Review Summary: The audio equivalent of a map at the beginning of fantasy novel.Antimai
, the newest and long-awaited offering from modern prog rockers The Dear Hunter, doesn’t work as a standalone album. That’s not necessarily an insult, as it’s unclear if it’s even supposed to work as one. Casey Crescenzo has traded in the character building from the bands Flagship Acts
and is now tinkering in the world of world building. Antimai
introduces us to and contextualizes the setting of the Indigo Child, the seemingly new project that the band is pursuing. Each song establishes a different “ring” of this world, starting at the outside ring of “Poverty” and moving inwards to more privileged areas, an interesting, (if not all that original) idea. The purpose of this album is essentially an “Two households, both alike in dignity/In fair Verona we lay our scene
”, only if Shakespeare just stopped the monologue there and made people wait until the summer of 1599 for “Romeo and Juliet Pt. 2”. Essentially, this album is the map that you might discover at the beginning of a fantasy novel. It sets the scene, takes a lot of work, there is clearly detail put into it, but it’s not the reason why people buy Lord of the Rings. If it came out that, “Surprise! Tolkien has created an entirely new world and story that isn’t Lord of the Rings and we’re going to release the first part of it this week!” and then they just released a map, many fans would be fairly let down, unless they are the most ardent of Tolkien fans. It would get people interested in what stories might take place there, but very few people look at a map at the beginning of a book and then say “Alright, that’s quite enough reading for me for tonight”.
It also doesn’t help that the content of this world presented by Antimai
is fairly underwhelming. Much of that is just due to the structure of the world itself. It becomes quite clear that you’re going to start at “Ring 1 - Poverty”, where life sucks pretty bad, and then you’ll move to “Ring 2 - Industry” where life sucks slightly less but is still very awful, and so on and so forth until you get to rich people, who (and who could have seen this one coming) are pretty ***ty. There are a few different takes on social structure than one might find in, say, The Hunger Games, but overall you can guess where a song is going thematically and content wise as soon as you see its name. This is not to poo-poo this idea, as obviously the realities of a caste system and oppressive social structure are incredibly powerful and timely, but there’s nothing essentially clever or unique about Crescenzo’s take on them, even if there are some powerful lines, particularly in “Ring 5-Middle Class”. All of that in mind creates a fairly anti-climactic listen, as from song one you know essentially exactly where this concept will go.
There are times where this structure is played with, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. “Ring 6 - Lotown” is a social caste of Crescenzo's creation, but instead of being unpredictable, it’s just confusing, as it’s not entirely clear what “Lotown'' is (Farmers? Religious folks? Some sort of . . . Ice land?), making it hard to get invested in whatever commentary the band is trying to create. “Ring 4 - Patrol” is probably the most effective left turn that is taken, as the song does what The Dear Hunter does best and creates a character, a cop who is almost shockingly ignorant about why people despise him. The other Antimai
-specific social caste is “Ring 1 - The Tower”, a completely underwhelming ending song whose lyrical content also destroys much of the societal message that the band had been building to. The concept of The Tower sort of loses touch with the meaningful and biting commentary that had been built, as at the center of this inequitable world is just . . . Some person. Not systemic issues rooted in history, not a powerful ruling class of people, not some sort of propaganda media ecosystem, just what appears to be a magical being. It’s a lazy ending that undermines the metaphors that were being built. It can only be hoped that additional context regarding “The Tower” remains to be added in future stories that take place in this world, otherwise it will cheapen the concept at its core.
also signals a new beginning for The Dear Hunter as they seek to create an artistic vision that is not Acts
. While much of the progressive pop-rock base is still there, there is a heavy dose of near jazz and funk, with horns abundantly placed and the album taking on a new level of theatricality, something that before seemed nearly impossible for those familiar with The Dear Hunter’s prior work. Those choices also make this the most sonically cohesive effort the band has created, creating an issue for the concept at the heart of Antimai
, as it does very little to set the Rings, which are unique social/economic spheres, apart. This isn’t to say that all the songs sound the same, as a lot of successful creativity is happening, as is to be expected with the band. However, most tracks do borrow from similar sonic palettes, which doesn’t serve the concept well whatsoever. You live in poverty? You’re going to jam to funky rock music. You have to work to survive? You’re going to jam to funky rock music. You live in the middle class? You’re going to jam to funky rock music. You’re a cop? Guess what - You’re going to jam to funky rock music. This seems like a missed opportunity, especially when considering The Dear Hunter’s success in genre hopping in the past, and makes it harder to create any sort of emotional tie to any of the Rings. “Ring Two - Nature” is when they most try to stray from this sound, creating a more acoustic, earthy sound (still with plenty of prog elements), but unfortunately, that song is also the most forgettable of the bunch. The dance break end of “Ring 3 - Industry” will likely be controversial among listeners, as it is off-putting and ain’t no Cha Cha Slide (trust me, I tried), but it at least paints the most telling audible picture of a group of people so far removed from the problems of the world that they have a dance party after condemning people to starve. It’s strange, yes, but serves the concept musically in a way that much of the rest of Antimai
With all this being said, Antimai
is still obviously good. It features some of Casey’s best vocal performances, the prog-jazz-funk rock fusion is mostly very successful and fun to listen to when not applying it to the concept at hand, and it does clearly set the stage for an interesting story. That is also, however, ultimately its biggest issue at the same time. For an album and a band that is primarily based on the ideas of the concepts it chooses, it doesn’t matter how solid the music or production is if that concept it is tied to fails. While it is not fair to say it has failed yet, as there seems to be much more to come in this world. The characters presented are also very intriguing, including whoever the newcomer is to Ring 7, the cop in Ring 4, and whoever is in the tower, provided they actually go somewhere interesting with them. However, there will not be much reason to return to Antimai
except as a refresher for when the next story in this saga comes. All of Acts
manage to stand on their own - Antimai
doesn’t. It gets you excited for what will come in the future, but in the present, you're just staring at a map. Apologies to all cartographers out there, but maps can only be so exciting before you are itching for something more.