By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
When your band is called Five Finger Death Punch, covering LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” seems preordained.
The surprise isn’t that the five-piece metal ensemble decided to record a hip hop tune, but that it took them four albums to do it. When the band finally decided to put their stamp on the classic rap track, they found perfect person to help out: Tech N9ne.
“Zoltan (Bathory, guitarist) came up with the idea, and the riff was laying around for a couple years,” said Death Punch drummer Jeremy Spencer. “Ivan (Moody, vocalist) and I are big Tech N9ne fans, so we asked our management to reach out. I thought he did an incredible job.”
Although he was on tour, Tech N9ne jumped at the request. The only time his schedule would allow was the very un-rock-and-roll time of 8 a.m.
“I usually get up about 11-ish, 12-ish,” Tech N9ne said. “I was worried about my voice because I had just done a show the night before. It was too early for me to be screaming, but it was meant to happen. I don’t sound groggy at all.”
With the instrumental track complete and a scratch vocal track to provide direction, it didn’t take the Strange Music MC long to record his part. The hasty departure meant although they collaborated on tape, Spencer and Tech N9ne have still yet to meet face-to-face.
“I got an email from their people about two weeks ago saying they were playing Kansas City and asking me to join them. I just about died,” Tech N9ne said. “I wanted to perform with those guys, but will still be on tour. It would have been such a surprise to Kansas City. But don’t worry, I think we’ll be working together a lot in the future.”
Tech N9ne isn’t the only guest on the new Five Finger album. Judas Priest frontman and metal god Rob Halfort joined the band on lead single “Lift Me Up” and members of Soulfly, In the Moment and Hatebreed also appear.
“We’ve been able to experiment a little bit,” Spencer said. “There are some instrumental interludes that link one song to another, and one song has a spoken-word narration from Zoltan.”
The Los Angeles-based band had the freedom to expand their boundaries when they realized they had more than enough material for one album. Instead of culling the material for one release, they decided to release it all in two parts. “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Vol. 1” came out in July. Volume two drops November 19.
“When you are touring, there is a lot of downtime. We’ve always had some kind of portable studio or recording device with us to keep that (creative) muscle flexing,” Spencer said. “We went into the studio this time with a wealth of material. When we got to 24-25 songs, we thought they all fit so well we didn’t want to separate them.”
Spencer said the band consciously spread out the tempos and textures across both albums rather than creating a common theme for each volume.
“I think you get a wide variety of emotion on both albums,” Spencer said. “You can interchange songs on either volume.”
The recording studio can be a harsh master that will fray even the best of bands – look no further than the Beatles’ “Let It Be” – Spencer said his band emerged from the process even stronger.
“I don’t want to overthink what happened. We just let the ideas flow and got out of the way,” Spencer said. “We all supported each other’s ideas, and the songs just happened. I definitely feel the group is tighter for whatever reason I can’t put my finger on.”
Thinking twenty-six songs and more than 90 minutes of new Death Punch material might be too much for fans to digest in one sitting, the band opted to pace releases. The glut of new songs also created issues when planning setlists.
“We try to balance the old and new. We don’t want to forget about people who want to hear the old hits,” Spencer said. “It’s kind of a good problem to have this much good new material.”
They may have nearly doubled their catalog this year, but Five Finger Death Punch aren’t resting on their laurels.
“We’ve definitely started talking about ideas,” Spencer said. “It will be exciting to move forward and see where it goes.”