Review Summary: "Ce'st la vie...adios...good riddance...fuck you."
Mainstream rock and metal is in a rut. Specifically, a rut that is having gallons of cement poured into it, as the tattooed narcissists who would fit right into boy bands if they just shaved and wore slightly different clothes scrabble at the sides, reaching for anything that could possibly save them. Copious amounts of electronics? Releasing two albums within a year? Trying to bring back rapping into the genre, as if anybody in the world really wanted a return to nu-metal? Cover songs done primarily for irony's sake? Doesn't matter - anything to keep the walls of artistic integrity and innovation from closing in on them. As long as they keep awkwardly hammering trends into their preexisting style until they’re mangled beyond repair, they're safe from accusations of stagnation.
So it's truly unsurprising that Five Finger Death Punch has managed to stamp out yet another album that sounds like they always have, progressively more stale than their last. The Wrong Side of the Bed
or whatever it's called is exactly what happens when a group (or perhaps just a frontman, but more on that later) is so egocentric that their filters of quality and rationality is completely wrecked. At least when Stone Sour and Coheed & Cambria pulled the "two albums in a year" trick, those albums were actually musically distinctive from their earlier material, and possessed some level of restraint - the Coheed albums only had nine songs each. Who knows how long the second installment of this series will be, but if its predecessor is any indication, it will consist of 26 songs, half of which are the exact same song but with a different guest vocalist on each stroking Ivan Moody's mohawk and cooing. Three songs here have multiple versions, crammed in for the sake of...what? Comparison and contrast? The claim is that Death Punch went past 24 songs and felt they were all worthy of release, but the amount of filler is so high that the album sounds like a B-sides collection - and not the good kind where it turns out the band was hiding all their best material from the public.
The musicians aren't the big problem. Sure, the producer's family was probably killed by a funky bassline and now he has made it his mission to prevent any bass notes from being audible, lest another family undergo the same trauma. And it's entirely possible that the drummer is just a series of Reason loops. But the guitarists are technically proficient, and they produce a few memorable riffs, solos, and licks throughout the album - though most of them call to mind the more interesting works of their peers, like the verse riff of "Watch You Bleed" that sounds a bit too close to System of a Down's "Boom!" or a number of rhythms that seem to have been lifted straight out of Slipknot's first two albums. But the guitar work - and let's face it, that and frontman Ivan Moody's booming voice are the only reasons anybody likes Five Finger Death Punch - is acceptable and even enjoyable in spots, like on "Watch You Bleed" or "Dot Your Eyes". But quite a few songs are just more of the same - either ballads made up of sad, arpeggiated guitar chords building up to clunky riffs ("Wrong Side of Heaven" and "M.I.N.E."), or just the clunky riffs without any of the solemnity. These appear most offensively in the opener and lead single, "Lift Me Up". It's a wholly dull song that goes through all the same motions as much of American Capitalist
- tasteless chugging riffs; tortured and angry lyrics without any context or humanity; a throwaway solo; juxtaposition of pseudo-rap, screaming, and low, robotic spoken word. You know, the part where he goes "I! Won't be broken..." And the crowd goes wild. The songs are formulaic in structure, with no surprising or outstanding traits or quirks, but to ask otherwise would be reaching, since they have to appeal to a specific demographic. But there is one overwhelming dilemma, and that is aforementioned singer Ivan Moody.
Moody is most responsible for the weaknesses of The Righteous Side of Saved By the Bell
(moody is also the best word to describe the album's lyrical content), because his lyrics are so juvenile that it's impossible to take seriously. He has abandoned the human, moderately intelligent lyrics that were found on War Is the Answer
and Way of the Fist
in favor of all-out machismo like he's channeling the Ghost of Phil Anselmo's career. He spends most of the album acting like a bully, roaring "Burn, motherfucker, burn" on the appropriately titled "Burn MF" (which, coincidentally, takes home the gold for most predictable chorus based on a song title in the history of music), threatening to "dot your eyes and cross your teeth", and ordering people to "back the fuck up...shut the fuck up". But then he turns around and complains about how people are trying to "beat him down" or "torture" him. Perhaps this is not Moody's actual personality and he's just playing a character, but it's an unlikeable character if that's the case, and I don’t think that was the intention.
Moreover, the vocals here are necessary for differentiating Death Punch from their peers, because otherwise most audiences would just recognize it as passable alternative metal. But Moody, although his voice is distinctive and he makes use of a few different vocal styles, is flat and monotonous in each of them. So whenever a guest singer or vocalist pops in, they provide a much-needed break. Rob Halford is actually the only appeal to "Lift Me Up" and renders Moody a guest vocalist on his own band's song, Tech N9ne appears to deliver the second verse of the unintentionally funny best song, a cover of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out", and Maria Brink provides a highly necessary feminine touch in the duet version of "Anywhere But Here" but is shamefully under-utilized in the non-duet version. Again, the presence of multiple versions of some of these songs is baffling, unless trying to appease both fans who are incapable of hearing any other vocalist than Ivan Moody without going into shock, and people who are just sick and goddamn tired of him.
The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Heck
can't be said to be worse than expected. It's generic, grating, and childishly livid. But that's what the record labels and radio stations and disgruntled teenagers are clamoring for. To ask for artistic refinement or progression from this sort of band is obviously a lost cause, but that sure as hell doesn't mean I won't criticize it. Righteously.