FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH's Zoltan Bathory on METALLICA tour, 'Call of Duty' character, jiu jitsu brotherhood | Revolver

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH's Zoltan Bathory on METALLICA tour, 'Call of Duty' character, jiu jitsu brotherhood

Catching up with the guitarist and martial artist
zoltan bathory 2023 SHINN, Travis Shinn
photograph by Travis Shinn

When Five Finger Death Punch played their first-ever shows with Metallica in Europe last summer, Lars Ulrich wondered how the bands — two of heaviest music's biggest — had never managed to cross paths.

They all joked at the time that they should catch up again sooner than later, but plans for their much-anticipated reunion went awry. While Metallica invited the band out to play more shows together last spring, Five Finger Death Punch had to pull out when vocalist Ivan Moody underwent hernia surgery — the frontman is thankfully back in action with the rest of this band. Following a painful delay, Five Finger Death Punch finally get back onstage with Metallica on August 6th at East Rutherford, New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, marking the first of many concerts they'll play together between now and the summer of 2024.

Outside of that unfortunate surgery, Five Finger Death Punch have led a pretty charmed career. Since blasting out the gates with their groove-heavy "The Bleeding" single in 2007, the Las Vegas quintet have become one of metal's most consistently popular acts, racking up acclaim across countless tours, a series of platinum and gold albums, and an impressive 14 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts.

Over the years, they've developed a diehard fanbase of metalheads and military personnel, uniting those fronts through troop-supporting anthems like "The Wrong Side of Heaven." While all of this has made the long-running outfit a major headliner in their own right, when Metallica came calling, Five Finger Death Punch gladly let their hosts take the lead.

"We generally don't open anymore, but this is Metallica," Bathory states humbly of the honor of being brought out on tour with the thrash icons. He adds of the magnitude of the bill: "It's not like Metallica needed our help in any shape or any way… but it's an extremely impactful package. It's incredible."

This summer is likewise a remarkable one for Bathory, in that he's just become a playable character named Oz (or, "Zo" backwards) in the latest updates for both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Call of Duty: Warzone. The metal guitarist reveals his inclusion in the military-minded first-person-shooter was, fittingly, a top-secret project. There's no mistaking that's him in the game, though, between the famously askew dreads and a nod to his jiu jitsu black belt.

As Five Finger Death Punch prepare to blast the masses alongside Metallica, Bathory recalls cranking Master of Puppets on Hungarian beaches, video game gag orders, and the heavy metal/martial arts crossover he's come across in the jiu jitsu scene.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

zoltan bathory call of duty 2023

How well did you hit it off with Metallica when you first ran into them on the festival circuit last year?
We played two shows with them last year. As a kid, I met them at a show [during] one of those meet-and-greets, but this was the first time meeting them as an adult.

We were talking to Lars and he was joking around like man, "How is it that we've never crossed paths?" It's two pretty significantly big bands, right? We were laughing about it… and then a couple of months later we got a phone call [about touring together] like, "Hey this is a possibility. If you guys want to do these dates, it's going to be massive."

Who's going to say "Ah, I don't know man?" [Laughs] You [don't have to] twist my arm.

Are there any Metallica songs you're particularly excited to see at these shows?
I'm a Master of Puppets guy. That was the record for me. If I look back on my childhood, that was the record that I listened to the most.

We would be these little kids in Hungary…. it was a communist country at the time, so this kind of music wasn't supported, whatsoever. It was shunned, and looked down upon. It wasn't illegal, but it was not OK [to listen to]. But we would have these really crappy eastern European boomboxes, and we would go to the beach and just crank it.

You have a couple of records that are the soundtrack to your youth. For me it was Master of Puppets, but we would also listen to a lot of Accept and W.A.S.P.

five finger death punch 2023 PROMO UNCROPPED shinn, Travis Shinn
photograph by Travis Shinn

In addition to the Metallica tour, it's also an exciting summer for you in that we've got this new Call of Duty update, which includes a playable character based on your likeness. How did you get involved with the Call of Duty team?
 [The crossover] makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I see these printouts… They give us these stats, and [it turns out] most of our fans are also Call of Duty players. And with the crew that works on Call of Duty, a lot of these guys are military advisors.

What was it like to see yourself digitized that way for the first time?
The creative team is extremely secretive. Like, you're literally under a gag order. Nothing can leak. My band members didn't know. Management didn't even know. I couldn't say anything. If it slips out, you're done. So, I didn't actually see the character up until a couple of days ago. I saw it at the same time as the rest of the world saw it.

Basically, how it happened was I went out to the first photo shoot, and then we followed up with other shoots at various locations, with various pieces of equipment and backgrounds. And we also did motion capture videos [to determine] how I was running.

Eventually you get invited to… a secret location, and it's a different world, man. There's all this crazy equipment there. You're sitting in this globe with a thousand [cameras] pointed at you, and then they scan you. It's like you're on a spaceship. They're scanning your facial features, [to figure out] the way you speak or blink. It's pretty amazing to see how this works.

The character is named Oz, and even beyond your likeness, his aesthetic is based on various parts of your own life. How important was it to you to have your jiu jitsu black belt included as part of the character's outfit?
At the very beginning, there were some of conversations [around] what would be important to you, the typical features. I mean, obviously you look at my hair… You can't really miss me with this!

But we did have the conversation about [including] the brass knuckles, which has sort of become the band's logo, and I always wear this black belt chain. It's [from] Epic Roll, the company that I'm actually a part owner of. We make these keychains that [look like] colored belts.

Jiu jitsu is like a brotherhood. You see another guy with a jiu jitsu shirt or one of those black belt keychains, it's an immediate hug. I don't know you, but it doesn't matter. Like, "Oh yeah, bro, how long you been training?" [A colored belt is] our jiu jitsu secret sigil. That was pretty nice of [the game designers to] include those.

With that jiu jitsu brotherhood in mind, on your Instagram profile there are a bunch of photos you've taken at various martial arts competitions with folks like Harley Flanagan from Cro-Mags, or Megadeth's Dave Mustaine. It's like a double-brotherhood, between jiu jitsu and heavy music.
I'm a lifelong martial artist. I started judo originally when I was nine years old, but judo is a little different. You have to go full force. The whole idea is I have to grab you and throw you. It's the same thing with wrestling — you have to pick up someone your size and throw them, right? You can't do that half-assed or you're going to get hurt.

Jiu jitsu has this miraculous element of "Hey, let's go half-speed." We kind of flow-roll. Because of the mechanics of jiu jitsu, people become friends. I can get you into a submission, but I don't have to break anything — we don't go full berserker on each other. This creates a brotherhood amongst each other. It's created this friendly environment, and it just happens that a lot of celebrities [train] lately — Tom Hardy, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk. Mario Lopez trains. Dave Mustaine trains.

Harley's a very good friend of mine. Cro-Mags were a big influence on me when I was a kid. I'm really hoping one day we can tour together. But I mean… Billy [Graziadei] from Biohazard is also a black belt in jiu jitsu. Matt [Heafy] from Trivium is a black belt. Maynard from TOOL is a brown belt. You'd would be surprised how many musicians actually train.

So yeah, you're right — it's a double brotherhood!