Engine of a Million Plots

Engine of a Million Plots
Studio album by Five Iron Frenzy
Released November 26, 2013 (2013-11-26)
Recorded Fall 2012 at Singing Serpent Studios, New York City, New York
Genre Christian rock, alternative rock
Length 41:11
Label Department of Biophysics (vinyl releases)
Producer Jeremy SH Griffith and Scott Kerr
Five Iron Frenzy chronology
The End Is Near
Engine of a Million Plots
Singles from Engine of a Million Plots
  1. "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night"
    Released: November 22, 2011
  2. "Into Your Veins"
    Released: October 21, 2013

Engine of a Million Plots is the sixth studio album by American band Five Iron Frenzy, released independently on November 26, 2013. Released ten years after the band's previous album The End Is Near, Engine of a Million Plots marked Five Iron Frenzy's return to recording following an eight-year hiatus spanning from November 2003 to their reunion in November 2011.

Coinciding with the announcement of their reunion, Five Iron Frenzy launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help finance a new album, ultimately becoming the website's most successful music project at that time, raising $207,980 on a projected goal of $30,000, enabling the band to write, record and distribute the album completely independently. Engine of a Million Plots was released in November 2013 to critical acclaim by music journalists and decent sales, reaching number 118 on the Billboard 200 and number 8 on the Top Contemporary Christian charts.

Reunion and production history

In early 2003, citing various issues including creative differences, strenuous touring schedules and the changing religious beliefs of several of their core members, Five Iron Frenzy announced plans to disband by the end of the year. Preceded by the release of their fifth album The End is Near, Five Iron Frenzy performed what was intended to be their final show on November 22, 2003 in the band's hometown of Denver, Colorado as the members spent the remainder of the decade focusing on their personal lives and other musical endeavors.

During production on singer Reese Roper's 2010 documentary The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy, the members began discussing the prospect of a reunion which went as far as guitarist Scott Kerr beginning to write new songs for the band, though these plans ultimately never came to fruition.[1] The following year, a fan purchased the domain for Five Iron Frenzy's website, adding a timer counting down to the anniversary date of November 22 to mark the relaunch of a newly redesigned website. This led to wide speculation that Five Iron Frenzy were planning to announce a reunion. Once the rumors reached the band members, they began drafting a public apology preparing to state they had no plans to reunite, though ultimately decided to press through with a reunion after all.[2]

In the months leading up to November 22, Five Iron Frenzy secretly traveled to New York City to record a new song, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night", with guitarists Micah Ortega and Sonnie Johnston recording their parts in a Denver studio.[3] On November 22, the band formally announced their intention to reunite and release a new album in 2013, releasing "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" as a free download and launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the new album.[4] The campaign's goal of $30,000 was met within 55 minutes, and over the next two months earned a total of $207,980, becoming at the time Kickstarter's most funded musical project, a success which was referenced by several news outlets documenting the website's growing notoriety.[5][6]

Five Iron Frenzy performed their first show since their initial break-up on April 28, 2012 in Denver and continued touring nationally while writing the songs which would make up Engine of a Million Plots. The band recorded the bulk of the album at Singing Serpent Studios in New York in the fall of 2012, with additional recording being held at Quarter Rest Studios in Brooklyn as well as at Scott Kerr's house in Denver and Reese Roper's house in Staunton, Virginia. "Into Your Veins", the debut single from Engine, was premiered on October 21, 2013, released for free on the band's official YouTube channel and issued for digital download on iTunes and Amazon.[7] On November 12, Alternative Press debuted the first music video from the album, "Zen and the Art of Xenophobia".[8] Three more music videos were produced over the following year, for "Into Your Veins" (July 31, 2014),[9] "Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter" (August 7, 2014) and "So Far" (November 22, 2014).[10]



Engine of a Million Plots follows in the alternative rock, punk rock and pop punk-influenced vein Five Iron Frenzy began embracing with the release of 2001's Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo, which both Roper and saxophonist Leanor Ortega-Till have simply labeled "rock with horns".[11][12] With the lone exception of the song "Someone Else's Problem", Engine entirely eschews the overt ska influences Five Iron Frenzy was best known for on their earliest and most commercially successful albums. Many reviews of the album commented on the band's movement away from ska music both positively and negatively, something which the band acknowledged would happen in interviews leading up to the album's release. Trombonist Dennis Culp commented "I think it's a natural move forward for us. If you follow the arc of the band it makes sense where we're headed", saying likewise about the maturity of the band's approach to songwriting and recording "The parts fit a lot better[...]It feels more cohesive to me".[12]

The majority of songs on the album were composed by original guitarist Scott Kerr, who wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on Five Iron Frenzy's first two albums, Upbeats and Beatdowns and Our Newest Album Ever!. Kerr initially departed the band in 1998 after losing his faith in Christianity but chose to take part in their reunion, now playing bass guitar in place of Keith Hoerig, who declined to participate in the reunion. Roper and Culp are credited as co-writers with Kerr on several of the album's tracks, with "I've Seen the Sun" credited entirely to Culp.[13]


The lyrics for Engine of a Million Plots were the primary focus of many critical reviews at the time of the album's release, noting the "dark" and "serious" nature of Reese Roper's lyrics in stark comparison to the band's earlier work which was largely characterized by humor, pop culture references and more overtly praise-centered messages. Much of Engine of a Million Plots deals with issues of doubt, adversity and religious frustration, as well as the renewal of faith and hope.[3] In an interview with Relevant, Roper explained that he didn't care about his potentially alienating or controversial lyrics clashing with the wider Christian music market, noting "For the most part, I think most of organized Christianity has kind of tossed [Five Iron Frenzy] off[...]What I'm more worried about is the people that have been marginalized by the Church and those fans that used to be Christians and still love us. I really care about them. I want to write an album for those people". He elaborated about his frustrations with the Church, saying "As time passes, I become more embarrassed about the Church, more embarrassed by the actions of Christians", acknowledging that the irreligious members of the band felt the same way: "They have a lot of questions and a lot of searching, and it's the same for me. So I've tried to be more inclusive in writing lyrics".[11] Roper has also commented that there is a threaded theme throughout the entirety of the album about "being cold and in the dark versus fire and light".[14]

Evangelical Outpost offered an in-depth analysis of the album's lyrics in their review, highlighting its depiction of a "beaten and battered" faith which emphasizes that there "are no easy answers". The review drew parallels with Psalm 22 and the Book of Job "minus the vindication at the end", noting that the album's closing track "Blizzards & Bygones" ends on a note of doubt and uncertainty rather than the praise and worship songs Five Iron Frenzy have ended their previous albums with. They wrote "As Christians, we anticipate the vindication of our faith, the fulfillment of our hopes...but in the meantime, we must endure a winter that doesn't seem to end. We must fight to keep the fire lit, and we must light it again and again".[15]

Track-by-track explanations

In a series of blogs posted to the official Five Iron Frenzy website throughout late 2014, Reese Roper elaborated on the lyrics for most of the songs on Engine of a Million Plots, though outright stated he hated providing explanations for his songs, emphasizing the importance of the listener's personal interpretation over the creator's intentions.[16]

The opening track "Against a Sea of Troubles" references both the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy from Act III of Hamlet and the Hail Mary to "paint a picture of desperation" and the "feeling that all is lost".[17] Scott Kerr wrote placeholder lyrics to "So Far" as a love song to his wife, and Roper "completely annihilated with stupid references to comic book characters", attempting to make the song about the need for God.[18] "Zen and the Art of Xenophobia" is one of Five Iron Frenzy's most overtly political songs, targeting the mentality of Christian right in using Christ to justify xenophobia and similar offenses. "I really believe that the Biblical model is to let Christianity influence our politics, not to be the politics", Roper wrote in his blog, "There are few things more embarrassing for me than the endless parade of jack-wads currently using the name of Jesus Christ for political gain in this country".[19] "We Own the Skies" was inspired by Ephesians 2 and the poetry of Robert Frost, and "is about believing that though we be mired in the thick of the worst of the world's troubles, our spirits, through Christ, can be alive".[14]

"Someone Else's Problem" is about how American society benefits from the exploitation and slavery of people in third world countries: "As a Christian, it is abhorrent to me to think how lazy the Body of Christ has become about this. Statistically, we could end hunger – COMPLETELY ERADICATE ITS EXISTENCE THREE TIMES OVER – by just taking the tithes of the American Church, and spending it on food for the hungry...IN ONE YEAR[...]Imagine how much easier it would be to explain the Love of Christ to other people if they had actually seen us doing something with it". Roper's blog post promoted links to multiple charitable organizations, including Feeding America, Compassion International and ChildFund.[20] "I Am Jack's Smirking Revenge" is a commentary on consumerism and is heavily inspired by the book and film Fight Club, which Roper remarks carries more truth than what "90 percent of the modern church is peddling".[21] "To Start a Fire" was again based off Kerr's placeholder lyrics, with Roper reworking them to be about the rekindling of their friendship, which was broken when Roper was admittedly "pushing Jesus on him when he needed me to just be his friend".[22]

"Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter", singled out by reviewers as the album's sole "funny song", was actually Roper's reflection on the current pop culture zeitgeist (lyrically name-dropping LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" as an example) of which he felt disconnected, describing it as a song about "feeling irrelevant".[23] "Into Your Veins" was written in response to criticism regarding Five Iron Frenzy's decision to stop playing worship songs and sermonizing onstage, saying that a band and their songs are not a valid substitution for a relationship with God, as well as citing the inherent dishonesty of attempting to do such with two openly atheist members.[24]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
CCM Magazine[26]
Indie Vision Music[28]
Jesus Freak Hideout[29]
Jesus Wired4.8/5[30]

Engine of a Million Plots received near-unanimous acclaim from Christian music journalists, with much of the praise delivered upon the album's lyrics and most areas of mild criticism focused on the band's continuing progression away from the humor-driven ska sound of their early albums.

Rob Houston of HM awarded Engine with four-and-a-half stars out of five, affirming it as "such a great breath of fresh air" which "comes close to songwriting perfection", lauding "some of the best lyrics I have heard all year" and summarizing "[i]f you are looking for something different than the waterfall of forgotten pop tracks, Engine of a Million Plots is a record you should listen to".[27] Brief capsule reviews in CCM Magazine and WORLD were similarly positive, with the former praising its "witty songwriting" and the latter honoring its "literate" lyrics and "profound social gospel convictions".[26][32] Zach Lorton of Patheos offered a rave review as "by far, one of the most exciting musical releases I've heard in the last year", calling its songs "some of the strongest material the band has ever created" and laying most of his praise on the production and lyrics, writing "Ferocity and energy, a sense of being alive, permeate every second of Engine of a Million Plots, and Five Iron Frenzy are marching on like nothing in the world can stop them".[31]

Many Christian reviewers prefaced their reviews commenting how they had grown up with Five Iron Frenzy's music and inevitably compared Engine against the band's early albums. Ben Knight of JesusWire wrote that he "had a hard time accepting this new version of Five Iron Frenzy", but changed his mind after a few listens, lauding the lyrics and production and summarizing "like a lot of things that get better with time and age, this band is no different".[30] Phil Schneider of ChurchMag wrote that Engine "might be their best" album - "the music is tight and really enjoyable[...]the lyrics are deep, challenging and hilarious" - but admitted "it's never going to be my favorite", reluctantly lamenting "it's just not the same" as the band's older material.[33] Jesus Freak Hideout, despite awarding the album with four out of five stars, wrote "it's just not as good musically and lyrically as some past efforts", lamenting the lack of overtly goofy songs in favor of a decidedly darker and more serious tone, though admitted "it is destined to be loved regardless". A "Second Opinion" review, however, considered Engine "delivers on nearly all counts" and was "both musically beautiful and lyrically vulnerable".[29]

Engine was not without its detractors, however, as most ska-oriented publications provided less-than-stellar opinions on the band's evolution of sound. ReadJunk expressed disappointment that "one of the best ska punk bands of the third-wave has completely abandoned that aspect of their sound", seemingly "going the way of No Doubt, Rx Bandits and The Siren Six!" in now producing "bland and downright boring" alternative rock, boldly claiming "the old Five Iron Frenzy is dead and gone".[34] Jamie Thul of Ska Lives echoed similar sentiments, lamenting the lack of ska and overtly humorous songs in favor of "lifeless" alternative rock, "unimaginative" horn lines and "jumbled", "dark" lyrics, writing that the album ultimately "doesn't live up to all the hype".[35]

Track listing

All lyrics by Reese Roper, unless noted otherwise

No. TitleWriter(s) Length
1. "Against a Sea of Troubles"  Scott Kerr 3:26
2. "So Far"  lyrics: Roper, Kerr music: Kerr, Dennis Culp 3:27
3. "Zen & the Art of Xenophobia"  Kerr, Culp 3:14
4. "We Own the Skies"  Kerr, Roper 2:44
5. "Someone Else's Problem"  Kerr, Roper 3:16
6. "I Am Jack's Smirking Revenge"  Kerr 3:05
7. "To Start a Fire"  lyrics: Roper, Kerr music: Kerr 3:55
8. "Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter"  Kerr 3:43
9. "Into Your Veins"  Kerr, Roper 3:02
10. "It Was a Dark & Stormy Night"  Kerr 3:24
11. "I've Seen the Sun"  lyrics & music: Culp 3:02
12. "Blizzards & Bygones"  lyrics & music: Kerr 4:53
Total length:


Year Chart Position
2013 Billboard 200 118
2013 Billboard Top Contemporary Christian 8

Between Pavement and Stars

Between Pavement and Stars
EP by Five Iron Frenzy
Released November 22, 2015 (2015-11-22)
Recorded Fall 2012
Genre Christian rock, alternative rock, ska punk
Length 19:21
Producer Jeremy SH Griffith and Scott Kerr

Between Pavement and Stars is a digital EP by American band Five Iron Frenzy, released on November 22, 2015. The EP consists of several b-sides and non-album tracks recorded during the production of their 2013 album Engine of a Million Plots.

"Boomerang" was intended to be the opening track for Engine and the band's proper "comeback" song, making numerous references to previous Five Iron Frenzy songs, though Roper and Kerr disagreed on how the chorus should go. The EP version is a "Frankenstein" edit cobbled together from various takes by producer Jeremy SH Griffith.[36] "God Hates Flags", a song condemning the homophobic actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, was released on a promotional sampler CD prior to Engine's release but was ultimately not selected for inclusion on the album. "Blizzards and Bygones (All Frost and No Thaw Version)" is a stripped-down rendition of Engine's closing track, sung and played on piano by Scott Kerr. "To Astoria!" is an acoustic song sung by trombonist Dennis Culp, which originally appeared on Five Iron Frenzy's 2014 Kickstarter-exclusive B-sides compilation The Second Coming of Cheeses.... "Between the Pavement and the Stars", written about one of Roper's friends who was losing her faith in Christ, was also cut from the album by majority vote by the band in favor of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night".[37]

Like Engine, critical reception to Between Pavement and Stars was largely positive. Scott Fryberger of Jesus Freak Hideout called the EP "a terrific little treat", considering most of the songs good enough to have been included on the original album.[38] ChurchMag offered the EP its highest rating, praising the "sharp political insight" of "God Hates Flags" while also feeling the material was strong enough to have been included on Engine.[39]

Track listing

  1. "Boomerang" - 3:01
  2. "God Hates Flags" - 3:23
  3. "Blizzards and Bygones (All Frost and No Thaw Version)" - 4:20
  4. "Into the Storm" - 3:09
  5. "To Astoria!" - 2:23
  6. "Between the Pavement and the Stars" - 3:05


Five Iron Frenzy
Additional musicians


  1. "Q&A With Five Iron Frenzy". Relevant. December 1, 2011.
  2. Murphy, Tom (December 31, 2012). "Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band straight from the members themselves". Westword.
  3. 1 2 "Five Iron Frenzy interview with Reese Roper (frontman)". Mousertime. December 30, 2011.
  4. Navarro, Dave (November 22, 2011). "Five Iron Frenzy reunion: FIF posts new song, announces plans for new album due in 2013!". Westword.
  5. Devitt, Shelby (March 19, 2012). "Five Iron Frenzy comes out of retirement, breaks Kickstarter record". Northern Star.
  6. Moore, John (November 28, 2011). "Kickstarter site kicks off fundraising frenzy for bands, artists". Denver Post.
  7. Houston, Rob (October 22, 2013). "Five Iron Frenzy releases new single, 'Into Your Veins'". HM.
  8. "Video Premiere: Five Iron Frenzy, "Zen And The Art Of Xenophobia"". Alternative Press. November 12, 2013.
  9. Denning, Jake (July 31, 2014). "Exclusive: Five Iron Frenzy Music Video, "Into Your Veins"". AbsolutePunk.
  10. Sharp, Tyler (November 24, 2014). "Five Iron Frenzy get wild in "So Far" music video". Alternative Press.
  11. 1 2 Huckabee, Tyler (Jan 2013). "The Revenge of Five Iron Frenzy". Relevant.
  12. 1 2 Hawkins, Dave (December 2, 2013). "Do the Ska: Five Iron Frenzy". Arthur.
  13. Bearden, Wade (September 20, 2013). "The Digitally Remastered Five Iron Frenzy". wadebearden.com.
  14. 1 2 Roper, Reese (September 4, 2014). "Song Explanation: "We Own The Skies"".
  15. Mulligan, Mackenzie (November 26, 2013). "Five Iron Frenzy's "Engine of a Million Plots": Waiting for the Sun's Return". Evangelical Outpost.
  16. Roper, Reese (July 25, 2014). "Blogging for the Kids".
  17. Roper, Reese (September 11, 2014). "Song Explanation: "Against A Sea Of Troubles"".
  18. Roper, Reese (November 6, 2014). "Song Explanation: "So Far"".
  19. Roper, Reese (August 14, 2014). "Zen and The Art of Xenophobia: Music Video & Explanation".
  20. Roper, Reese (August 21, 2014). "Bass Lesson & Song Explanation: "Someone Else's Problem"".
  21. Roper, Reese (September 26, 2014). "Song Explanation: "I Am Jack's Smirking Revenge"".
  22. Roper, Reese (September 4, 2014). "Song Explanation: "To Start A Fire"".
  23. Roper, Reese (August 7, 2014). "Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter: Music Video & Explanation".
  24. Roper, Reese (July 31, 2014). "Into Your Veins: Music Video & Explanation".
  25. Deming, Mark. "Engine of a Million Plots > Five Iron Frenzy". Allmusic.
  26. 1 2 Argyrakis, Andy (January 6, 2014). "Five Iron Frenzy: Engine of a Million Plots". CCM Magazine.
  27. 1 2 Houston, Rob. "Album Reviews: Five Iron Frenzy - 'Engine of a Million Plots'". HM.
  28. Brown, Lee (November 22, 2013). "Lee Brown – Engine of a Million Plots | Reviews". Indie Vision Music. Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  29. 1 2 "Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots". Jesus Freak Hideout. November 24, 2013.
  30. 1 2 Knight, Ben (November 22, 2013). "Album Review: Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots". JesusWired.
  31. 1 2 Lorton, Zach (November 27, 2013). "GGR Music Review: Five Iron Frenzy – "Engine of a Million Plots"". Geek Goes Rogue. Patheos. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  32. Orteza, Arsenio (April 5, 2014). "Notable CDs". World.
  33. Schneider, Paul (December 5, 2013). "Turntable: 'Engine of a Million Plots' by Five Iron Frenzy". ChurchMag.
  34. "Five Iron Frenzy – "Engine of a Million Plots"". ReadJunk. December 9, 2013.
  35. Thul, Jamie (November 23, 2012). "Ska Lives Album Review: Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots". Ska Lives. Archived from the original on November 28, 2013.
  36. Roper, Reese (December 3, 2015). "Boomerang: Song Explanation From Reese".
  37. Roper, Reese (December 27, 2015). "Between the Pavement and the Stars: Song Explanation From Reese".
  38. Fryberger, Scott (November 22, 2015). "Five Iron Frenzy - Between Pavement and Stars". Jesus Freak Hideout.
  39. Schneider, Phil (January 23, 2016). "'Between the Pavement and the Stars' by FIF [Saturday Morning Review]". ChurchMag.
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