Released: Sep 9, 2016
Genre: Progressive Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
Label: Equal Vision
Number Of Tracks: 15
The fifth installment of The Dear Hunter's titular concept series, the band focus more on the opera side of their rock opera sound with stellar results.
Act V: Hymns With The Devil In ConfessionalFeatured review by: UG Team, on september 20, 2016 4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sound: Though Casey Crescenzo's project The Dear Hunter started off exclusively as a prog rock epic telling the story of an orphan journeying alone in search of identity and a proper place in the world, Crescenzo ended up taking a detour from TDH's plotted six-album concept series, whether for the sake of recharging his creative batteries, a means to explore musically without worrying about keeping things canon, or a combination of both. 2011 brought forth "The Color Spectrum," a separate concept series of EPs where Crescenzo's musical experimentation was inspired by - you guessed it - the color spectrum, and 2013's "Migrant" shied away from any kind of conceptual songwriting, simply appealing to Crescenzo's art rock style established years ago.
Having turned back onto the main trail of its concept series a year ago, TDH's fourth installment, "Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise," showed Crescenzo's experimental inclinations carrying over, where the album threw in some more contemporary flavors like Strokes-esque indie rock and disco-revival dance rock to mixed avail, clashing with the band's base sound of theatrical prog rock. Nevertheless, "Act IV" succeeded in connecting more dots conceptually - both in its symbolic melodies and narrative themes - compared to the arguably disjointed offering of "Act III: Life and Death."
Now presenting the fifth installment, "Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional," Crescenzo revealed earlier this year that this installment had been written at the same time as "Act IV," hence the quick follow-up. But though technically a sister record, "Act V" doesn't similarly attempt to imbue more dance/electronic rock elements into the band's sound like the previous album did (only a touch of synth arpeggios twinkle about in the symphonic rocker "The Moon / Awake"). Instead, the genre dabbling of "Act V" comes off more practical in what it utilizes, going hand in hand with the scenes certain songs illustrate on in the story. The country/western stomp of "The Most Cursed of Hands / Who Am I" pairs well with the man-meets-devil subject matter, the groovy horn sections augmented to TDH's base prog rock style in "The Revival" gives the hedonistic scene of a bustling brothel an extra dose of raucous swagger, and the description of an infamously dangerous man in "Mr. Usher (On His Way to Town)" properly pastiches a big band style composition for its narrative.
With the songwriting mainly gravitating towards theatrical arrangements, Crescenzo continues to hold his footing as a formidable rock opera composer in "Act V." Paired with the album's story being chock full of tragedy, the baroque pop flavor takes the wheel in articulating those emotional downs, whether it be the delicate piano and harp glissandos in the introductory "Regress," the downcast orchestration in "The Haves Have Naught," the mournful organ leading "Blood," and taking an uproaring turn in the angry mob scene of "The March." Even out of the handful of rock-driven songs, many of them appeal to reservation, like the ballad-gear art rockers "The Flame (Is Gone)" and "The Fire (Remains)," or the forlorn whimsy of the indie rocker "Cascade." In all this sadness with the sonic storytelling, the moments of happiness are far and few between, and though the fragile songwriting also continues on this side - heard in the delicate, Disney-esque fluttering of symphonic instruments in "Melpomene," and the acoustic fingerpicking of "Light" - Crescenzo throws in a couple moments of rousing energy as well, heard in the powerhouse prog rocker "Gloria," and the soaring choir melody that first appears in "The Moon / Awake" and reprises in the ending "A Beginning" to lift the song's crestfallen spirit. // 9
Lyrics: Immediately following the main character's previous actions of starting a new life for himself posed as his half-brother (whom he met briefly in "Act III" before being KIA in World War I), things start to unravel for the main character in "Act V." As the opening "Regress" broadly foretells an inevitable fall as the consequence of foolish decisions from earlier ("Slave to the seeds you've sown / Lost in the leaves... Now you're alone"), the main character immediately writhes in self-reflection in the following "The Moon / Awake," lamenting the twisted path he's traveled thus far ("If the younger me just could have seen / The trouble I'd create / He'd never have agreed to carry on"), and once again, pining for the moments of comfortable bliss he had as a child with his mother in the recurring lyrical motif "Could we return to the hymn of the lake?" Little does he know that history will repeat itself in wicked ways, all set in motion by his resent towards a life of feeling downtrodden, and with the final sentiment of brooding resilience in "The Moon / Awake" being "But trust our story's end can bring redemption in the pain endured," the allegory of a man inheriting the devil's power and damnation in "The Most Cursed of Hands / Who Am I" also serves as an analogy to the main character's position of reaching for a sense of control in his life, even if its rooted in wrath.
As shown in the following "The Revival," the main setting for "Act V" once again takes place in a brothel/religious house similar to the one his mother worked at in "Act I" and The Church and The Dime in "Act II." Because of this history, the main character has always held a complex disdain for these establishments, where his acerbic observations about how sex is a means to feelings of power and godliness ring similar to one of the main themes of Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral." But this time around, the main character not only seems to embrace the exploitative function of this service ("It's so good to be so bad / You can leave it when you walk away / And pretend you've washed your hands of it"), but seems to be in some way responsible for running this brothel ("Long was this road I've wandered / But short did my temperance live / Here I've helped him build a temple / To deify this czar of sin"), which not only contrasts his history of being prey to these brothels before, but synchs up with the previous song's symbolism of being the acting ruler of his own little hell populated with sinners.
Even though he makes this turn to the dark side, the main character still wrestles with his conscience regarding this syndicate, bargaining over the weird but pertinent cog it serves in society in "The Haves Have Naught" ("But what better use of hookers and thieves / Then greasing the wheels of perfect machines?"), and the compromising of his own values in "Gloria" ("Am I giving up the ghost again? / Surrendering so that my evils may amend"). But with the Latin phrase in the hook of "Gloria" calling back to the final sentiment in "The Moon / Awake" ("e dolore mangia gloria" roughly translates to "from pain comes glory"), the main character not only decides to rescind his support of this brothel, but decides to burn it to the ground. Not only is this temptation and execution shown in the tandem songs "The Flame (Is Gone)" and "The Fire (Remains)" a nod to one of the biggest personal adages regarding the main character, but the scene of which is identical to the fire that he and his mother escaped in the "Act I" song "City Escape." And with that fire in "Act I" possibly being caused by the mother in an attempt to escape her former life as a prostitute to make a better life for her son, the main character starts this fire with the same hope of washing his hands of his current life and start anew ("Far from the ash I will be reborn again / Where every debt is repaid / Nothing left to keep me out of paradise").
But despite the main character's attempt to wipe the slate clean, the tail end of "Act V" only shows things spiraling further. The townspeople rally up to find the fugitive who started the fire in "The March," not only sneering at the main character's true colors of having stolen his dead half-brother's identity ("An imitation of a man he left to die face down in the mud / And now the mimic is a cynic who laughs while the house of God is reduced to ash"), but sardonically repeating his fatalistic hook from the "Act IV" song "The Old Haunt" ("'Cause the only truth he ever told / Was that there's far too many ways to die / Far too many ways to die").
Though they don't catch him (or at least not yet), the main character immediately regrets his actions in "Blood," and following his renouncing of his ruse as his half-brother ("No I won't carry on / This life that I stole / It just isn't worth it"), he has a Hamlet-esque arc in the final "A Beginning," where his stewing thoughts of suicide to finally end all of his suffering is superseded by his continued hope for what's yet to come ("The silver lining still remains / The sights I've left to see / So trust that with this end / A new beginning's waiting patiently"). // 10
Overall Impression: Crescenzo's compositional output in "Act V" reaches a new height of rock opera capabilities for TDH. While the previous "Act IV" first showed that noteworthy increase of theatrical presentation in his songwriting accompanied by other attempts at sonic growth that didn't stick the landing, Crescenzo's songwriting in "Act V" flows well from front to back, and though its status of being more opera than rock compared to earlier albums may have some listeners wishing for more power, the rich orchestration that touches upon a number of styles and emotional tones has never sounded better. // 9