It’s impossible to deny the overwhelming and considerable success of Five Finger Death Punch. Against all odds, they’ve become an all-conquering, globe-trotting arena act, a feat that only a small handful of metal bands can boast since the dawn of the 21st century. They’ve been nominated for a plethora of awards from various publications and radio stations, many of which they’ve been fortunate enough to win. With six studio albums to their name as well as a recently released greatest hits collection, they’ve amassed a pretty extensive back-catalogue whilst remaining on the road extensively. That they’ve achieved all of this after just 12 years as a band is nothing short of astonishing; no-one can deny the Las Vegas quintet’s staggering work ethic and the rapidity of their ascent.
As one of the most lucrative success stories in modern heavy metal history, Five Finger Death Punch are representatives of the genre, a contemporary band that casual observers are likely to perceive as one of the most impressive current examples of modern heavy metal. With such a prominent and expeditious rise, they are regularly touted as potential festival headliners at Download, the largest rock festival in the UK and if their ascent continues apace, that’s not an inconceivable notion. As such, 5FDP have very high standards to meet; AC/DC rabble-rouser Bon Scott put it best when he vociferously proclaimed ‘It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll.’
Before any members of Five Finger Death Punch step out on to the stage this evening, the show begins with a speech from the 1976 satirical film Network. In it, Peter Finch portrays Howard Beale, the news-anchor of a struggling fictional TV channel who loses his restraint whilst live on air and delivers an exhilarating tirade against societal ills which culminates in the famous line, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ It’s a rousing and inspiring speech that feels even more pertinent in today’s climate, where those in charge are more interested in power and self-preservation than serving a society who remain largely apathetic towards the corrupt institutions that govern them. It’s also, by far and away, the most emotionally engaging and inspiring moment of this evening’s entire performance.
To be fair to them, Five Finger Death Punch are hardly trying to emulate the complex tapestries that bands like Tool or Mastodon weave so intricately. Instead, they settle for a more serviceable, traditional brand of meat and potatoes heavy metal that broadly fits into one of two categories; mid-paced, fist-waving stompers (approximately 3/4ths of the back catalogue) and overwrought, syrupy one dimensional, cringe-inducing balladry. They’re the vanilla ice cream of modern contemporary metal, with no deviation what-so-ever from this formula even hinted at during this evening’s 14-song, 75-minute set and despite the comparatively short show, it quickly becomes stale and trying.
There’s a pervading sense that creatively at least, 5FDP are putting in the bare minimum amount of effort required to succeed. Let’s take their stage show as an example; the giant skull and baseball bat crossbones that dwarfs the stage looks good but is little more than a three-dimensional backdrop. There are lasers but they are in no way made to feel like an integral part of the show as a whole, instead merely providing occasional accentuations to the music. They’re designed to provide spectacle but instead serve only to highlight the black curtain that has been erected at the back of the arena in a paltry attempt to conceal the fact that this particular date has failed to sell out.
The lighting has its moments certainly but they’re not enough of a distraction from the tired clichés that pepper the show; tough-guy posturing, call and response audience participation and bringing members of their fan club onstage to feel a part of the show. The latter point may hold the secret to the band’s success; they certainly know how to look after their fans. But getting Knuckleheads (the moniker given to their fanbase, not a damning slight on the audience) onstage to pose for selfies kills any sense of momentum the band have previously built. It may well be a memory that those lucky enough to be onstage will cherish for the rest of their lives, but for the 99% watching who aren’t onstage, it’s about as much fun as staring at the wall above a urinal whilst you’re trying to take a leak (ladies, the back of a cubicle door almost certainly provides the same entertainment value).
It’s not essential for arena acts to have an awe-inspiring live spectacular if their material is of an extraordinarily high calibre. But even the band’s fans seem to be reluctant to fully get into the swing of things from the get-go. Frontman Ivan Moody has to work very hard to get any movement from the crowd beyond serene head-nodding (banging wouldn’t be a fitting descriptor in this case) and it takes a good half a dozen songs for any pits to erupt. When metal music is at its peak, an audience doesn’t need any incentives or strong words of encouragement to physically show their enthusiasm, but this evening, Five Finger Death Punch have to strongly coerce their crowd into movement.
There are some impressive elements that are worthy of mention; Moody recreates his recorded vocals admirably well and lead guitarist Jason Hook adds some incredibly proficient and tasteful solos to the band’s material. Some songs have vitality, such as the rebellious chant-along ‘Burn MF’ and ‘Under and Over It’ has enough groove and stomp to elicit a passionate response. But for a band on the cusp of being one of the biggest metal bands on Earth, Five Finger Death Punch simply aren’t living up to the lucrative standards that have been set before them. With such a strong list of vibrant, inspiring metal bands that tour regularly, the question is this; in a world laden with cookies and cream, chocolate hazelnut, mint-choc chip, peanut butter swirl, rum and raisin and salted caramel, why simply settle for plain old vanilla?
Five Finger Death Punch will begin a four-date UK arena tour which culminates in a show at Wembley Arena on 21st December
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