Review Summary: There's that subtle smile that did me in.
If there's a more masterful mind than Casey Crescenzo composing in the progressive rock arena, I'd like to hear them. The simple fact of the matter is that there's no one out there batting closer to 1.000 than Crescenzo and The Dear Hunter, and it's hardly from playing it safe. Casey and company have dialed into a new sphere of musical thinking with each release from the slow burning long-term evolution of orchestral-infused prog bombast that took the scene by storm on Acts I-III
to the deft genre-hopping of The Color Spectrum
to the down-tempo roots rock of Migrant
all the way up to his most recent outing, the synergistic and brilliant symphonic piece Amour & Attrition
Unsurprisingly, Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise
is yet another brilliant progression from a brilliant mind and a powerhouse of a band. While some have evaluated the album as a "return to form" from the previous Act
releases, Act IV
is rather forwardly an integration of all the places Casey has stepped in; all of the musical walls he's touched. As you might expect, specific themes from previous Acts reappear on Act IV
, but only in short spurts that manage to trigger remembrances of the previous albums without forcing old material into a new dressing. Meanwhile, tracks like "The Line" and "Wait" draw away from the previous Act styling, instead drawing from sounds heard from The Dear Hunter only on The Color Spectrum
. "The Line," for example, sounds like a page straight out of the Green
EP, while "Wait" toes a line between Black
. Even the musical core of the album seems more luminous than previous Acts, revolving less around misery and culminating in an explosion of radiance on the synth and disco based "King of Swords (Reversed)." While the track at first feels a bit out of place, it quickly grows to become one of the most important moments of catharsis on the album, releasing subtle angst in a moment of pure, blackout bliss.
While "King of Swords" represents one of the more unorthodox changes of pace Crescenzo has played out, another of his more common musical dalliances seems to have grown even more prominent on Act IV
- namely, the orchestral components of his works. Casey has always included orchestral elements in his compositions, but Act IV
seems to be one of the densest and most intricately layered of his works to date. Of course, one could see how crafting a symphony might help guide classical elements into the mix of a new album, but credit must also be given to Crescenzo for keeping all things appropriate. Of course, the ambition and heft (both in musical layering and compositional length) of Act IV
can be felt upon first listen, but the organic evolution of its depth and earnest character saves ambition from an air of pretense and makes way for the kind of impact that can only be achieved by skirting those lines.
Pretense and ambition aside, in what's now proper tradition for The Dear Hunter, there are also memorable hooks scattered throughout each track, from the notion of "far too many ways to die" in "The Old Haunt" to "Wait"'s dark "fear of a heaven above," all given life and emotional weight by Casey's soulful singing and reinforced by intricate harmonies and melodies old, new, and somewhere in between. To some point, it feels like this is something we've come to expect from The Dear Hunter - prime, all frills included progressive rock that honors and enhances the soul of musicality. But the precision in complex musical synthesis achieved on Act IV
simply carries the band to a new level of brilliance.
The jarring end to album closer "Ouroboros" strikes as the only point of contention on an album that will otherwise undoubtedly find its way, one day, to "Classic" status. The only question remaining is what will be next for The Dear Hunter, having accomplished so much in so little time and with no sign of slowing down. Will there be an Act V
" Or, will we be carried down another glorious rabbit hole" In either case, at this point in time, Act IV
marks the pinnacle of a storied career for The Dear Hunter, and places them squarely on steady ground with nothing but bright lights on the horizon. Whatever we see when the morning comes, it's hard to imagine it'll be anything but something somehow even more intricate and beautiful.