Five Finger Death Punch (FFDP) is a nu-metal/groove-metal band who incorporates the best qualities of heavy metals’ instrumental intensity and Wagnerian testicularity in concert with traditional-i.e. non-shredding, non-cookie monster-vocals. The bands’ use of a more coherent and charismatic vocalist (Ivan Moody) serves to highlight the lyrical ability that made The Bleeding a standout success in a field populated by more sophomoric grunting and unintelligible shrieking. This stylistic approach also spares them the alienation of a large part of the audience who appreciates metals’ virtuosic instrumentality but find the shredding, caterwauling vocals off-putting. The use of an actual singer, a singer who brings to mind Pearl Jam crooner Eddie Vedder, is the driving force behind making their cover of Bad Company’s eponymous Bad Company so transcendently successful.
The original Bad Company was one of the original metal ballads-but by no means a poofter hair-metal ballad. Heroic power chords, hauntingly muscular vocals and a keyboard-driven theme that sounds like an outlaw symphony score for an acid western made this a uniquely poetic work of surreal composition. The song opened with a subdued yet dramatic piano solo that was clearly more portent than introduction. The signature feature was the loud-soft-loud dynamics of the piano climaxing in the simultaneous crash of keyboards, guitars and drums. Musicologist and guitar virtuoso Glen A. West explains this as ” By contrasting the loud with the soft, the loud is much more exciting because of the contrasting soft parts that precede it. This is usually accomplished by leaving certain instruments out until the chorus and then by bringing them in you achieve the louder and heavier feel of the payoff of the song which is always the chorus.” This technique was used to great effect by Jethro Tull on Locomotive Breath in the early 70’s,by the Pixies in the 80’s and famously appropriated by Nirvana in the 90’s.
Watching the drummer and keyboard player raise their hands high and pound down in unison in the original video provides visual gravity to accompany the sonic brutality of this dramatic piece of musicianship. FFDP updates this through the use of a more dynamic vocal range, bigger guitars and a shock and awe double bass drum assault to produce a sound every bit as seductive and powerful as the original.
Five Finger Death Punch makes this is an effective cover because it maintains all the successful elements of the original while incorporating some of the best features of current instrumental and vocal styles. The use of a soulful metal vocalist reinterpreting the original Paul Rodgers part makes this memorable as more than just a newer-faster-louder version (although those are important facets too). The signature keyboard sound has been ably replaced by Zoltan Bathory’s guitar with no loss of the original flavor or power in the translation. This work honors its authors by maintaining the spirit of the original while tailoring it for a new audience, a new audience that it rocks harder for.
The thirty+year old ballad is also given new relevance by way of a music video shot in Iraq during FFDP’s concert tour for the troops there. What might be considered chest-thumping gym-rat histrionics for civilians seems tailor-made for the intensity combat soldiers must have to summon every day. The video’s depiction of the perspective of real soldiers in real combat works to counter some of the over-the-top macho anthemic elements like Moody’s blessedly brief spoken word segment, of this otherwise masterful re-imagining.
FFDP recently performed Bad Company on The Jimmy Kimmel Show that showed their chops as live performers who were not dependent on studio gimmicks for their sound. The sound and stage presence: Metal. Ivan Moody’s use of air quotes to accentuate the lyrics “That’s why they call us…Bad Company”: Not metal. Moody’s performance included just a touch too much mugging, especially when contrasted with the band’s more stoic and journeyman postures.
I saw Bad Company perform the original in concert in the 70’s, in my prime, in the company of a hot blonde girlfriend, outdoors, in an ominous thunderstorm full of rain and lightning and under the influence of Old Crow and Seconal. Any band that can resurrect that memory, in its totality but without those environmental factors, by way of watching a video on my computer has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.