Personal struggles and angsty alt-rock music are two things that have always gone well together. …
Imagine being a band at the top of the game, igniting stadiums with aggressive, high-energy onslaught, night in, night out. For American heavy metal hellraisers Five Finger Death Punch, this was real, they were living the metal dream.
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But the seeds of trouble and discontent had been sown. Eight albums into their career, Five Finger Death Punch have emerged from the dark days of dysfunction and addiction to unleash their most profound and introspective album to date, the statement of resilience that is F8.
“We are Death Punch and we do what we do,” states Chris Kael, Five Finger Death Punch’s bassist. “We’ve always worn our influences on our sleeve. You can see the stuff that we grew up listening to and we’ve added a new approach to some of those sounds, and at the core of the band we’re still the same. Somehow we’ve been able to take chances on this record and yet stay true to who Five Finger Death Punch is, which is to me the most clear, most focussed, probably best directed record Death Punch has ever done. It’s taken a long time to develop the sound we’ve got and we just kind of stripped some of the fat and negativity from our personal lives and its really allowed Five Finger Death Punch to shine on this new record.”
F8 certainly makes an important phase for Five Finger Death Punch, as they emerge from a time of chaos, armed with clarity, focus, sobriety and determination. Consequently, as Kael elaborates, F8 embodies a lot of the emotional intensity of this process. “This record is very intense,” Kael confirms, then continues to explain, “A lot of people, when they talk about intensity, especially on a metal or hard rock record, they refer to how intense the music is, how hard or how ridiculously heavy the record is. We certainly have elements of that, on songs like This Is War, but I think that the majority of the intensity on this record kind of revolves around their lyrical content.
We had some very visible cracks in the armour, that were really kind of falling apart at the seams…
[ Chris Kael ]
The last two years, we’ve really undergone a huge change. Ivan and I both got sober, so this is the first record we have recorded with both of us sober on the damn thing, and just the process of Ivan getting sober in particular, he was able to really kind of find a new openness, a new focus on this record. So I think not only has the individual members had a rebirth and an incredible growth period over the last two years, I think that those personal battles and personal journeys that each of us have been on have really found their way into the material on this new record. This record is very powerful, it encapsulates Death Punch where we are now. Would I change anything that we had gone through? We had some very visible cracks in the armour, that were really kind of falling apart at the seams, had we not gone through all that stuff to get to where we are today, we wouldn’t have the same level of appreciation for how good things are right now. It’s just a good time to be in Death Punch, we’ve gone through all the storm clouds, and kind of now sitting here in bright sunny Las Vegas as we speak which says a whole lot metaphorically about where we are in a personal lives and professional lives.”
“This record was very therapeutic” Kael continues, reflecting on the process of facing their issues in the writing process. He goes on, “it’s a very important record for us because it gave us the chance to put pen to paper with that new-found openness and clarity and really kind of work our way through all of the craziness we were going through. When you put pen to paper, put melody behind it and release it to the public … Ivan has this incredible ability to write from a very emotive place. Again, talking about the intensity, Ivan has a very unique way of communicating emotions and really connect with the listener in a way that I can’t think of anyone else who does it like Ivan. Always has his emotions on the sleeve, very straightforward, and now he’s got the new clarity and focus, he’s taken things to a whole new level, far beyond even what he was doing originally. Our listeners can definitely relate to his struggle, his triumph, his rewards, his failures … all that is in the record, and it’s something that each person can relate to on a very individual basis, and I think that is one of the beautiful things about Five Finger Death Punch, is that connection. Whether it’s from our lyrical content, from Ivan, whether its interaction with the fans that we have, we’re very good at that, we are a band of the people, and have not forgotten that. We always have those personal connections with the fans, I think that connection is part of what makes Five Finger Death Punch so special and to be able to delve in and get deeper within ourselves to make that deeper connection on this album was really timely for us and we kind of used that to get us through, and hope that the struggles we went through and the hope that we found going through these struggles can give a lot of people inspiration.”
I heard a great quote when I was in rehab, ‘if you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re in the perfect position to shit on the present’.
[ Chris Kael ]
There are tracks on F8 that really put a sense of vulnerability at the front, such as Darkness Settles In, and as Kael explains, this was a cathartic process within the band as well, that emphasises the importance of talking about what is going on. “You know, that vulnerability that Ivan displays on this record actually got us together in the studio, many times, talking about things that had gone on, and kind of rallied us around one another. Some of the stuff Ivan talked about in this hadn’t been talked about in the band. When you’re going through this you tend to self-isolate and go through it alone, but by putting that stuff on paper it really let us know what Ivan was going through and helped us to bond in a way that we had not previously experienced. So I think this record is important for the relationship within Five Finger Death Punch too.”
F8 is a solid and recognisably Five Finger Death Punch record, but there are a few moments of innovation, such as the quirky song A Little Bit Off …“With that song in particular,” Kael laughs, “it came a little out of left field for me, that one may be my favourite one on the record. Generally speaking when we do a record, my favourite track is always going to be the heaviest, but for this one … just for this one to be so different, so out of left field for us, that one really encapsulates the push to do new things on this record for me. I don’t really even know how to describe this song. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and Ivan just works this through for himself. It definitely takes you on a journey into vulnerability on that song.”
On whether he thinks that longstanding fans will embrace their inventiveness and internal focus, Kael says, “I always say, if you’re a fan of Five Finger Death Punch, you’ll like this record. If you weren’t fan of Five Finger Death Punch, you probably still won’t like it, but I think if we take enough chances and expand our sound and further elaborate on stuff that we’ve done I think that, as big as the crowds are now that we’re playing in front of, we have the opportunity to reach even more people with this new record.”
Speaking of new people, F8 sees the debut of drummer Charlie Engen to the Five Finger Death Punch discography. On what kind of new influence Engen has had, Kael says,
“Charlie … literally has a master’s degree in rhythm. The dude is a master behind the drums in all senses of the word. He is the kind of guy that when we’re writing new stuff, he’s putting things to charts and writing things down and changing things around … it’s a different level, a fresh new approach. It’s always great when you can get some fresh blood in there that reignites the fire within all of you, and Charlie has definitely done that.”
So, what does this introspection and innovation mean for the future of Five Finger Death Punch and their sound? Kael offers us a pearl of wisdom, “It’s hard to say at this point, we’re still very much within the present day. I heard a great quote when I was in rehab, ‘if you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re in the perfect position to shit on the present’. Right now, we have both feet in the present; things are really good, just really focussing on enjoying where we are right now.”