A confessional, bound in a naked tree, surrounded by other defoliated trees, evokes a colder, darker feeling. A cold, foggy, blue-tinged forest that looks more dead than alive in comparison to the red, golden autumn scene also prominently featuring trees that look like houses and a masked person in the center. Based on this strong antithesis between their last two records’ artworks, one might come to expect a darker side on The Dear Hunter‘s fifth act. In fact, Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional directly links to the confessional shown in the artwork, but does it sound as gloomy as it appears on the outside? Well, if you are familiar with Casey Crecsenzo’s music, you might know that he is building up kind of a rock opera based on six acts, whose storyline is about to conclude within the next record. Only one year after Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise (read our review over here), the band is adding yet another chapter to the story.
After a beautiful introduction, picked by a melodious harp playing in unison with a string ensemble in “Regress“, the first proper song starts, setting a depressing mood and spreading its dark vibe. “The Moon Awake” is, in fact, not only dusty and dark but also melodic and beautifully shaped, with a catching atmosphere that surrounds you immediately. Said atmosphere is based on a very differentiated sound, wherein the bass, in particular, is able to emancipate itself in the mix and underlines the groovy drums, which work with a lot of accentuation. The catchy chorus and perfectly fitting background singing of said song stand out as well.
“Who are you waiting for?“
“The Revival“ was the second single The Dear Hunter released in promotion of their new record and impresses me as one of the strongest tracks on Act V. This isn’t to say that there is a single weak track to be found at all. The song starts with off with very dance-worthy features, such as a brass section and groovy piano playing. Indeed, the song is based on a very rhythmical style of composition, while the vocals are carrying the melody on top of the harmonic structure composed throughout, in which the brass and guitars are supporting the accents of the drums and create a captivating background. A lot of you will instantly get earworms from Crescenzo’s line “Hey, it’s a cry you can’t contain“ in the chorus of this song. Ending with a major cadency at the beginning of the next one, this example again shows the golden thread which pervades The Dear Hunter’s records. You won’t ever lose this thread, as the songs flow directly into one another in order to create a complete piece of music, not limited to four or five minutes but instead developing over six entire records. This results in a final length comparable to some of Richard Wagner‘s famous operas, which need up two or three pauses to perform them on a single day. But instead of needing those pauses, it almost feels like The Dear Hunter‘s music is getting you addicted, creating an enormous craving to listen to it over and over again.
“Hey, it’s a cry you can’t contain.”
Rather than sticking to only progressive rock, The Dear Hunter sounds like a mixture of big band jazz and gospel on “Mr. Usher (On His Way To Town)”. It’s more so a jazzy one, with mischievous syncopes, a contrabass and gospel backing vocals as well as a retro organ synthesizer. Overall, this mélange, with some added flutes on top, works out perfectly in the concept of the band, who are always disposed to surprise people with their music by not setting themselves any musical boundaries. People who loved Act IV might recognize that “Mr. Usher” ends in a connecting interlude to the next song, too, an approach utilized on the previous record as well. Crecsenzo has also improved on his already impressive range as a vocalist, singing in higher scales that support the emotion within his vocals more often. This is to be heard on “Light“, another single. Featuring only vocals and acoustic guitars, it stands out as one of the few tracks without grand orchestration or even percussive elements. Deeper in the material, we find some typical The Dear Hunter elements. First single “Gloria“, a song with a more prog rock mood akin to the foregoing Act IV, actually contains musical quotes from the previous album. For example, if you listen closely you will recognize that there are backings that also appeared on “The Old Haunt”.
“The only truth he ever told, is that there are far too many ways to die.”
In fact, there are quite a lot of such musical quotes within the band’s records and songs, as evidenced on here on multiple occasions. “The March”, for instance, directly quotes pieces of the music and lyrics of “The Old Haunt”, as “Gloria” did before. This way you will always find something to latch on to, as a repetition of certain elements ensures high mass-appeal and guaranteed earworms. Not only that, but this method also ends up creating some sort of musical intertextuality, a feat not many bands can actually boast, unlike composers such as Bach, who already achieved it in their compositions centuries ago. For musicologists or people interested in music theory in general, The Dear Hunter are a perfect example on how to compose complex songs without becoming repetitive or overbearing. Their music feels honest and authentic, while also featuring playing on a high technical level a large amount of bands just can’t keep up with. The record later reaches its zenith with “Blood“. Introduced by a doomy church organ and some beautiful woodwinds, the lyrical highlight “I am a killer, but I’ve been killed“ is the emotional centerpiece of the song. Also, “Blood” constantly modulates from majors to minors and thus creates a wealth of feelings that fit pretty well into the Waltz-esque ¾ time signature. Thanks to the exuberant use of orchestral instruments, one could easily dance to this piece of music.
“I am a killer, I am a killer, I am a killer, but I’ve been killed.”
Quarters on the piano announce the advent of “A Beginning”, the closing track to the fifth act of The Dear Hunter‘s rock opera. This piano tune sticks around for about half of the song. Other instruments, as well as the vocals, gradually emerge to create a rising structure, which sounds enormously powerful and overwhelming. With hard-hitting drums, the second half of “A Beginning“ would also work perfectly as a score, since its choir and synthetic elements produce a mind-blowing ambiance, which will leave listeners smiling at the end and impatiently awaiting the last part of the narrative by presenting yet another orchestral cliffhanger. One can easily imagine why the last song is called “A Beginning”; it’s simply because the story has not ended yet.
“So trusted with this end, a new beginning is waiting patiently.”
To be honest, it would take more than 3000 words and a detailed description of every single song of The Dear Hunter‘s Act V to write a worthwhile review for it; there is so much diversity and ingenious playing in each of its songs that one could easily write a bachelor’s thesis about the record. The Dear Hunter released another insane record chock-full of musical art and lyrical gems. Did I hear an album of the year while listening to this record? Probably. This one is going to be on my top 10 list for sure, and may even be one of the best three records I’ve heard in a while. If you are at all familiar with The Dear Hunter, you will love this piece, even though it will certainly take some spins to get what is really going on on Act V. If you haven’t heard this band before, you should make sure to check out their previous works, and of course this one; they are so incredibly diverse that almost every fan of every kind of music will at least find one or two tracks that might convince them to fall in love with this band. If you’re searching for any weak points, you will probably find only them in the fact that the band has not yet finished their next record.
Act V: Hymns With The Devil In Confessional was released on September 9th via Rude Records.
Notable Tracks: “The Moon – Awake”, “The Revival” , “Gloria” , “Mr. Usher (Oh His Way To Town)”, “Blood”
FFO: As Tall as Lions, The Reign of Kindo, Coheed and Cambria
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