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Over 15 years and, as of this week, nine albums in, Las Vegas heavies Five Finger Death Punch have learned a thing or two about traversing the music industry in their heavily storied tenure.
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A multi-platinum hard rockin’ band hailing from Sin City itself in Nevada, 5FDP are instantly recognisable thanks to their blend of heavy metal, grooves, hooks, hard rock and thrashy flash. But while their billions of streams, worldwide acclaim and wildly infectious tunes have seen them garner both praise and detractors over the years, FFDP undeniably know how to craft an earworm like nobody’s business while busting out animalistic power and unbridled technicality along the way.
With the past few years offering a sea of change for most, 5FDP have emerged in 2022 not only with a brand new album, the impending ninth full-length AfterLife due out Friday 19 August, but also with a brand new guitarist joining rhythm guitarist Zoltan Bathory, vocalist Ivan Moody, bassist Chris Kael and drummer Charlie Engen: enter UK guitar maestro Andy James who stood in on tour for former FFDP lead axe-man Jason Hook, before officially stepping into the role full-time in late 2020.
Armed with a new guitarist, a world gone mad around them, and embracing the mentality that creatively “anything goes”, AfterLife emerges as a cohesive, immersive and full-blown classic 5FDP album; and, as guitarist Andy James reveals in the week of Afterlife’s release, it actually allowed for a relaxed and enjoyable creative setting, despite the madness of the surrounding world.
“It feels good to be getting back and doing stuff again,” James shares. “I haven’t been in the band that long, but actually when you think about it, I’ve been there since the beginning of 2020. I sort of hopped on halfway through and then pretty much just ended up staying – but then soon after that the pandemic hit – we just couldn’t do anything!”
“There’s just been a lot of sitting around and waiting to actually get back out there and do stuff. After getting home from that first tour, I was back for about a year and then at the beginning of 2021, Zoltan said: look, we dunno how long this is gonna go on for, why don’t you just come out to Vegas and we can start working maybe on some material. Or, you know, do videos or just generally hang out and stuff. I ended up doing that and I’ve since moved to Vegas now, I’ve been here since the beginning of 2021. But it’s great to actually get back and do some shows, we’ve just done a full blown tour and now we’ve got an album coming out. The making of AfterLife was pretty chill, really, just going into the studio, sitting down, having fun, writing some ideas and just seeing the whole thing pan out. It’s been pretty cool.”
Teaming up once again with longtime collaborator Kevin Churko on producing duties for AfterLife, the upcoming album closely follows the 5FDP 2020 full-length F8, which swung in at #1 upon release on multiple rock charts around the world. But as to what the band ultimately hope listeners take away from album #9?
“Conversations I’ve had with Ivan about how he writes songs, a lot of them are kind of personal to him, but they can be interpreted however the listener chooses to interpret the lyrics depending on what’s going on in their own life,” James shares. “I think the thing that Five Finger Death Punch has always had going for them is that they have this ability to connect with people, you know, whether the song be about a specific thing that people are going through or it just somehow speaks to them and helps them for whatever they’re going through. Funnily enough, for me lyrically … I’m not really a huge listener of lyrics. Like, whenever I listen to bands or songs, how I feel about music is more about the musical landscape.”
“This album definitely covers a lot of different flavours, there’s some dipping toes into stuff that I don’t think the band have really done before. Stuff like Thanks For Asking, for example, is definitely a more chill vibe than I think that we’ve gone for in the past, just exploring things like that a bit more, you know? And then obviously there’s some really heavy stuff on the record as well, which is more sort of classic Death Punch.”
“I just hope people check it out and listen to it. For myself as a fan coming into the band and then ending up doing this album with them – it still feels like a genuine Five Finger Death Punch album to me, but it also feels like it’s evolving.”
This album definitely covers a lot of different flavours, there’s some dipping toes into stuff that I don’t think the band have really done before.
[ Andy James ]
Recently releasing a lyric video for the scorching track IOU, Five Finger Death Punch also offered a first ever look into the Metaverse project that the group have been steadily embarking upon with the clip, with a planned extension to the band’s pre-existing Fan Club app set to provide an interactive virtual world and a gamified fan club experience like few others. And it’s that very IOU single and video that not firmly signals the band’s forward-thinking ethos, readily helmed by guitarist Zoltan Bathory.
“People are getting more and more involved in the whole digital world thing, and all that kind of stuff with technology evolving and all the rest of it,” James explains. “I think it’s definitely something that Zoltan’s massively into, he’s always been into crypto and stuff like that, and anything sort of scientific. So, he’s just obviously gonna be exploring that and seeing if there’s any way that the band can exist within that.”
“It’s funny because Zoltan obviously is the business guy in the band, he runs everything and does all that kind of stuff. He has all these mad ideas trying to see what new thing the band can do. Obviously, you know, Ivan does all the lyrics and all that sort of stuff and comes up with his own ideas. And then for someone like me coming into the band, I’m sort of a guitar player thrown into this world of Five Finger Death Punch just trying to write some cool ideas and hope people think: oh yeah, that’s cool! Or: no, we’re not gonna use that. It’s like my role in the band is far less sophisticated, I would say, than the older members of the band sort of thing. But with the metaverse and digital stuff, Zo’s definitely well into that and he loves trying to see how the band can fit into it and move forward. I know there’s a few other people, you know, bands and artists and stuff that are getting involved in that kind of thing too.”
While dabbling in the Metaverse, NFTs, Web3, and beyond isn’t entirely new territory in the musical realms, few bands have actively chased and/or embraced the rapid changes to technology and social media platforms. And for a band of Five Finger Death Punch’s status and tenure, their readiness to evolve and find new ways to connect with fans and their community also ultimately stems back to what the group hope a listener takes with them following a listen to their new album. And, as James reveals, it’s not just digital platforms that the band are open to embracing and evolving alongside, with the band actively involving James to cement his mark as a key part of the brand new Five Finger Death Punch chapter.
“It’s funny you bring that up, actually, I know we were talking about the Metaverse and all that sort of thing,” muses James of the band’s new digital endeavours. “And it even links back to what we were talking about earlier, what do people take away from this album and that kind of thing. It was funny because I remember in the early stages of listening to some of the demos and stuff for AfterLife that Zo had worked on in the studio – IOU was actually one of those early riffs. He played it to me, and he was like: yeah, you know, I don’t know how I feel about this. But for me, instantly when I heard it – it was one of my favourite things he had played me that he’d been working on. And he was kind of like: oh really?? And I was like: yeah, this has to fucking be on the record!”
“So, we started working on it and stuff like that, and came up with the full song that you are hearing now. I don’t know whether that song was tentatively never gonna evolve into something, I guess he wasn’t sure. But that’s the thing, I guess sometimes if he’s not sure about something he’ll ask me and, you know, being another guitar player with another perspective or whatever, I might have something interesting to say about it! When I first heard it, it wasn’t really necessarily the complexity of the riff and all the rest of it, it was more like the groove and the feel of it, which is what I touched on earlier. The way I view music is more to do with how it makes me feel and more of a sonic feeling than the lyrical content, if you know what I mean.”
While James was a pre-existing 5FDP fan prior to joining the fray, his swift addition to the group came about during the band’s massive European arena tour that took place in early 2020. With a few days to fill the shoes of former and formidable guitarist Jason Hook, following Hook’s health taking a turn for the worse, the initiation for James into the band was a significant trial by fire, completing the group’s European run before officially joining the band full-time moving forward. And despite the fact that James was no first-timer shredding onstage, it would take a first class flight clutching a guitar and an extremely short space of time to memorise 20 songs for the riffing Brit to nail his first ever Five Finger Death Punch debut.
“I’ve had experience touring and doing all that stuff,” James shares of his rapid trajectory into the 5FDP universe. “Doing the actual tour didn’t phase me. It was more to do with … well, we are gonna have to swap a member out and, and put someone else in. And then it was Zo, he basically just asked me what I was like at remembering material. I didn’t realise he was gonna then ask me in the next text message: can you learn, like, 20 songs in as many hours before getting on a plane? So, basically – that’s what happened! They sent me the set list, but because I’ve been familiar with all of their music prior to even speaking to Zo, I knew the songs. And usually I’m quite good with knowing how songs go once I’ve heard them. I hadn’t actually physically sat down and played any of that stuff, so that was the only knowledge gap I had to fill. But I didn’t have a huge amount of time, and while I was learning the songs and travelling to the first show, it was the first time I’d ever flown first class as well. So that was quite an experience!”
“They were nice enough to let me have a guitar in first class and just sit down with headphones in sort of playing while eating and drinking first class food. I landed in London and then I think I was with the band for a couple more days after that. I was literally thinking I was gonna be flying straight into a gig, but luckily I had a bit more time to prepare and stuff, but it was only like two or three days – and then getting up there!”
“It was definitely a fight or flight moment. It’s one of those things that happens in your life where you’re like: well, I’m either gonna fuck this up or just do it. I mean, I kept telling myself: look, it doesn’t matter how big the gig is. It doesn’t matter. I mean, no matter how many people there are out there, you’re not gonna forget how to play guitar. So just get up there and do it and see what happens. And you know – the rest is history.”
For James, a British dynamo with multiple solo albums under his belt, tenures with bands including Sacred Mother Tongue and Fields of the Nephilim, and a flourishing guitar academy, his seamless addition to the Fiver Finger Death Punch family is as undeniable as his face-melting riffs and blistering tones. But for someone so insanely comfortable onstage strapped to a guitar, we can actually thank Guns N Roses and James’ own brother for stealing the insatiable new addition to the 5FDP world away from the piano at a young age.
“When I was younger, I started playing piano and stuff like that only because we had one in the house,” muses James. “I think it was my grandmother’s old piano and I just used to play on that. And I dunno, music sort of made sense in a way that I could sort of sit down and realise that this melody or notes would follow that kind of note, and I’d know if something was outta tune or wasn’t quite right. I suppose in that sort of infancy, I already kind of understood a little bit about that kind of thing. But it wasn’t until I was about 12 years old or whatever, I was taking piano lessons, but there were guitars knocking around and I suddenly just picked one up. I was listening to lots of Guns N Roses and stuff at the time, so I was trying to get my head around some of that. But yeah, it took a bit of convincing because my dad was paying for piano lessons and was just thinking I would be wasting my life if I played guitar. But then it was my brother who said to him: look, why don’t you just let him, you know, try the guitar and see how it pans out. And then if he sticks at it or whatever, then maybe just help him get a proper guitar. I had like this sort of cheap Fender thing, it wasn’t even a real Fender, it was a cheap Argos guitar, which is from this store that we have in the UK, it’s like a generic place where you can buy literally everything, and sometimes they sell guitars and stuff. But, yeah, I just kind of stuck with it and that’s it really! But everything else kind of fell by the wayside, I didn’t do sport anymore, I didn’t really apply myself in school, all of that, because the only thing I really wanted to do was just play an instrument. I just sort of stuck with it and that was around the age of 12. I’m 41 now so … do the math,” James laughs.
With all eyes on the release of AfterLife, what are the odds we might get Five Finger Death Punch down under to christen the new album?
“If we ever do get over there, it’ll be my first time anyway, so that would be fairly exciting,” James enthuses.
But, being a Brit, it’s suggested that he perhaps avoids visiting in full-blown Aussie summer; or if he does visit in the hotter months, to pack some shorts for playing onstage.
“I don’t wanna subject anyone to that. No one,” James laughs.