Sound — 9
I'm constantly hearing how people miss Jimmy and think the band just isn't the same without him. And they're right. It is different. Radically different. But I submit that it has changed for the better. Jimmy's unique squeals are perfectly rowdy enough if that's all you need to bang your head to. But Jimmy never displayed anywhere near the diversity in sound that Stephen has brought to the band. Throw in the excellent back up vocals that Michael Murphy and Brennan Chaulk contribute, and you have a great mix. It was via "Pressure the Hinges" that I became aware of and intrigued by HTD's sound. Their intensity and flexible management of vocal techniques made them stand out. But nothing prepared me for what was to come with "Dreamer". Right away, the music is different from all their other albums. It has something none of the others did: atmosphere. For the first time, the emotion and intent of their music was seeping out in a manner that testified to how much maturing they had done. "Dreamer" is a masterpiece. The loss of Barnes and drummer Devin Chaulk (for quite varied reasons), has no doubt left a mark. It is clear that as the opener, "68", plunges in, and states in the chorus, "We came this far to tear the curtain", that the band intends to break new ground as they move ahead. The single, "Mad Man", is an intense declaration of a pledge to go on, fueled by masterful guitar work, electrifying drums, and a hook that won't quit. The music video, literally a moving art show, is also a testament to the new, more mature HTD. As a whole, the album moves into totally unexpected areas. After blowing the listener away with cleverly crafted melodies and harmonies weaved into fast-paced songs like "Mad Man" and "Invoke Reform", things slow down for a bit for the thoughtful "Labyrinth". Here, the solemn sadness that has belied many of the other tracks is laid bare inside a somber tune that marches dutifully on, like a prisoner destined to walk until he can no longer. The vocals are soft and smooth, laced with thick regret. And even some piano-work is featured near the end, for a surprisingly pleasant detour. As this track winds up, we are thrown head-long into a very vividly intense narrative, "Porcelain". Finally, a calming acoustic rendition of "Autumn" rounds out the collection. Throughout it all, the vocals are precisely as harsh or as melodic as necessary to evoke the strongest emotion from every lyric.
Lyrics — 10
Lyrically, this album is a masterpiece, there is no other way to describe it. The lyrics are so deeply profound in a way that only a person with a very rich life experience could pen, yet still fueled with a youthful passion. Examine the contrast between the highly allegorical "An Adult Tree" with the nearly strict narrative "Porcelain", and you'll find quite a variety indeed. Be sure to check out "Mad Man" on Youtube to sample their material.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall, an excellent accomplishment that I fear shall be difficult for even them to top. HTD has firmly established themselves as a premiere metalcore band, and let us hope that they can continue to play for some time. Expect something that you can both headbang to and also appreciate like an elegant piece of art or fine wine. "Dreamer" does exactly what music is supposed to: it captures emotion, skilfully masters musical execution, and delivers a bit of food for thought among its lyrics. As you go through, expect to go from enjoying one song to the next, appreciating each one for its uniqueness as you uncover it, like viewing a kaleidascope.