Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see Motograter live before they truly hit the skids and disintegrated as a band. At the time, I remember thinking that Ivan Moody was one of the more energetic, if not entirely charismatic, frontmen that I had seen. His mixture of intensity and grit was a sight to behold. So, with the chance to see him again, this time without body paint and singing for the power quintet Five Finger Death Punch, I was really looking forward to what the night would entail.
Shadows Fall has been doing tour support for just about every leg of the “Shock and Raw” tour, and even though I called their newest album “an exercise in metal-by-numbers,” their live show was at least entertaining. Jonathan Donais is the best part of this band, and his ability to shine through some of the band’s more generic pieces is testament to his talent. I have to admit that while I was not a fan of “Retribution” or the preceding efforts, the album takes on a whole new, more aggressive attitude when displayed live. “Still I Rise” is a crowd-pleasing headbanger’s paradise when pumped through speakers at incredible volume. For the record, part of the band’s sharp sound was easily a product of extremely talented sound engineering. Even old songs which had never appealed to me previously, like “What Drives the Weak,” or “Inspiration on Demand” took on new life when focused through the lens of a passionate live performance. Their cover of “Bark at the Moon” was pretty damn good. The self serving chant of “Shadows motherf*cking godd*mn Fall” begun and enforced by Fair was a little on the irritating side, but other than that, hats off to Shadows Fall, from whom I expected nothing and was entertained.
So anyway, on to Five Finger Death Punch, who sauntered with confidence onto a stage marked by prop machine guns and a giant banner of “War is the Answer.” Moody, bedecked in a combat flak jacket, is the same powerful, throaty, intense frontman as he’s ever been, and the crowd hung out every word, spoken or sang. Donning their weapons of choice, the band started the crowd moving with a hammering “Burn it Down,” that set the pace for the entire evening of destruction to follow. Crowd favorites “Meet the Monster” and “Never Enough” were soon to follow, each song played with the kind of honest vehemence that it takes to truly reach a discerning metal audience. The sell-out crowd responded to the onslaught in kind with a raucous reception of mosh pits, crowd surfers, jumping in time, screaming on command, and knowing all the lyrics of every song. The band, decidedly in their element, fed off the raw, surging energy and used it to feed their thrashing performance.
Turning on a light show oddly reminiscent of watching tracer bullets shoot across the sky on CNN during the first Persian Gulf War, the band went into a charged “No One Gets Left Behind.” The problem was that the house audio died, so the crowd was forced to hear the song through the band’s monitor speakers. Much to the credit of the crowd, they didn’t complain or give up, and simply thudded along with less audio and more imagination.
Whether it was “White Knuckles,” the jump-started “Dying Breed,” or the new single “Hard to See,” the set list was an excellent mix of old and new material, culminating in a swirling maelstrom of heart-pounding heavy metal. Each song was an exercise in heavy metal’s grittiest side, even the cover of the classic rock anthem “Bad Company.” The only song missing was the title track of “War is the Answer,” but considering the quality of the show I got in return, I’m not about to complain.
If Moody has any fault as a stage presence, it’s that he almost reaches out the audience a hair too much, and his frequent speaking can breakup the momentum of any individual part of the set. But is this really a problem? I doubt it.
Zoltan Bathory, founder and original producer of Five Finger Death Punch, has assembled a crack team of metal musicians who are capable of both shining individually and as a cohesive unit. While the crowd chanted over and over for an encore, the band obliged with a cataclysmic “The Bleeding,” and sent everyone home happy.
There are a lot of bands who can learn a lot from Five Finger Death Punch, who can keep a crowd’s attention, and indeed incite them to nearly riot in the pit, while doing so with no frills and no gimmicks.