It couldn’t be easier to rag on Five Finger Death Punch at the moment as they’ve come to be the band embodying the most derivative and repetitive impulses of radio-metal with a notorious loose-cannon of a frontman, but it’s also worth acknowledging that they weren’t always like this. That’s not to say there was some greater depth or nuance to them, because that’s definitively not the case, but in the ranks of Monster-swigging metal designed to fill the arenas these bands so routinely wind up in, there was at least a power and proficiency that set them on a higher rung to their contemporaries. But from Got Your Six onwards (an album that, for the record, has only become more forgettable over time), Five Finger Death Punch have resorted to their genre’s laziest tactics, leaching the effectiveness out of themselves more and more over each album for regularly hollow clap-backs at nebulous haters, a sense of anger that’s devolved into feeling more like petulance, and a bad habit of recycling the exact same ideas to almost parodic degrees. It’s an approach that’s also given them their most success to date, and when that fertile period is being continued with an album titled F8 that, in itself, screams of the non-effort that’s oozed from the last handful of Fiver Finger Death Punch albums, there’s very little hope that anything will change or be improved upon.
And… well, if it’s any consolation, the song called Scar Tissue at least isn’t one of the unexplainable covers that Five Finger Death Punch continue to do for some reason. In fact, F8 doesn’t have anything like that, instead serving as something of a case study for how much a band can hem in their sound and still expect to reap some form of reward. And make no mistake, Five Finger Death Punch are so entrenched in the radio-metal money cycle that expecting them to be removed any time soon is pretty ridiculous, but expecting some effort in a guaranteed success doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Instead, F8 is going through the motions perhaps more so than ever, and while there’s going to be plenty of diehards who’ll have no qualms with that, that doesn’t detract from how much this screams of being a schedule-mandated space-filler and very little else.
What proves to be most frustrating is that it’s not even like Five Finger Death Punch are without merit here. That’s never been the case; even at their most rote, they’ve always been capable of dredging up a far heavier, more aggressive metal sound than so many of their peers thanks to having some real instrumental chops among their ranks, regardless of how underutilised they can be. It’s not like F8 is any more of a dynamic listen either, but as far as chest-beating metal bruisers go, there’s enough to sate, especially when they opt for a keener sense of groove and momentum like on To Be Alone and This Is War. Along with production that, to the album’s enormous credit, gives them a blunt but pounding sense of heft that’s not looking to water itself down, F8 does hit some marks when it comes to directness and allowing Five Finger Death Punch’s bigger canvas to make more impactful moves.
But those moves can be really one note, and while that’s generally par for the course, the fact that there’s been no evolution gone into this album really sets the wheels turning with an audible creak. As admirable as it is for Five Finger Death Punch to want to push that heaviness as far as they can and show themselves as a new, galvanised force, all it really turns out as is a load of bluster without much payoff. It’s still a huge, meaty-sounding album, but when swinging for the fences feels like the only method of operation, missing the target altogether becomes something of an inevitability. It’s where a strange lack of potent hooks feels the most galling, as the likes of Full Circle and Mother May I (Tic Toc) tone themselves down not as soaring moments of respite among the noise, but as half-efforts that really just trail off and create strangely distracting disconnects. And of course, there’s the toned-down, ‘intimate’ moments that, within an album that’s so proudly flaunting its rampaging aggro, feel even more awkward, like the flattened alt-rock of A Little Bit Off or the Alter Bridge-esque shades of hopefulness on Brighter Side Of Grey that feel even more out of place on the final song of the album. There’s about as little flow as you’d expect from a Five Finger Death Punch album, but even when it does hit, F8 just isn’t all that compelling as a body of work. It’s sense of tone has no smoothness in how it shifts, and it lacks any sort of dimensionality because of that.
Of course, there’d be plenty who’d say that’s a pretty regular occurrence for a Five Finger Death Punch album, but for a band for whom their recent sobriety has been touted as such a creative boon, it’s hard to see how that’s paid off with F8. For one, while Ivan Moody’s vocal performance does have a lot more focus to it and there’s genuine rage in his screaming for the first time in a long time, the set of lyrics he’s saddled with more often than not dim that flame rather quickly, as he hits the same beats of wide-firing anger and defensiveness that have gotten so stale by now. Even without the pouted bottom lip of Bottom Of The Top and its Attila-calibre whinging about critics and haters, there’s still a track like Inside Out, in which Moody’s chastising of those who abandoned him at his lowest feels just generic enough to apply to any net negative that might be happening at the time, or This Is War which is the big, beefy pump-up anthem that tries to sound tough and hard but just sounds so blasé at this point. And it’s not like there’s an issue with conveying real rage – if anything, Moody as a vocalist has the tone to do that extremely well – but the way in which Five Finger Death Punch go about it means nothing really coalesces in a meaningful or potent way. There could well be some deeper commentary about modern society buried within Living The Dream and Mother May I (Tic Toc), but when every shot is fired as widely as it can go, and every touchstone for that anger is tried to be crammed in to one space, it’s not so impactful as it is incredibly misguided. At least for as predictable of a sober reflection as Leave It All Behind is, it’s sold well enough to have believable weight; elsewhere though, so much of F8 doesn’t feel like a product of any artistic revelation or personal change. This could’ve come out at literally any point in Five Finger Death Punch’s career, given how easy its lack of greater detail or personality is to plug into wherever it’s needed.
But at the same time, it’s nothing worth getting all that annoyed about, simply because Five Finger Death Punch are the sort of band that have basically no need to change their approach anymore, and yet are so easy to ignore in what they do that even that’s not an overly loaded criticism. For a band of their size to wind up as inconsequential to anyone except their most diehard fans is kind of impressive in a twisted sort of way, but F8 is yet another example of this band doubling down on where their appeal lies the most, only to slough off their affectations that have proven to be more interesting. It’s not even like the final results are bad, but the blandness and frankly aggressive mediocrity on display is probably more palpable than ever here, and funnels Five Finger Death Punch even further down into a position where their appeal becomes more and more diminished. But it looks like that’s just where they want to be now, and even though there’s a handful of moments that nudge said appeal into the wider climes of old, everything else snaps them back into place so as not to give the impression that there’s something potentially more below the surface.
For fans of: Disturbed, All That Remains, Pantera
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘F8’ by Five Finger Death Punch is out now on Better Noise Records.