Sound — 4
Heavy metal is for outsiders, we know that. Its aggression and subversive ideology ensure its anchorage to the underground, regardless of the offshoots which break the mainstream from time to time. That's the reason it will last a lifetime, but take a moment to consider the people swept up by those commercial trends, the fans for whom the passing of time has dragged them kicking and screaming from the music they loved. Nu metal is a prime example. While the more recent phenomenon of commercial metalcore continues to pump out fringed riff-peddlers some eight years on, it's been slim pickings for the brutish, protein-shake types since the turn of the millennium. Although Five Finger Death Punch play a much updated and far from pure version of what nu metal was (they notably feature guitar solos, previously the genre's kryptonite) the all-American stars fill the gap perfectly. They're heroes.
Their remarkable success has even earned them the praise of Rob Halford, who says he discovered the band and their amazing sound on one of his regular internet adventures. His guest spot on the opening track of new album "The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell" is a real coup for the band; "Lift Me Up" is a familiar FFDP stomp which fits a vintage Halford verse between spurts of Slipknot-esque chanting and stocky '90s riffing.
Sadly, these compositions are rather vacant upstairs. Loud, hi-fi production and tight performances mask an over-reliance on garden variety metal riffs. "Burn MF" and "I.M. Sin" (I know, right?) are built entirely on guitar parts that have been trotted out on countless occasions by countless forgotten bands. Frontman Ivan Moody has the balance of shouts, screams and sing-songs nailed down, but his chorus hooks are highly processed and rarely feel genuine. At the contemporary end of their sound, "Anywhere But Here" is melodic and peppered with proficient lead work from Zoltan Bathory. Meanwhile, their cover of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" triggers a particularly awful series of 2001 flashbacks, when metal's mainstream ambassadors employed DJs, wore backwards caps and swung their knotted dreadlocks in a cruel whirlwind of artistic depravity.
Lyrics — 3
Moody's full of fighting talk. "Dot Your Eyes" may have a twinge of sorrow ("My life is perfect, so you believe/are you that stupid? I strongly disagree!") but the ever-resilient frontman channels the pain how any responsible man would with threats of violence. "Don't give a rat's ass what you think about me/I'll dot your eyes and cross your f--kin' teeth," he snarls. And as if that wasn't intimidating enough, he's got linguistic muscle as well - "You own a clock? Your time is up!" His approach to lyricism is tragic and hilarious in equal measure, like the village idiot struggling for a comeback when somebody makes fun of his dungarees. The vague aspirational tones of "Wrong Side of Heaven" and "M.I.N.E. (End This Way)" seem to be positioned as justification for the angst and misplaced aggression of almost every other song.
Overall Impression — 4
In fairness to Five Finger Death Punch, assembling the fanbase they have takes a lot of hard work, particularly when they're currying favour for what was thought to be a terminally uncool style. That only proves that metal is for outsiders, but only the least curious of outcasts will see this as is the best that the genre has to offer. There's a wonderful range of stuff out there, with worlds of innovation and complexity to explore. "The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell"? It's big, but it ain't clever. This is brainless macho garbage.