This summer, Five Finger Death Punch co-headlined (with Rob Zombie) the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival and saw its latest album, “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Volume 1,” debut at number two on the Billboard charts (behind pop star Robin Thicke). And they’re just getting started. A full North American headlining tour is set for the fall, followed by a European run with Avenged Sevenfold, and “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Volume 2” is set to be released Nov. 19. When the Mayhem Festival came to Camden, New Jersey, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down with guitarist Zoltan Bathory for a lengthy chat about all things Death Punch. In volume one of this interview, the discussion focused on touring, specifically the band’s history with the Mayhem Festival and the ever-growing Five Finger live show. In volume two, Zoltan talks in depth about the new album and the challenges that came with it.
LIVE METAL: Two new albums coming out this year. That’s a pretty bold move. Is it really that you had that much material you wanted to get out?
ZOLTAN BATHORY: This time, we had a little bit of a head start, because we had a studio on the road with us. So when we came to the studio, it wasn’t like looking at each other like, “OK, let’s make an album. Anybody have an idea?” We had maybe seven, eight songs—at least the frames—kind of mapped out where they were going. So immediately, we started working, and by the time Ivan—because usually Ivan waits until there is actual music done, almost mixed; he’s not there when we write the stuff. We give him full songs, so we always take a head start before we involve him. By the time he came to the studio, we had 14, 15 songs. He started singing on them, but the band’s not going to sit around. We kept writing, because things were just flowing. You never know—better stuff can come out, and better stuff was coming out. We didn’t stop writing, so on one hand, we had already an album worth of material that Ivan had started to sing on, but the rest of us, instead of taking a vacation, we kept working. By the time he finished those 15 songs, we were like, “Here’s another 10. Keep going.” He was like, “Aw, fuck, really?”
So that’s what we did, and by the time we stopped working, we had 25 songs. Normally, what you’re gonna do is pick your best 12, and the rest are gonna be soundtracks, foreign releases, bonus tracks—here, every retailer wants a bonus track. So you would need an extra record, really, and it’s always hard to conjure up bonus material. So we were like, “OK, let’s do that. Let’s pick the best 12 songs, and then the rest are gonna be that.” Then we realized, what are we gonna give up? We started to look at the body of material, and we were like, every song here is dear and important to us for one reason or another. There were no songs on the record that we were like, “Eh, that could be a bonus track.” So fuck, I guess we’re gonna have to do a double record, because we want to release all of this. It’s all important stuff. None of this is bonus material. It’s the best material we wrote to this date, so we’re not gonna shelve this.
So we called the label and said, “Hey guys, we have a good problem. The good problem is that we have 25 songs, but we want to release them all.” So they were like, “Come on, guys. We’re gonna do the 12 best songs and do the bonus track thing.” “OK, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll send it to you, and you fuckin’ pick the best 12, and we take it from there.” Send it to them, 10 days later they call—“OK, I guess it’s gonna be a double record.”
So that’s how it happened. And we were like, OK, 24 songs is a lot to unleash on the public at once. We wanted to do two records at the same time. One of them was gonna be “The Wrong Side of Heaven,” and the other one was gonna be “The Righteous Side of Hell.” That’s why the title became this long, because originally it was gonna be two records in the same time. But we were like, people are gonna light us on fire—like, “Who the fuck do these motherfuckers think they are, Guns N’ Roses?!” I don’t care about the haters; I just usually say this as a joke. But the real answer for that is, 24 songs is so much material. It takes a long time to digest that. And I would think that some songs would get lost in the mix, because they’re important, but in 24 songs, they don’t become that important anymore. So we were like, we’re gonna have to stagger them. Give them 12 songs now. It takes me about three months to get really into a record, so let’s give the fans about three, four months of breathing time and then release part two. Close enough so you know it’s part one and two, but far enough that you get to listen to and live with the first record for a while before you get the second
And another interesting thing came about—this is actually crucial. I think it’s very important that when you look at the records, the first record is your price of admission, your foot through the door. If the first record is good enough, you’re probably gonna get to make a second. Your first record is like here we are, this is who we are, this is what it is.
If your first record is successful, then you get to make a second. But it comes with a stigma of everybody’s questioning—record label, even yourself included—everyone. OK, the first is successful, but was it a one-hit wonder? Was it a fluke? Do these guys have the right to be here? So you have to do a second record, and if you make a good second record, now you proved it wasn’t an accident. So we did that, and thank God, the second record was even more successful than the first—way more successful.
So now you’ve got to do a third record. The third record is like, OK, now we know that this band meant it, they’re real, they’re here to stay, but are they really here to stay? Do they have anything else to say? They gave us 30 songs—what else you got to say? So if you lay down your third record and you have something to say and it stays successful and the third record was even more successful than the other two, now you get to stay.
But this is the moment when you run up against the biggest hurdle: the fourth record, in my opinion. The fourth record is the moment where you have three records already. That’s like 40 songs. If I keep doing the same thing I was doing for the first three records, you’re gonna go, “Here we go. We heard this three times now. It’s the same shit.” The fourth record is where you have three records worth of shit already; if I do the same things, what are you gonna say? If we change, what are we gonna change? If we go into weird, you’re gonna go, “What the fuck with the jazz flute? What happened to these idiots? What’s with the tuba? What the fuck happened?” If you go to more commercial, bigger songs—not that you go more commercial, you just have more money and time in the studio, so you can really produce stuff. When you really produce stuff, it becomes glossy and big-sounding. Even if it was a heavy song, it just sounds more commercial. So what happens—“Oh, fuck these guys. They sold out. It’s all about the money now. Who do they think they are, Def Leppard? What the fuck happened?” If you go heavy, like, “Let’s just make a raw record,” look what happened to Metallica. I love Metallica, so don’t get me wrong. But when they decided, “Let’s make a record that’s raw, barely produced,” people were like, “What the fuck is this?” Because the “Black” album sounded like one of the cornerstones of heavy metal. That album was produced really well. Everything sounded the best it can sound. For years and years, if not decades, that was the monument, the monolith of heavy metal. If today you ask me, “Give me a record how heavy metal sounds like,” I would have to give you that album. Now after that, they went into not really producing albums, let’s keep it raw, and people were like, “What the fuck is this?” They were real and true, but that doesn’t mean that people are gonna like them. So if we did that, we would have the same reaction, and people would be like, “What the fuck? They just lost their commercial edge, and they lost the connection to their fans.”
So anything you do with the fourth record, you’re fucked! So we’re sitting there, fucked—what are we gonna do? So we were really lucky. We were like, look, we cannot care about these things. We just have to be Five Finger Death Punch. By this time, we have earned our position. We’re not a major-label band. We are an indie band still to this day—the same indie label, the only band on the label, three employees. That’s how it happened. There was no mega-money and major label—none of that shit is true. So here are, earned this shit, but now what? You know what? Just fuck it. Just write songs the way we write them, and we just write what we write, and it will be whatever it will be.
However, because we have so many tracks—If you have 10 songs on the record, if you start to fuck around and start to experiment with two or three songs, that’s one third of the record. That’s a big chunk of the record. However, when you have 24 songs, four, five, six songs is not that big of a deal. So by doing two records, it allowed us to progress, because it gave me four, five, six slots where I can do songs that I wouldn’t do in 10, because in 10 songs you want to keep your core sound and who you are and what it is. Here, I had five songs, six songs that we can experiment. We have a song that’s almost like poetry on it, just speaking words. We would not do that in 10 songs, but when you have 24, OK, here it is. There’s a song with pianos in it. We wouldn’t do that either, but why not? It sounds good. So we got to do these things because we had enough songs.
By doing a double record, I think sort of it saved us from that fourth record stigma, because it allowed us to stay the same yet, because there was so much material, progress. So completely accidentally, the byproduct of this two-record situation was that we got to hop over that hurdle of we are the same but not the same. If from the two records, you like the super-heavy shit from Five Finger Death Punch, you can assemble 10, 11 songs, the heaviest we’ve ever been. Put those together, because that’s how people listen to music these days. If you’re into our mid-tempo, melodic shit, you can pull together 11 of those songs and listen to more of a traditional heavy metal, hard rock, couple of ballads, couple of this, couple of that, different flavors, nicely produced—there you go. If you want to mix it, well then you have 24 songs. So we kind of got ourselves into a position where, I would say, we were lucky.
When did the idea for the guests come in?
After that. We didn’t go in there like, “Hey, let’s get Snoop Doggy Dogg on this thing!” That’s not what happened. We were listening to the record. Actually, it was the time we had to separate it into what goes on A and B. So we knew that we had to do two records that both are flowing perfectly, and it was very important that none of the record can be stronger than the other. We have to come with our strong foot forward, but we can’t be in a situation that people are gonna say, “The first was great, but what is this second thing?” But also, we can’t have like, “Let’s pack the second one—the power punch,” because then you put out first one, and if it’s not that strong—
They won’t care as much about the second one then.
Yeah. But this is the best material we wrote so far, from the three records. So we just had to make them flow. Both records are strong, both flow nice—we achieved that in my opinion. As we were listening to it, somebody said about “Lift Me Up,” “Man, that song sounds a little bit like Ozzy, maybe Judas Priest. It has a little bit of that vibe”—just as a comment. Sometimes you write something that you thought you wrote, but you may have heard it somewhere. So it’s very important that your fellow band members point out, like, “Hey, that riff is way too close to Pantera.” And maybe I didn’t know. That shit happens. So this is our job—“Man, that sounds like Overkill. Let’s not do that.” Because you don’t want to rip shit off. It’s really hard to write something that’s not gonna be similar to something. I mean, this is going on for 40 fucking years, and there’s a million heavy metal songs out there. So it’s really difficult to write something that will not sound anything like anything. It’s impossible, in my opinion.
So someone said, “Ozzy, Judas Priest,” and a light bulb went off. We were like, “Didn’t Rob Halford say that one of his favorite bands was Five Finger Death Punch?” We heard it in an interview. “Well, maybe it’s a longshot, but what if we reach out? If he likes us, maybe he would sing on it.” Everybody’s like, “No, he’s the Metal God. He’s probably destroying nonbelievers in other universes and striking motherfuckers down with lightning bolts and shit. Metal Gods are busy with Metal God duties.” (laughs) You’re talking about Rob fucking Halford. It’s like, “Well, let’s reach out. What’s the worst that can happen? He says no, fuck you guys.” But within a week, we got a phone call, and he was like, “I love the track. I love the band. I’m coming to Vegas and recording with you guys.” We’re like, “Holy shit.”
So actually, he flew to Las Vegas. He didn’t just do it somewhere and send it in. He came to Las Vegas. He recorded it with us. We were in the studio, and he’s singing right there. We were all looking at each other like, “Dude, this is fucking—are you sure it’s not a body double?” It was surreal, like if I die right now, it’s OK. The bucket list is fulfilled. We got to hang out with him for a couple days. It was really fun. An amazing person with such a history and so much to say about things and stories that you cannot get—you got to hear these firsthand from one of the guys who started this entire genre.
Once we were done, we were on such a high on this, we were like, “You know what, this is fun. Let’s do more of this! Who do we know? Max Cavalera! Hey man, will you do this shit?” Max came out on the road with us before, he sang on a couple of songs, so it was not something weird. So we sent him a track. “Hey, Jamey!” We talk to Jamey all the time—Jamey Jasta. He’s a very good friend of us. I love Jamey. “Jamey, are you back in the States?” “Yeah, I’m here.” “Dude, I’m gonna send you a track. Do you want to sing on it?” “Oh, fuck yeah, bro!” And Maria Brink, same thing. She toured with us. And probably the most bizarre one is Tech N9ne. We all love Tech N9ne. We were like, “This will piss off all the motherfuckers. Let’s do it.” And Tech likes Five Finger, so we were like, “Yeah, let’s do this shit.”
So that’s how it happened. And it was important to us, also, that if you look at the record, there is 11 Five Finger Death Punch songs, and then you get three bonus tracks with guest vocals. So you got to hear the original, and then you got to hear it with the guest vocalists. I wanted to make sure people don’t feel like it’s some fucking gimmick. No, no. These are our songs. This is our record, a full record, two full records. It’s really fun for us to do the collaborations, and the fans got to get something extra. The bonus tracks are actually something really special. It’s not like, “Let’s make it acoustic” or “Let’s put a live track.” These are really special things, because there’s no way that you’re gonna be able to hear Five Finger how it would sound like with Max Cavalera or with Tech or Maria Brink singing a duet. There’s no way, because every singer’s voice is their signature. If I want to put tuba in the music, I can, and everybody else can—whatever it is—a violin, everybody can get a violin. But you cannot get Max Cavalera’s voice, because he’s the only one who sounds like that, or Maria or Rob Halford. That’s a signature that you cannot have unless you have the guy.
So basically, both records were done, we did a bunch of these collaborations and put them as bonus tracks. The only thing that’s happening right now, the second record right in this moment, there are a couple of singers all around the world who are singing on those tracks. So the other record will have the same thing. And it’s just fun. These are all gonna be bonuses, but you can get it on the same record. We wanted to make sure it’s on the record. It’s not some iTunes special. You can’t do that to the fans. The industry will try to force you, because they’re hurting, and they’re trying to make a dollar out of anything that they can. I don’t blame them, because they’re hurting. But we look at it like these are our fans. Don’t make them buy the record twice or three times or four times. That’s enough.
If you want to do a deluxe copy, then you have to put something else. We’re not gonna give you guys these tracks for a deluxe. So the record is the record plus these bonus tracks, and if you want to do a deluxe edition, you’ve got to do something else. And that’s how it came about that the deluxe edition comes with a full live CD. So then you have the record and bonus tracks as one and then a full live CD.
Is it one complete show or taken from different shows?
I think it’s from different pieces. When you play live, the audience doesn’t know this necessarily, but everybody fucks shit up. If I happen to jump off an amplifier in the moment of that riff or Ivan was jumping off some structure, you’re gonna probably hear it in his voice. If you see it, if it’s a video, it won’t bother you, because you saw him jumping off. Or if I fell into the pit, and all of a sudden the guitar solo went into “what the fuck just happened?”—if you saw it live, you saw that I’m in the audience and I’m not the only one picking my guitar, there’s 100 hands on it. So you have to find the best possible performances, because that’s how it goes. Any other musician that tells you otherwise lies. And most of the live records are not live. They do it in the studio. So that was also important.
We recorded 60-70 shows, and in the 60-70 shows, you find performances—like, “OK, not perfect, but it’s good enough,” and that’s what it is. That’s how the band sounds live. There’s no studio magic, and there’s no fucking around with it. I guess we could do that because we were not releasing a live record. We were just giving the fans a bonus. A band that will come out with a full-on release as a live record, yeah, you want to fix that shit. This is a bonus thing, so were like, “This is how we sound live. Like it or not, this is it.”