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The End Is Near

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jul
The End Is Near
Sounds like … a solid blend of punk, ska, rock, and pop and a combination of tongue-in-cheek humor and sarcasm with passionate praiseAt a Glance … Five Iron Frenzy goes out in a blaze of glory with this fun and engaging finale

Dear friends, we are gathered today to say goodbye and pay tribute to one of the best-loved and clever bands of Christian music. At the end of 2003, to the chagrin of tens of thousands of teenagers and college students, Five Iron Frenzy will be taking a final bow. What began life in 1994 as a side project for punk rockers Reese Roper (lead vocals) and Keith Hoerig (bass), soon became a full-time gig and a major draw at summer Christian music festivals. Fusing ska and punk sounds with pop melodies and rock guitars, they tackled difficult subjects with passionate faith and insane humor, and they did it while wearing goofy costumes (the Star Trek motif will always be my favorite) and encouraging sing-along choruses of sock puppets from the audiences.

All eight members now have their own paths: new careers, new bands, new families. Yes, for Five Iron Frenzy, The End Is Near indeed, and while a eulogy is perhaps a little premature (there's still a Fall 2003 tour), it seems an appropriately melodramatic way to send them off. This is being heralded as their final album, though, if any band is in current need of a "best-of" anthology, it's this one. Oddly enough, The End Is Near is only being sold at Five Iron's final concerts and exclusively through the Cornerstone Fellowship in California website. Though the album will be made available in stores next year, chances are most people who want this album will own it by then.

The End Is Near continues where their previous album (Electric Boogaloo) left off, evolving the band's sound away from ska and embracing more of a punk/rock/metal hybrid backed by horns. The difference is that Five Iron sounds more confident this time, perhaps giving all they've got and delivering their most satisfying effort since 2000's All the Hype That Money Can Buy. This is technically an independent release (now that Five Minute Walk is no more), but it sounds as good as anything the band has done. Even the packaging is impressive, including a wonderfully produced booklet of lyrics and the quirky drawings of Douglas Ten Napel that have long been associated with Five Iron Frenzy.

Since it is apparently their final album, Five Iron takes the opportunity to air thoughts most artists are afraid to share. "So Far, So Bad" laments the music industry, and offers a partial glimpse of why the band is calling it quits: "We were going to make a point to the whole world, but no one wants to hear it anymore/Don't worry what this song would say, you'll never hear it anyway." The band tackles greed in "American Kryptonite," with Reese screaming like a nü-metal rocker.

On the very catchy "Anchors Away," the band attacks corrupted media with sarcasm reminiscent of Steve Taylor's classic, "Meat the Press." Such a subject is like shooting fish in a barrel, but Five Iron somehow makes it fresh, just like the overused metaphor of spiritual renewal used in "New Year's Eve." A similar theme of renewal is found in "Something Like Laughter," one of the album's most heart-breaking songs, written by saxophonist Leanor Ortega. With the thunderous "Farewell to Arms," Reese and the band take on those who would condemn all of Christianity because of one bad experience with the church: "Lay down your hate, the burden and the weight will disappear/If you could separate your anger from that still small voice you hear."

A number of songs on The End Is Near are bittersweet, incorporating the band's personal issues and history. As the band's primary lyricist, Reese humorously comes to terms with adulthood ("At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys") and the sacrifices made for marriage ("Wizard Needs Food, Badly," which draws its title from the classic fantasy video game, Gauntlet). The pleasant "It Was Beautiful" is used to marvel over God's worldwide presence in all of Five Iron's travels.

"See the Flames Begin to Crawl" uses the band's classic ska rock sound to sadly suggest that audiences won't remember Five Iron in ten years, despite forever touching the lives of young people everywhere. The album's last two tracks serve as an appropriate finale. "That's How the Story Ends" makes references to the band's most beloved silly songs and wraps up their artistic legacy. Then with "On Distant Shores," Five Iron offers poignant praise to God and eagerly looks ahead to eternal life with him.

The band is survived by their darkly hued spin-off, Brave Saint Saturn. What a relief, since the songwriting talents of Dennis Culp and Reese Roper are too good to waste. They've got the sort of mad genius that causes other artists to write insightful poetry while smashing watermelons and (God forbid) cutting off their own ears. Behind the over-the-top stage antics lies humble hearts on fire to serve God and bring audiences closer to him. The oft-misunderstood Five Iron Frenzy may not have impacted the Christian music industry as much as they had initially hoped, but there is no question they have left their mark on fans as well as the bands whose careers they helped launch via their tours. They will be missed.