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Five finger victory sign

Features
February 21, 2020

“Last December, when we played at the Amsoil Arena [cap. 5,333] in Duluth,” remembers Bruce Reiter, the production manager for Five Finger Death Punch, “We were loaded-in and all set to do the show, when it became obvious that our guitarist Jason Hook was very sick.

“He was in a horrible state and they had to take him to the hospital right away for emergency surgery, where he had his gall bladder removed that night.”

With an extensive European arena tour set to kick-off one month later at Kiev’s Sports Palace (10,000) in Ukraine, many bands would have been thrown into disarray.

But, for the seasoned road warriors of Five Finger Death Punch (5FDP), every new disaster is treated as an opportunity to let their true mettle shine through.

Fresh out of hospital, Hook set off on the tour, but by the time they rolled into Hamburg’s Sporthalle (7,000) in Germany on 4 February, it was clear his recovery was far from complete.

Did they cancel the show? Of course not. As if by magic, Andy James, an acclaimed British shredder mostly known for his solo material and instructional videos on YouTube, stepped into Hook’s boots and the tour went ahead to massive critical plaudits and sold-out arenas across the continent.

Arguably metal’s best kept secret, 5FDP, as they’re known to aficionados, is now the world No 3 hard rock outfit in streaming consumption, surpassed only by Metallica and AC/DC.

Founded in Los Angeles in 2005, their rise to the top has been slow but steady, a classic case of building from the bottom up in a surprisingly traditional fashion.

“I did my first show with them on 3 March 2009 at the Rohstofflager [700] club in Zurich,” says Stefan Matthey of Good News Productions in Switzerland. “I sold 21 tickets.”

Nevertheless, Matthey was so “taken aback by their power and energy” that he has promoted them several times since.

“This time we’ve sold about 8,000 tickets for their headlining appearance at the Hallenstadion [13,000] in Zurich, which is excellent for a country of our size,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed working hand-in-hand with their wonderful team at 10th Street Entertainment, because they are always willing to listen to you.

“They have wisely not overplayed Europe in recent years and always do the right thing at the right time.”

Similarly, Jeppe Nissen of Live Nation Denmark can remember selling just 137 tickets for the band’s show at Vega [450] in Copenhagen, but recalls, “the show was really good and you could see even at that point, that this band could go somewhere.”

Nissen was prepared to stick with them even after another club show “didn’t do much better”, and got his reward when his third show with them sold 6,000 tickets.

“I think their appeal for our audience is a mixture of many things,” says Nissen, “but, basically, the riffing and the songwriting are really up there. They write big songs and that’s what you need to grow as big as they have done.”

The name of 10th Street Entertainment crops up frequently in connection with 5FDP. The New York and Los Angeles-based company, which has worked with the band since 2012, also looks after Motley Crue, Blondie, Papa Roach and others.

Company president Chris Nilsson says the first thing that attracted him to them was, “their fantastic live show, their authenticity and the strength of their songs. They really connect with their fans in a unique way.”

Nilsson was also impressed by the fact that, “They always had a vision to become one of the biggest rock acts in the world and weren’t afraid to put in the tremendous amount of work it takes to get there.”

Rod MacSween, co-founder of ITB in the UK, also allied himself with 5FDP in 2012, and says the band has “strong songs, a great fanbase and particularly loyal and passionate following.

“They have a great live show, and are on a path of continual upward improvement. Myself and [fellow ITB agent] Mike Dewdney work on the band together, it is a team effort and a strong dual performance. Mike also loves the band and their management.”

Dewdney says, “The band’s touring history is very impressive and once they have played a market, they always want to return, which is a great credit to them. The fans know the guys’ history and both sides are loyal to each other, it’s a club and you can’t leave.”

“At the end of the day, their success is down to the songs, delivered live to perfection with the best production possible. The band are on top of their game and every show feels like Saturday night out.”

Business drive

One element which sets this band apart from most others, is that founder/guitarist Zoltan Bathory (see panel), has always taken a major role not only on the musical side of things, but in the running of the band as a business.

“Zoltan is involved in literally every aspect of the band’s career, whether it’s the merchandise, the creative direction of the show or the songwriting,” confirms Nilsson. “He has an incredible amount of passion, tenacity, an impeccable work ethic and always had a greater vision for the band.

After 15 years, it can be tricky constantly finding new ideas which can energise and reinvigorate yet another tour, but 2020 finds 5FDP accelerating faster than ever.

“This is the biggest European arena headlining run in their career,” says Nilsson, “and it’s happening right before their long-awaited new album, F 8 comes out at the end of February. So the timing is perfect and the tour is solidifying the band’s position as one of the few big arena rock acts that are here to stay.”

With Megadeth and Bad Wolves as support acts, they’ve created a package that can attract a wide range of Metalheads, rocketing through 25 major European venues before heading home to the US for 25 more.

The crew of 110 is travelling in seven buses, with their gear in nine trucks, but production manager Bruce Reiter, after more than a decade with the band, has no qualms about keeping everything moving along, despite encounters with two massively destructive storms along the way.

“Storm Ciara gave us a very windy bus ride from Stuttgart to Munich in early February,” he recalls. “We feared for our lives, for real.”

With Storm Dennis sweeping across the continent in Ciara’s wake, the band’s trans-European trek has been anything but a breeze, but Reiter is usually too busy to pay too much attention to the weather.

“I’ve always engineered their front-of-house [FOH] sound and I’m also currently production manager,” he reveals. “Fortunately, we have a great crew which makes me wearing two hats a bit easier.”

“This band enjoys having big, giant things, whether it’s the sound system or the lighting, or the massive skull that hangs above the drummer, with 40ft long crossed baseball bats instead of bones.

“They also use a lot of pyrotechnics, but what makes it special is the connection between the band and the audience. Sure, they have all the bells and whistles – lasers, cool lighting and all that – but the important thing is the way the audience identifies with the words of their songs and with the guys in the band, that’s what’s really incredible.”

Presumably because of his other role as FOH engineer, Reiter can rattle-off the details of their stage set-up with nary a pause for breath. “We’re using an Avid Profile console with Waves plug-ins for the front-of-house mixing desk, with a Clair Cohesion PA, Midas Pro 2-C monitors, along with the DiGiCo SG12 mixing console, all provided by Clair Global.”

He professes to have total faith in his road crew, apparently more than he has in some of the local functionaries who show up at some venues to enforce local regulations.

Inspection and scaling

“There are inspectors of various sorts in about half of the towns we play in. We might get the local laser inspector, for example, making sure we don’t accidentally shine lasers into anyone’s eyes. Unfortunately, sometimes these people don’t know what they’re doing, which can be really frustrating. Our own laser people are excellent, very experienced, and they can get irritated if the inspectors clearly don’t understand what’s going on.”

Reiter is proud that, “The show in Europe is very cohesive, it looks like a big classic rock show.”

Even so, he admits that, “Some of these buildings are challenging. For example, our skull is eight feet tall, but some venues have doorways just seven feet tall, so we have to lie the skull down on its side and put it on dollies to even get it into the venue.

“In Italy we played at Alcatraz in Milan which is a 1,700-capacity club – much smaller than the arenas we usually play – so we had to scale everything back, including our massive PA system.”

Tour manager Dan McKay is a relative newcomer to the team, having started with 5FDP in 2019 but, like Reiter, he has on the whole reveled in the European experience.

“The crowds are always so passionate about this band, and the band is so consistently solid every night, it’s been a great thing to witness, particularly the Festhalle [15,179] in Frankfurt, which is one of my favourite venues.”

Although he didn’t enjoy Ciara or Dennis, he points out that bad weather is nothing new for an experienced crew. “Last summer we had to evacuate a festival site for a moment, because we had tornadoes brewing in the distance. Luckily we were able to re-open the site and the guys went up on stage and played a full set.”

When the band came into the UK at the end of January for shows at the Motorpoint Arena (7,500) and The SSE Arena, Wembley (12,750) in London, they achieved their highest British ticket sales to date.

“The bands’ interaction with the crowd was particularly special and the production was great too!” reports Live Nation Entertainment’s president of UK touring Andy Copping. “They know exactly what their audience want and they give it to them. The fans respond very well to that attitude – it’s a tribal-lifestyle thing.

“We are talking about what we do next and the band will hopefully be back on UK shores very soon.”

In Italy, Vertigo CEO Andrea Pieroni is still haunted by memories of the cancellation of the band’s first headlining show in Milan because, “it was scheduled the day after Le Bataclan [terrorist atrocity in Paris, November 2015] attack. After a long night of telephone calls and emails with the artiste, managers and agent we decided to cancel the show.

“Nobody was in the mood to go on stage and play that night. But we can now think positive and this year’s show is completely sold-out. To me, they’re the new metal generation. They look great, they play catchy songs and they are astonishing on stage. What else could we ask for?”

The European leg of this tour ended on 22 February at Bulgaria’s Arena Armeec in Sofia and the band is currently taking a well-deserved breather before starting the 25-date American leg with Papa Roach, I Prevail and Ice Nine Kills at the BB+T Center (15,200) in Sunrise, Florida on 8 April.

This looks set to be the band’s most successful year yet, but for manager Chris Nilsson, it’s only the beginning.

“Our ambition is to keep growing and take over the world.”

What others say

Lazslo Borsos

Laszlo Borsos, MD, Live Nation Hungary

“This show means a lot here in Hungary. Zoltan Bathory is a Hungarian, he is the leader of the band and I think we can say that he is one of the most famous Hungarian musicians these days. The show sold-out well in advance with the average ticket price of €50 [$54], which is comparable with other shows we have in this genre.”

Damien Chamard Boudet, Live Nation France

“Our show at the Zenith [9,000] in Paris cam close to selling out, with ticket prices from €45 to €70 [$49-81]. Seeing Ivan [Moody] walking around, having meals with everyone and spending time with teams is great. You can feel the rising tension in his body getting prepared and ready to release it on stage. He remembers people who were there years ago and that is much appreciated.”

Josh Hedge

Josh Hedge, Project & Operations Manager, Pyrotek, US

“Five Finger Death Punch has been our client since mid-2019, and Along with our office team of permitting and logistics staff, and our touring technician Tristan Ford, we have provided the pyrotechnics and flame effects for this tour. Their team has been great to work with.”

Niksu Vaisto, Live Nation Finland

“Before I first promoted them at a 900-capacity club in Helsinki in 2013, they were so new to me that I had to check them out online before I made the offer. It was not a sell-out, but you recognise a good band when you see one, and they obviously had a professional mindset. Now they’re headlining a virtual sell-out at Hartwall Arena [10,292] with tickets between €45 and €104 [$49-112].”

Tor Nielsen

Tor Nielsen, Live Nation Sweden

“During the last seven years we have worked with 5FDP intensely, both on festivals and stand-alone shows. They have worked very hard to become one of the very few new’ metal bands that has risen to arena status. This show was totally sold-out way in advance, with the average ticket price being €62 [$67]. The only problem in Stockholm was that our venue, Hovet [8,094] wasn’t big enough for them.”

Martin Nielsen

Martin Nielsen, Live Nation Norway

“I did my first show with them in 2009, back when I was still in Sweden. They’ve developed their sound over the years as they’ve kept touring, and I guess they’ve just added fans every time, and now it’s arenas. This year’s show at Oslo Spektrum [9,700] went amazingly well, we sold-out in advance.”

 

Cory Wilson, Account Representative, Christie Lites, UK

“I’ve had the honour of providing equipment for 5FDP’s tours in the US, Canada, and Europe, and watching the band’s continuous growth with production design over the years. For this tour, I’ve provided all the lighting, truss and rigging.”

Paul Bradshaw, Booker, Rockhal, Luxembourg

“This was the third time they’ve played Rockhal [6,000] and they also stopped by on their very successful run with In Flames in 2017. It was an all-standing show, so only one ticket price of €58, and it sold very well, close to 5,500 tickets. I was generally impressed at the step-up in terms of production values, sound and show. Seeing a band consistently grow bigger each time is rewarding.”

Egor from Spika Concert Agency, Russia

“We started working with the 5FDP camp back in 2013 and we were growing along with them since then. They always delivered a high-end performances and never disappointed their fanbase, which is also growing in my market. When I first promoted them in Russia at Moscow’s Glavclub [cap. 2,500], I already knew it was a temporary venue for them and we would need to move up soon. Now we have them at Adrenaline Stadium [7,000] and next time we will move into one of Moscow’s arenas.”

Time and management

Zoltan Bathory is not your average heavy metal shredder. In fact, he’s not your average anything.

Born in Hungary in 1978, he’s a founding board member of the veterans not-for-profit Home Deployment Project in Las Vegas, which works to reintegrate homeless veterans.

He sits on the Board of Advisors of the anti-rhino-poaching organisation VETPAW (Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife). He’s an international award winning martial arts sportsman, a certified Close Quarter Combat instructor for the US military and a Monster Truck Racing driver.

He also manages several bands including Bad Wolves and Fire From The Gods.

For our purposes, he’s best known as the founder guitarist of Five Finger Death Punch, but it’s all those other interests that make him arguably the most fascinating man in modern metal.

How did you come to form 5FDP?

“I started the band around 2005, when I was writing what became our first record. Once I had it almost complete, I started to assemble the guys. I’d always had my eye on Ivan Moody of Motograter, because I knew he was a fantastic singer and performer from seeing him live. He and I are now the longest serving members of the band.”

You started in Los Angeles but moved to Las Vegas. Why?

“This band spends a huge portion of the year on the road, and Las Vegas is in Nevada, which is somewhat of a tax haven. In Los Angeles, I was paying an LA mortgage, California tax and other living costs which are pretty significant, so moving to Las Vegas made financial sense, and it’s just 45 minutes from LA by plane.

There have been several times when I’ve got from Las Vegas to rehearsals in Los Angeles faster than the rest of the band who were still living there.”

How did you become interested in the business side of music?

“When I was young, I was very judgmental and I hated to hear musicians talking about the business, but now I realise it is a business. In the new millennium everything has changed so that if a band today doesn’t have at least one member who understands the business side, then they’re in trouble.”

How do you find the time to pursue all of your many interests?

“Fortunately, I only sleep four or five hours every night, which gives me extra hours to be doing things. I also like to figure out how to be efficient with my time, what my priorities have to be, what is most essential to be done, how best to use my staff and my time. You have to develop a kind of non linear visualisation of how best to accomplish all of these things.”

What lies in the future for 5FDP?

“We have had a turbulent past. I’ve always had to be the sober one. It has been kind of like herding cats  every freakin’ day there was something unbelievable going on. Spinal Tap had nothing on us, but it’s lightening up now. Everybody has been two years sober now, so I don’t have to be running around asking, ‘OK, who set the tour bus on fire?’.”

I figure we’ve got this far despite it being crazy out of control, so now that everybody is together I feel we can achieve so much more.”

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