Remains’ Philip LaBonte and Bad Wolves’ Tommy Vext while he attempted to regain sobriety.
Despite the dysfunction, FFDP remained successful and on the road. “This band was completely out of control, and somehow, we were able to keep it together,” says Bathory. “Then eventually, [guitarist] Jason [Hook] and [drummer] Jeremy [Spencer] got sober, and everyone else, but Ivan was on a collision course with catastrophe.”
Ultimately, Moody’s bandmates told him they would replace him if they had to, a warning that he couldn’t ignore. “We told him that he was going to go to rehab and take care of it, or we’d have to take it away from him,” remembers Bathory. “That scared him enough, because it’s important to him, and we’re a band of brothers, so he could never even imagine that this could happen, that we’d give him that ultimatum.”
However, Bathory says FFDP recognized that Moody needed help. “This is how catastrophe happens,” he says. “A band figures, ‘We’re a band, and everyone’s drinking and being stupid, but let’s just put him onstage.’ And if you keep doing that, eventually, something bad is going to happen. And we’ve lost so many musicians because of that, because they kept pushing the guy onstage anyway. This is not about the band. This is about somebody’s life. We’re living life through his eyes now. We’ve been everywhere in the world, and he doesn’t remember. We went to see the Eiffel Tower, we went to see the Coliseum. He went to see the bar. Seeing him wake up early, go look around wherever we are, we see it through him. He has an outlook on life that he’s never had before.”
A month after Prospect Park had filed the lawsuit, the band signed a contract with Rise Records that became active when the group completed its Prospect Park obligations. Although FFDP couldn’t release And Justice for None until the suit was settled, one benefit of the forced downtime was a chance to tweak the record. “Because we were wrestling with our label, we kind of polished things up and changed some things and ended up adding two more songs,” he says. “It’s a moving thing, and until you have to give the masters over, it’s still up for adjustment.”
The result was two more songs, “Bloody” and “Fake,” that were written in mid-2017. And despite what Prospect Park had claimed, the album has no quality-control issues. It’s the same highly produced, meat-and-potatoes metal that has pushed the band to now debut five albums at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Albums chart, as well as land five in the top five of the Billboard 200. (The latest debuts at No. 4 with 71,000 copies, according to Nielsen Music.) Moody even addresses his tribulations and the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle on lead track “Sham Pain,” which just broke into the top 20 of the Mainstream Rock Songs chart (23-16) dated June 2.
And Justice for None also continues FFDP’s tradition of cover songs -- they've previously done their take on “House of the Rising Sun,” “Bad Company” and even LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” -- with revamps of The Offspring’s “Gone Away” and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black.” Bathory says FFDP’s cover choices stem from Moody’s love of the artists and being able to relate to the material: “When you see him onstage, every song he sings, he relives the song. Every cover has to feel like it’s his own or something he can connect with, or else we wouldn’t do it.” However, Bathory initially was skeptical about reworking Shepherd’s song. “That song has a Southern vibe and we don’t, and we ended up recording it because he really wanted to. It came out amazing, and I love the song, and we made it our own, which is important when you cover a song.”
And while FFDP is in no hurry to start on its first album for Rise Records, there are already some song ideas ready since the band stockpiles riffs. “There’s always some stuff in the vault,” says Bathory. “If we had to go to the studio today, we’d have five, six seven songs in the vault that are half done or a couple of riffs, and we could pull them out and start working on them.”