If there is one phrase that is certain to make your humble scribe’s blood boil, then it is that oft-used lazy epithet, “guilty pleasure”. This particular phrase became common currency at the start of the 21st Century to describe records and artists that, despite not being held in high regard by the so-called taste police were still liked by lots and lots of people. Popular music in its truest sense.
Into this bracket, apparently, fall American metalheads Five Finger Death Punch (FFDP) for reasons that I still can’t quite fathom. I think it perfectly acceptable to not actually like what FFDP do, but liking them “ironically” is perverse. There is really no point in pretending to like or dislike something: life really is too short. As any fool knows, there are only two types of music – good or bad. We should judge FFDP by those criteria and those criteria alone.
With this in mind, we come to FFDP’s latest offering And Justice for None (Eleven Seven). This is FFDP’s seventh album and sees them in pretty rude health, despite all the trials and tribulations that presaged this record’s release. Lead singer Ivan Moody’s time in rehab in 2017 needs no further commentary here: what you want to know is whether the songs are actually any good.
For the most part, it’s a solid response in the affirmative.
Opening track ‘Fake’ is very much the sound of normal service being resumed with Moody basically calling everyone a “motherfucker” against a backdrop of hard riffing and huge drumming. For all their bludgeon and riffola, though, one of the things that sets FFDP apart from similarly inclined metal outfits is their knack for melody and tune and, on AJFN, they seem to have lost none of their art. ‘Sham Pain’, for example, has a melody more infectious than a winter cold in an elementary school whilst ‘Fire In The Hole’ stamps its simplistic chorus in your head like the world’s most tenacious earworm.
True to form and habit, we get ourselves a mid-album pause for thought with the mid-tempo rock ballad of ‘I Refuse’ which you get a sense you have heard before, so easy and familiar are its structure and melodies. ‘Blue On Black’, the first of two covers on this album, is a sparkling rendition of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd song. It is faithful in execution with enough FFDP tropes to make you smile at their appropriation and reshaping of the song into something that is likely to become an instant live classic. Similarly, the cover of The Offspring’s ‘Gone Away’ is probably the most inspired cover they have delivered. The pace and tempo of the original is dropped a few notches, minor chord piano parts added and melancholic vocalising from Moody leaves you in no doubt that they know how to do a stadium rock ballad. And then some.
Look, AJFN is not going to be my favourite album of the year; it’s not going to be my favourite album of the month either, but know this: it is solid, occasionally infectious and downright quality heavy bloody metal. It left me with an enormous smile on my face and an eagerness to hear a number of these songs live, raw and untrammeled. A pleasure, then. And not a trace of guilt.