Five Iron Frenzy (FIF) were Christian ska punk that existed from the mid-‘90s to the early ‘00s. That’s pretty much it. Okay, they’re “wacky.” They like wearing costumes. They had video cameras from beginning to end, so if you’ve ever hankered for way-too-close, way-too-long footage of where they slept in a rest stop on the way to Cornerstone (one of many Christian festivals) and to eventually see the pores in the faces of every band member, there’s plenty of that to contemplate in the documentary’s way-too-long three-hour running time. By staring at his gob so long, I came to the conclusion that the lead singer, Reese, who directed this film, looked like a mix between Vanilla Ice and a blonde jocky character in Saved by the Bell. I was also happy the saxophonist could afford braces near the end.
“The Rise” happens when core members start off in Christian heavy metal band called Exhumator, but that wasn’t working out so great and they admitted they kinda sucked, so they started a side project playing pop punk with horns and slowly morphed into looking like the members of Lagwagon when they weren’t performing. With FIF, the interview process for prospective band members had two steps: “Can you play rooty toot honky ska music?” and the second was along the lines of “Do you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
In “The Rise,” what’s interesting is that with all the miles of film shot, there’s no “Here’s how I came to perpetually high five J.C. when I was growing up” stories; what gave them faith in the beginning. I mean, it’s a documentary about the people in a band who made a body of music. That’s a simple step if it’s a core tenet of what the band’s about: ministering about the Lord while playing palatable, inoffensive music to impressionable teenagers. And I’m not trying to be a dick. Not just yet. The rare occasion when someone actually swears in the film, it’s bleeped or muted out. There’s also a bit of unintentional comedy that during one of their pre-show warm-up band prayers, they miss the announcement of no stage diving. They’re shut down four songs in when the singer leaps off the stage and inadvertently ends the band’s set. D’oh!
Although skacore of FIF’s ilk was like a plague of locusts heaven-sent in the late ‘90s, I was incredulous when FIF claimed they had sold 400,000 albums during their time as a band. But then it starts coming out in the film that there’s this worldwide “Christian marketplace” with its own well-heeled, huge-ass venues (churches, festivals), bookstores, and distribution system. Members go on to explain that they continue doing Christian shows “for the money.” That helps explain how they afforded the converted, tricked out school bus they end up driving around in and how the band still sold records for a longer period than many of their non-Christian skacore brethren. The Christian tithe infrastructure in America—much like conservative politics—is so well financed and ubiquitous while claiming to be marginalized. Here’s a glimpse at that. It’s like a JC trust fund for bands.
But FIF are troubled. They seek validity in the pagan, secular world of music. The drummer likes wearing an Avail shirt. The saxophonist mentions Fugazi. They seek more of a crossover and give the Warped Tour a shot for (their words) “street cred.” Financially, it’s a wash. During a yearly band retreat with their minister, everyone agrees to quit the band. That’s it. That’s “The Fall.” One dude now works at Best Buy.
I do believe in miracles, and this DVD has one. The music’s completely forgettable and quickly goes down the memory hole along with Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, and MXPX. You’d think that Jesus would inspire better hooks. Stryper, Creed, now this? That’s all he’s got? –Todd (Asian Man)