Live Metal’s history with Five Finger Death Punch goes back a long time—to before there were hit singles, gold records, sold-out arenas or even a record deal. (We actually wrote the first published review of the band’s 2007 debut album, “The Way of the Fist.”) During their steady ascension through the ranks of heavy music, the band members—guitarist Zoltan Bathory in particular—haven’t forgotten those who were there at the beginning.
The band hit a bit of a rough patch with a lengthy legal battle with its record label, Prospect Park. But that’s been settled, with the career retrospective “A Decade of Destruction” coming out in late 2017 and its seventh studio album, “And Justice for None,” set for worldwide release on May 18 (pre-order here). (The band will make the jump to Rise Records for subsequent releases.)
With the new record on the way, a spring tour with Shinedown imminent and a summer trek with Breaking Benjamin following that, it’s a busy, exciting time for Five Finger Death Punch. Zoltan recently took time out of his packed schedule to fill in Live Metal’s Greg Maki on all the latest happenings with the band.
LIVE METAL: The new album, “And Justice for None,” finally is coming out on May 18. How was frustrating was it to have to sit on it while legal issues were sorted out, and how does it feel now to have a release date in sight?
ZOLTAN BATHORY: Well “lawsuit” is my middle name, and “avoid” is my first … Someone told me once, “You can’t be a rock star if you have never been sued.” It’s the price of admission. I don’t know, man; legal battles are expensive and aggravating. Even if you win, the whole thing still takes a toll on you, so you never really win. In some way, it is “Justice for None.” We’re glad it’s behind us and the record can finally come out.
On Facebook, you said there’s “an insane story behind both the title and the album cover.” Can you fill us in on that?
One of my life goals was to design an album cover that gets banned or at least censored (laughs). No, it wasn’t, but yes, I am dead serious it will have to be censored in certain countries and with certain media. That’s where we are as a society, scared of a cartoon character pushing a red button. Really? But even if sarcasm or metaphors are lost concepts to the Tide Pod-eating generation, what are we going to do with video game covers and movie posters? Subtitle them like “Imagine a gun here?”
And about the title … Well, obviously, it is totally original, I have never heard an album title even resembling this one. And just wait for the next one. That will be titled “The Blackest Album Ever” (laughs).
Look, a title can mean something else to everyone. But to me, it’s about the current state of the world. There is no dialogue, there is no conflict resolution, there is no common ground, so everyone is just launching rockets at each other, verbal and actual. The screaming is so loud that no one is actually being heard, and even if they were, everybody is offended by everything anyway. If you cure cancer, there is an idiot somewhere who has a problem with that. So in the end, nobody wins. There is “Justice for None.”
This deep into the band’s career, with the Death Punch sound firmly established over six albums, what are the challenges that come with making new music and albums?
Look, it’s quite simple, Greg; we are Five Finger Death Punch. This is the best goddamn band that ever was and ever will be. We wake up in the morning, shit excellence and piss perfection. We put on our pants like everyone else, but once our pants are on, we make gold records, bro (laughs). Just kidding.
Of course, there are challenges. You have to progress, yet you can’t become something different. You don’t want to repeat yourself, but you can’t change who you are. This is how these five guys sound together. This is our sound. So in some way, every artist is stuck within a spectrum they can’t really venture far away from. Iron Maiden will always sound like Iron Maiden. We will always sound like Five Finger Death Punch. Slipknot will be always Slipknot. The challenge is to find that balance to keep your identity while you still bring something new to the table. The more records you have, the bigger this challenge becomes. I’d say we are lucky, because we still have plenty to say, and we always focused on the art of songwriting. Good songs are timeless.
What is your preferred method for consuming music these days? Do you still buy physical copies (CDs/vinyl), or have you succumbed to streaming like most other people?
I buy music on iTunes, even buy our own records. I don’t want to bother converting wav files and deal with the whole thing. It has to be a one-click-process. Life is too short for two clicks or more.
More and more bands are saying they aren’t going to—or at least don’t want to—make full-length albums anymore. They’re releasing EPs or self-releasing a handful of songs here and there. What does the future hold for Death Punch as far as getting music to your fans? Will you continue to make full-length records?
That’s a double-edged sword, because if that’s the way people are consuming music, it will change the overall behavior of bands. Making an album, even the sequence of the songs is an art in itself. There are songs that are not supposed to be singles, but they are important, and they have a perfect reason to be on a record. The stars only shine in contrast to a dark background. But imagine if every band starts writing only singles. Hopefully, that’s not where things will end up, but ultimately, the fans decide how this all pans out.
You also just announced a big summer tour with Breaking Benjamin and support from Nothing More and Bad Wolves. What can fans expect to see from Death Punch this time around?
We are taking the biggest production we ever had with us. It’s important to build bigger and bigger shows because there are less and less “real” things left in the world. And a kickass show—the experience, the way it makes you feel—is still one of them. A concert experience cannot be downloaded, copied and shared. You just have to be there.
How many new songs do you plan to work into the set?
We have some “anchor” songs we absolutely have to play, but we are swapping out as many as we can. The new set list is quite different from the last few tours.
How did you end up managing Bad Wolves?
I’ve known every one of those guys for a long time, so they played me the first few Bad Wolves songs. I knew right away that it had fire, but many bands write some solid songs. To succeed takes much more than that. There is a specific DNA a band has to have in order to make it. So we had some long conversations to see where their heads were, and they had “it.” You see, I can’t make your band, you make your band. I can only help connect the dots, fine-tune some things, give advice. But ultimately, it’s your race car, you have to drive it. They had the magic, so I brought them under (our management) the 10th Street Entertainment umbrella so we have access to their massive infrastructure.
Do you plan to manage—or are you already managing—other bands?
Yes, it’s a great feeling to be able to help other bands to succeed.
But as I said, the band has to have the right stuff. There are a few ingredients they absolutely have to have, and if just one of those ingredients is missing, I won’t even consider it. I’m very conscious of my time and energy. I know what it takes—I’m in it, we have done it, I live it—so I know what I’m looking for. The “right stuff” has to be real and genuine; it cannot be faked or fabricated.
I hear it all the time: “Why the hell is this artist or that artist is so popular?” Like it’s a surprise. No, it is not a surprise, actually. It never is. That DNA is always there, but some can read it, some cannot.
Bad Wolves’ debut album, “Disobey,” is coming out in the same month as your new one (May 11), and they’re red hot right now with their cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Will there be a little good-natured competition between your two bands?
Since there is no global platform like MTV used to be, there is no overnight success. Nobody can jump ranks. They will have to work their ass off just like we did. That’s a lot of ground they have to cover, so there is no competition, really. However, we can show them where the landmines are—what to do and what not to do.
Five Finger Death Punch has always been paying it forward, and we brought bands out on the road that we thought people needed to hear. We celebrated when Nothing More was nominated for three Grammys. We celebrate Bad Wolves’ success. It’s a win for all of us. The more successful rock and metal bands are out there, the healthier this genre is. Only shit-brained haters complain about 5FDP, Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed or Slipknot because they are just too dumb to get it. If there are no big, successful bands, then the audience will simply thin out. So your favorite prog-metal bands definitely would not have a label and the means to stay alive. The whole genre would go even deeper underground or completely disappear. We can only succeed as a community.
Before the summer tour, you’re heading out this spring for some more dates with Shinedown, who you’ve toured with previously. Your two bands have little in common musically, so what makes you such good touring partners?
Our fan bases do overlap, actually—and even our diehard fans recognize Shinedown as a great live band with massive songs, so they accept and respect them. How could they not? And the Shinedown diehards were pleasantly surprised that we are not as brass and abrasive as they probably imagined from the band’s name. We hear that all the time: “Man, I thought you guys light churches on fire and ritually shave goat testicles.” Well, actually no one ever said that, but you get the picture. They usually realize that they already heard and know a lot of our songs—they just didn’t know it was us. At the end of the day, it’s always a good time, and we fill arenas.
Your current single is a cover of “Gone Away” by The Offspring. How did you decide not just to do that song but to do so in such a different arrangement?
(Vocalist) Ivan (Moody)’s favorite bands are The Offspring and the Misfits. He really wanted to cover this song, sort of paying his respect. And simply, this was our twist on the song. This is how we interpreted it.
(Drummer) Jeremy (Spencer) wrote a book a few years ago, so my last question for you is: Where is your book? I feel like you have a great “American dream” type of story to tell.
I’m extremely pragmatic. Ivan always calls me Spock because the bus can be on fire and I would calmly calculate the best way of escape and the chances of survival of all the possible scenarios. I’m a chess player; everything has to be logical, I have to create order out of chaos— while he does the opposite (laughs). So writing a book when people barely read seems pretty inefficient unless there was a serious demand for it, or if I have something so important to say that I just have to say it. Not sure if my autobiography would fulfill that particular parameter. So if I ever do it, it would have to serve a purpose greater than just telling my story. It would have to be educational, inspirational. It would have to focus on practical, pragmatic methods on how to make the shittiest hand life dealt you into a win, or something in that direction. I never say never, but at the moment, I have plenty of other verticals I’m quite busy with.