Review Summary: “So Trust That With This End, A New Beginning Is Waiting Patiently”
Where to even begin with this one… The lead up to “Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional” called for a plethora of unknown expectations regarding the album the band themselves. When Casey Crescenzo announced the album less than a year after the release of its predecessor, “Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise,” the first thought was how can they possibly have recorded a quality album in such a short amount of time? The answer to that question was that they wrote and recorded much of Act V at the same time as Act IV. That begged the question, is this going to be Act V or Act IV part 2? The announcement included the claim that this would be last “Rock” album in the Act Series. So for many The Dear Hunter fans, this may be perceived as the conclusive pinnacle of arguably the greatest (and certainly the longest) “rock opera” made. After the first listen there are two things that were blatantly clear. The first is that Act V stands on its own as the addition to the Act series that journey (and fans) deserved. The second is that this is the most polished Act of them all. That’s not to say it will be your favorite. Everyone has attachments to specific Acts for different reasons. However, at face value from a musical composition standpoint, this is the most aesthetically diverse and creative chapter in the Act series.
As mentioned, this album was written to a certain degree in conjunction with Act IV. It needed to be. The two play off each other so well. Act IV starts off with The Boy’s “Rebirth” but by the time Act V starts, The Boy has entered into his “Regress”. The entire series has focused on The Boy evading the struggles he has encountered. Act IV was almost… almost… a sign of hope that the Boy would be able to disappear into his new life until it all collapsed at the end. Act V embodies the Boy facing those demons and the tone of the album follows suit. It is almost as if “Hymns with the Devil in Confessional” is the equal and opposite counteraction to “Rebirth in Reprise”. Even the third track on Act IV, “Waves”, crashed into the impending “Cascade” (the third track on Act V). There are multiple instances where The Dear Hunter goes back to melodies, rhythms, and lyrics original to Act IV that provide new perspective and new meaning in the blue light of Act V such as ‘Far too many ways to die’ in “The March” stemming from “The Old Haunt.”
“Hymns with the Devil in Confessional” is darker and deeper than the other acts and provides a level of complexity that brings the emotional struggle of the story to the fore front more than any of its predecessors. The vocal duet that exist in “The Haves Have Naught” give new life to the characters that previously wasn’t as directly presented as they are here. “The Haves Have Naught” bounces back and forth between vocalists beautifully illustrating the ongoing struggle between The Boy and The Pimp/Priest. The song before that, Mr. Malum (on His Way to Town)… I’m sorry, “Mr. Usher (on His Way to Town)” shows the true eclecticism that The Dear Hunter derives their inspiration from. The jazz and big band roots that showcase themselves here solidify that the Dear Hunter isn’t necessarily a progressive rock band but more as Casey Crescenzo himself articulates it in an interview with Live Nation TV, “Its music born from a place of organic creativity and the desire to be expressive, more so than fitting a genre.” Don’t let that be misleading though.
Yes, this album (and Act IV to a lesser extent) has an instrumentation ensemble that bring a dynamic quality to the newer records that isn’t as prevalent in first half of the story, but they still have moments reminiscent of older material. “The Flame (is Gone)”, “The Fire (Remains)”, and “The March” are back to back to back near the end of the album and would stack up nicely with songs off Act III like “Mustard Gas.” These songs thrive off the sheer energy they expel and really carry the album as it reaches its near end. The variation these songs provide in comparison to songs like “Light” or “Melpomene” create an extremely engaging and balanced record. It is also worth noting that the organizational structure of the album perfectly facilitates that engagement and balance that might feel chaotic if slated differently.
The album ends with “A Beginning” and for such a title, it leaves the listener with a sense of finality. It is difficult to listen to the end of the album without thinking about everything Casey has said regarding the future of the Act VI and how this might be the end. Is Act VI is something that will augment the story in lieu of concluding it? Because truthful, it could end here (not that it should). The song ends with a message that appears both important to the story and a message to the fans, “So trust that with this end, a new beginning is waiting patiently.” After that, the album fades out to the outro from “The Lake South” and “Vital Vessals Vindicate” causing an additional perception of conclusion. If this is the conclusion, they did it right. But really, no one knows what will happen except for the band themselves. This album is spectacular from a compositional and aesthetical standpoint that will help define the legacy of The Dear Hunter as one of the most talented bands of their era. Act V does not have a bad song; it has great songs and incredible songs, pulling in aspects from all of their albums (including “The Color Spectrum” and “Migrant”). It certainly sounds like the Flame and the Fire both remain.
The Moon / Awake
Mr. Usher (on His Way to Town)