Fury of Five: Re-Taking Respect
'I see posts [online] and Fury of Five is hardly ever mentioned for anything' - James 'Stikman' Ismean
For Fury of Five, it's always been about respect. In the mid-nineties the New Jersey band had to take it—both musically and physically—and with a reunion show lined up for June 11, the group is poised to do the same to a whole new generation. "I see posts—things about the best bands and this and that—and Fury of Five is hardly ever mentioned for anything," says vocalist James Ismean aka Stikman. "People fail to realize that Fury of Five opened a lot of doors from New Jersey and they just kind of ignore that."
The band came together in 1994 and released a handful of recordings before splitting up just four years later. Their penultimate full-length, At War with the World, was released on Victory Records in 1998, exposing Fury of Five's style to a larger audience and becoming a landmark record for New Jersey hardcore. "We went around the world, around the states, and we just put it down for New Jersey and ourselves," says Ismean. "We opened up tours, we got bands overseas, we opened up eyes all over the place because we were about it and made people look."
"We put on the E.Town's and then they—not that they weren't doing successful things without us—but when we first played with them, we started taking them with us out of state and then they motorboated into something fucking great. So we did that for Second To None and all kinds of bands," he says of their dedication to the local scene. "I don't care if I was to move to California tomorrow, I would still put it down for where I'm from because this is where it started for me and it will always be in my heart."
Ismean had two earlier Jersey hardcore bands, Locked Up In Life and Position Of Power, but when Fury of Five came together everything seemed to click. The five-piece was as known for their take on hardcore— loaded with technically proficient guitar solos, bouncy hip-hop beats and blunt, pissed off lyrics—as their intense shows and notorious violent tendencies.
"We were known for beating up a booking agent or beating up a band here or there. You never heard of us just haphazardly beating up someone for no reason. There was always a reason behind our violence," he reflects. "Were we tough guys? If we were disrespected, absolutely. That's why we wrote 'Taking Respect,' because we weren't getting the respect we thought we deserved. So we had to go and write a song about it and let people know. You don't want to give us respect? We're gonna come and take it."
Their intimidating look and penchant for violence may have drawn some people in, but their music kept them around. With drummer Chris Rage, bassist Mike Terror and guitarists Jay Fury and Chico Violencia behind the frontman, Fury of Five crafted a unique sound that landed somewhere between Biohazard, Fear Factory and Machine Head. "I came up in the eighties—heavy metal glam era, thrash metal, hip hop, Run DMC dropping King Of Rock and all that," Ismean says of his own diverse influences. "Plus I grew up poor, so I was always around the culture of hip hop and it was just embedded in me as a person."
So was the anger. Ismean's lyrics and delivery were as sincere as they were irate. "Listen, it's embedded in me. That's what the song 'Can't Escape' is about—deep-rooted hate," he says, noting he's grown from the guy who wrote those songs, though. "Am I singing these songs today [like I was] singing them when we first wrote them? No, because I'm not that angry. But can I go within myself and find it? Absolutely, because it's always there."
Nowadays Ismean lives a simpler life, working a job scaffolding and riding his mountain bike as often as possible. "I'm trying to live my life everyday and maximize every minute that I can," he says, noting that perhaps the band's demise may have actually been beneficial to his personal growth. "It was probably a good thing because I probably would have ended up going to prison or something for murder, or being murdered myself by somebody that I beat up."
The majority of the classic lineup is back for the reunion, with the exception of Chris Rage who has been replaced by ex-Dissent drummer Mike Pollaro. The band may be older and of a different mentality but their drive and intensity for this iteration of Fury of Five is as strong as ever. "The [Instagram] videos at practice don't show that, because there's not a lot of room for us to move around like we want to," he says. "It's contained for the most part, but Jay's doing kicks, Chico's doing his thing, Mike's there stomping, you don't see me sometimes, but I'm jumping around on the couch, up in the air like I'm on a monitor. We wile out. We're still wild dudes, we're just older now."
While Ismean has done a handful of Fury of Five shows over the years with different members, the June 11 show marks the first time the core lineup has played together since 1998. With a slew of nineties hardcore bands reuniting recently, Fury of Five's doesn't seem out of place. Songs like "Out Of Jurisdiction," and "Taste The Steel," reference topics like police brutality and gun violence, which are as current as ever. "Lyrically and musically I think we're relevant—very relevant lyrically," the vocalist says. "I wrote a song back in '96 called 'Wake Up America,' and that's what we seem to be doing right now. The government is casting out lies, and this Covid, and the war, and just lies, lies, lies."
Sticking with the theme of repping New Jersey, the show is packed with a lineup of local bands. They worked with Caidon Rosario of Reaching Out, who also happens to be the son of Rob "Beto" Rosario of Madball, 25 Ta Life and Dmize notoriety. "He gave me a list of all the New Jersey hardcore bands, and then we narrowed it down to the ones that were heavily Fury of Five influenced [and] doing things for the scene." Ismean says. "That's how we came up with the bill."
Ismean was a hesitant to talk about what the future might hold, but he referenced wanting to realize his original goal of five albums (their third and final record, This Time It's Personal, was released after the group's demise). "Nobody knows what the future's gonna bring, right now we're just doing it one show at a time," he says. "I told them back in '94 we were unstoppable. It's still steadfast now. Here we are in 2022 and we're coming."