It doesn’t seem more than a riff or two ago that Five Finger Death Punch was on the cusp of being the biggest thing in Metal (heavy, groove, mainstream or otherwise). The Wrong Side of Heaven… collectives weren’t even cooling in the racks before flying off the shelves, and the band’s touring ethic saw them upgrading on venue size each time around, building a reputation of power and excellence, and a setlist to shame all but the legends.
You don’t need the history lesson (Wiki and Google are but a fingertip or two away) from me, but compared to contemporaries like the invigorated Trivium and Killswitch Engage – AfterLife (Better Noise) is 5FDP’s ninth album – who are at similar stages in their careers and with a greater sense of impetus and relevancy, it does seem like the quintet spent the back-end of the 2010’s and the kick-off of this decade without much forward thrust, albeit while drip-feeding a banger or two into their setlist with each release.
With chop-meister Andy James picking up the gig as second six-stringer, there is at least some feeling of something different in the Death Punch camp on his first studio outing with the band; of a doggie paddle upstream rather than treading water. There is a willingness to try a few different things, albeit not always successfully – ‘Judgement Day’ and its electro-beat balladry the sorest of thumbs, while the production of the drums in particular seems to snap of the synthetic and dance and pop productions… not always a bad thing, but it does take away from the power. Chuck in a handful of stock fillers throughout, and some truly barrel-scraping lyrics from Ivan Moody, and you could wonder if the Death Punch had been self-administered and they have finally knocked themselves out.
But the scales of justice have two trays, and when AfterLife throws the hay-makers, it does so with more assurance and bite than on any of their releases since the Heaven / Hell combo – ‘Welcome To The Circus’, ‘Pick Up Behind You’, ‘IOU’ and ‘Gold Gutter’ could rightly take their place in any 5FDP line-up, ‘Times Like These’ isn’t far from the magic of ‘Remember Everything’ laced with a touch of their cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’, and the title-track has the Death Punch DNA dripping from its every pore.
It still doesn’t feel quite right for a Five Finger Death Punch album to not be a Very Big Event, Indeed, and this isn’t “the one” to change that, as strong as the singles and a couple of the cuts are. Maybe the afterlife of AfterLife will see business pick up – the live circus is rolling again and that’s where Death Punch can pick up upward momentum. It is interesting to see them looking to do a few things a little differently, even if at the moment it is the 5FDP-by-numbers that is keeping the ship afloat, there is at least intent to take things forward, and these cats are too long in the claw, and too good at what they do, for this to not have several redeeming features, still.
6 / 10