The Dear Hunter

Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise

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After amping up the drama on Act III's family reunion during World War I, the Dear Hunter return with Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise. Six years after the curtain closed on the previous Act, the tale of the titular Dear Hunter continues in song, while the real life Dear Hunter band make a giant leap in creativity, production, and pushing their own boundaries (much credit is owed to their break from the Acts on 2011's Color Spectrum collection, 2013's Migrant, and a 2015 symphony, Amour and Attrition). The prog-core of the first two Acts -- mostly set aside on Act III -- is just a memory here, as frontman Casey Crescenzo shoots for the stars of Broadway, firmly justifying the oft-used description of Acts as a "rock opera." Act IV is epic in scope and absolutely gorgeous, their most accomplished thus far in the series. More than ever, the story and the songs are completely entwined. This shouldn't be a hindrance for outsiders -- since the music is so enjoyable -- but rather an invitation to delve into the world that Crescenzo has created. From the standout single "Waves" to the return of the "Bitter Suites" (which haven't been heard since 2007's Act II), Act IV serves as both the most pop-friendly entry point for outsiders and a rewarding gift for fans who may have dreamt of something even more impressive. The show begins as the Dear Hunter returns from war ("The Old Haunt"), where he serendipitously met his deadbeat dad and his honorable half-brother on the battlefield. Having assumed his slain brother's identity ("Rebirth"), he decides to find said brother's mother and girlfriend, referred to as The Lover. The Lover's father is a Senator, who helps the Dear Hunter run for public office (as his dead brother!), which leads directly into the main conflict of Act V. These elements add enough new pieces to an already complicated puzzle, but fans will delight in dissecting the fresh bits of the story. Allusions to previous Acts are the most satisfying Easter eggs: the rollicking "A Night on the Town" references both Act II's "Bitter Suites" and Act III's standout "Mustard Gas," and the return of the main villain -- the Pimp/Priest (seen in the cover art as the nefarious plague doctor) -- brings listeners back to familiar settings like the Lake and the River and the whorehouse known as the Dime, and breathes life into the City where so much of the action has (and will) occur. Exciting new sonic experiments also mark Act IV as Crescenzo's most adventurous, from the Bowie-esque '80s dance party "King of Swords (Reversed)" to the menacing dub of "Wait." For those following the narrative, the end of Act IV ("Ouroboros") is a nerve-wracking confrontation between the Dear Hunter and the Pimp/Priest, who threatens to expose the newly elected official as an identity-stealing fraud. Like any effective cliffhanger, the album ends so abruptly that one can almost imagine a "To Be Continued" message appearing on an imaginary screen. As events would unfold in Act V (which followed a year later), the chronicle of the Dear Hunter remains one of the most engrossing and exciting in the world of modern rock.

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