Sound — 7
Originally created to be a secondary outlet for Casey Crescenzo's compositions that didn't fit the frame of his former band, The Receiving End Of Sirens, The Dear Hunter's aspirations would soon bloom into a big, immersive prog rock wonderland, with Crescenzo plotting out a six-act/album storyline for the project. With the first album, "Act I: The Lake South, The River North," making for a good introduction, both in the sense of kicking off the story and for Crescenzo emigrating from his former emocore residence to a neoclassical prog rock home, "Act II: The Meaning Of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading" made a bigger leap into this endeavor, with its near-eighty-minute runtime elaborating upon the band's neoclassical prog rock sound. Crescenzo may have felt that to be overindulgent, however, as the third installment, "Act III: Life and Death," was concerned with keeping itself more contained, for better or for worse.
With those first three albums released in a relatively short timeframe, The Dear Hunter spent the next few years working on albums not connected to the main canon, in an effort to give it time to breathe and to experiment outside of it. 2011's "The Color Spectrum," a tangential concept album that entertained the idea of composing music based on the idea of colors, was an outlet for The Dear Hunter to dabble in different genres - from industrial and blues rock to indie folk and post-rock - and 2013's "Migrant" would be a non-concept album that was more or less a warm-up session for the band to get back into their prog rock gear.
Now back in the canonical saddle with "Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise," The Dear Hunter strive to make this installment another jam-packed and ambitious one, similar to the likes of "Act II," if not more so. The "rock" half of the band's prog rock sound, which was considerably lacking in "Act III," makes a strong comeback here, most notably with Crescenzo going above and beyond in the guitar solo of "Is There Anybody Here?" The orchestral aspect of the band also flaunts more power this time around, with interstitial interludes in "Rebirth," "The Old Haunt," "Waves" and "Ouroboros" wielding a film score level of grandiosity. And with the album touting a number of sonic motifs (like the main melody of "Waves" appearing again in the middle interlude of "A Night on the Town," and the chord progression in "The Old Haunt" reappearing slightly altered in "Is There Anybody Here?" and again in "The Bitter Suite IV and V: The Congregation and the Sermon in the Silt"), as well as melodic callbacks to earlier material (like the ending tribal melody of "The Old Haunt" calling back to the opening melody of the "Act II" song "The Lake and the River," and the slow piano arpeggio in the third part of "A Night on the Town" calling back to the same melody in the beginning of the "Act II" song "The Bitter Suite I and II"), Crescenzo's deftness as a prog rock composer has certainly increased.
The other big effort "Act IV" tackles regarding the sonic aspect is a sizable increase in its repertoire of musical styles. Considering The Dear Hunter's previous two albums, this makes sense, but the numerous deviations from their regular prog rock sound both sink and swim. Continuing to entertain the Radiohead-inspired soft electronica that Crescenzo tried out in the indigo part of "The Color Spectrum," deep and permeating synth elements in "At the End of the Earth," "The Bitter Suite VI: Abandon," "The Line" and "Ouroboros" amplify the pensive demeanor these songs wear. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Crescenzo also makes a few efforts for catchier, pop-oriented songs, like the pop folk torch ballad of "Waves" that sounds a bit like Of Monsters And Men, the perky pop rock cut "The Squeaky Wheel," and the rousing singalong chorus of "A Night on the Town" that evokes the likes of 30 Seconds To Mars circa "This Is War." These more pop-driven moments don't sully the album with saccharine, but the big missteps of "Act IV" are found in the more dance-driven style changeups - from the minor offense of dubstep-esque synth swells in the beginning of "Wait," to the more egregious curveballs of the neo-disco "King of Swords (Reversed)" and the new rave indie rocker "If All Goes Well," these moments stick out like a sore thumb on "Act IV" and simply make no case for themselves to beneficially add to the album's already-diverse palate.
Lyrics — 9
Where the story previously left off, the main character stole his half-brother's identity after he died in the war in "Act III," with the intention of fleeing to his half-brother's mother's home (the main character's step-mom, of a sort) to live with her, posing as her real son - a clear effort for the main character to try claiming some kind of parental comfort and security, since he lost his real mother in the beginning of "Act II" and, understandably, is still haunted by that. But with Crescenzo's final line in the opening track "Rebirth" being the cryptic "I'll be me, in time," one can sniff out a foreshadowing of the main character's ruse falling apart sooner or later.
Aptly named, "Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise" takes place back where the main character was in "Act II," under his aforementioned new identity. Though the main character hides under this new guise as an effort to detach himself from his tragic past, the early moments of the album have him wrought with pain over his two biggest losses: his dead mother, whom he reflects upon in "Remembered," which returns the early lyrical motif of "The flame is gone but the fire remains" that previously appeared in "Act I" and "Act II"; and his bittersweet love, Ms. Leading, where he seethes over his idea of her cold detachment from his emotion in "Waves" ("You knew the way things were / You knew the way they would be / We knew exactly how it'd end"), and then immediately pines over his resonant memories of her in "At the End of the Earth" ("And the echoes of you rhyme like a distant verse on forgotten words").
After his reflections, the main character sticks to his guise as a different man as he goes into town, but it's soon revealed in "A Night on the Town" what his intention is with his new identity - visit Ms. Leading. Obviously, there are layers to this intention - though his face-value anger possesses him to do this in hopes to break her heart as an act of revenge (indicated in the final line "Where's your heart? / Mimicking the patriarch / She's naïve," which is a callback and a perversion on the original line "Where's her heart? Mimicking the matriarch" in "The Bitter Suite I & II," which portrayed the main character being the prey in that situation"), deeper down, it's clear that he simply wants to experience her love and affection once more. In the following "Is There Anybody Here?," the main character feels like he's losing himself, both due to his newly-assumed identity, and that he compromised his principles by relapsing in his lust for Ms. Leading - furthermore, the downside of the main character using a different identity means that Ms. Leading believes she's loving another person that isn't the main character, which depresses him even more.
However, the idea that the main character believes he's fooling Ms. Leading with his new identity is soon debunked. With "The Squeaky Wheel" now telling the story in the perspective of Ms. Leading, she indicates in her own narrative that she knows that this person is indeed the main character whom she met in "Act II" ("There's my suitor, struggling to find his footing / Lost, awoken alone, after sleeping off inebriation"), and she also reveals that, despite the main character's assumption, she was hurt by his abrupt departure at the end of "Act II" ("You went missing, never mind the life I was wishing for") and that she wants to be with the main character, not understanding why he's assumed this false identity to visit her.
After the continuation of the Bitter Suite mini-series that was first established in "Act II" (though the narrative in "The Bitter Suite IV and V" that paints a scene of a predatory preacher more notably calls back to the "Act I" song "The Pimp & The Priest"), the main character gets his old feelings of love and warmth for Ms. Leading back in "If All Goes Well," and hopes that he can maintain a happy relationship with her, even if it has to be under this guise ("I swear my motive can still remain sincere"). But Ms. Leading reveals in the end that she knows the main character's real identity in the ending "Ouroboros," and even though she's willing to keep his ruse a secret ("As long as I'm protected, you can bet your secret's safe with me"), he still feels foolish for his endeavors of assuming a new identity for the sake of vengeance and escape ("Lost my soul in the place of a great deceiver / Foolish hearts led foolish plans awry"), ending the fourth act with a somber moral to the story.
Overall Impression — 9
Whether you chalk it up to the extensive amount of time Crescenzo took away from working on the main Dear Hunter concept, or the fact that Crescenzo has refrained from reducing these concept albums to a general template, "Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise" does a great job returning The Dear Hunter to their canonical songwriting and improving on it. Though not every new feature in the album's sound hits the mark, it definitely sets itself as a more diverse and elaborate album than any of the previous acts, and with the album's story based on revisiting and expanding upon the main character's arc with Ms. Leading, it makes for a more intriguing progression in the story as opposed to the somewhat disconnected story that "Act III" set.