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The Dear Hunter - Act III: Life And Death CD (album) cover

ACT III: LIFE AND DEATH

The Dear Hunter

 

Crossover Prog

4.04 | 282 ratings

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Baggiesfaninuk
5 stars 'Act I: The Lake South, The River North' was a brilliant taster - a 39 minute EP. 'Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading' was an awesome, sprawling, 77 minute progressive epic. And now we come to Act III: Life and Death - the third chapter (of six planned) in a fictional character's story continues from Acts I and II into the fiery abyss of World War I.

Let's get the rating out of the way first. I adored the first two chapters and would not hesitate in giving them 5 stars. But as a result, I should really give this album 6 stars (or reduce the other 2 to 4.5 stars should I review them here) as this surpasses anything that Casey Crescenzo has produced to date. It is one of the catchiest, most melodic rock albums I have heard for years. It's not quite as progressive as Act II but the range of styles, instruments and arrangements on display here show a maturity that has developed in Casey's writing and as a result, this record arguably has a more commercial edge, albeit the quirkiness remains with some very atmospheric sound effects between some tracks.

Now whereas it's easy to draw comparisons from Casey's previous group The Receiving End of Sirens and similar indie rock fare such as Circa Survive and also from modern prog-heads such as The Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria, those groups might mean little to those who rely on UK radio airplay to whet their musical appetite. With Act III: Life and Death it's easy to draw comparisons with a wealth of more commercial musical talent with which most will be familiar. Here's my rundown of all tracks:

1. Writing on a Wall - Opens the album with the most beautiful a capella harmonies before piano joins in. The vocal harmonies are a strong element throughout the album and are reminiscent of some of Queen's early work. This track virtually picks up from where Act II finishes and having played the albums back to back the link is virtually seamless. What is noticeable straight away though is the production and depth of sound. This is a major improvement on the previous albums.

2. In Cauda Venenum - Is a huge battery of sound. There's a fanfare of guitars and chugging organ to kick off, followed by a powerful rock workout. This track is probably the closest in style to anything from Act II and demonstrates who much stronger Casey's vocals have become in the time between recordings. There's almost a Latin / Spanish style to some of the riffing half way through and the trumpet refrain sets up the song for another round of the catchy chorus before the song changes direction at the end - the last minute providing an orchestral, dreamy Beach Boy ballad feel.

3. What It Means to be Alone - This song starts off sounding like the best track Keane never recorded! And then the bridge to the chorus is like a brilliant piece of Queen with the chord progression setting up the chorus perfectly. And oh...what a chorus!!! Think the best from the post Richie era Manic Street Preachers and you won't be far off. Fantastic melody and worthy of the price of an album just for this one track. The wall of sound throughout the track is mind-blowing. This builds up until a minute before the end, when the song is stripped down to vocals and strings for a sort of orchestral Keane finale.

4. The Tank - This track kicks off with a rather robust and quirky orchestral motif, which is repeated between verses before the yet another stand-out chorus, full of the most beautiful harmonies and extremely melodic. You won't get this out of your head for hours. Again, the Beach Boys and Queen spring to mind. There's a laid back refrain with harmonic backing vocals and snare drum before a crescendo builds up to an awesome repeat of the chorus. There's a hint of Maroon 5 appearing in the vocals here. Mind-blowing!

5. The Poison Woman - There's a rag-time and Vaudeville atmosphere here; Queen's 'Good Old-Fashioned Loverboy' is a useful reference. The vocals are fabulous and the more you listen, the more you realise the amount of care and attention given to the background. There's so much detail before the track picks up in a sort of swing - Maroon 5 style; yes - it's hard to describe but you'll know what I mean when you hear it. It all hangs together beautifully.

6. The Thief - Distorted guitars and vocals hail the start before a quirky progressive beat kicks in and the harmonic vocals and keyboard arpeggio crescendo spark comparisons with the best of Muse circa Origin of Symmetry. The track twists and turns through a psychedelic backdrop and underpinned by throbbing bass. This is the most atmospheric track so far and I can only imagine the fun they could have with this in a live workout scenario. Then just when you think this song has nowhere else to go, the wonderful verse kicks back in, finally fading out with melodic tinkling bells and a sinister orchestral arrangements.

7. Mustard Gas - Starts very powerfully with a Muse / Queen style fanfare. Again Origin of Symmetry springs to mind. There are some very heavy and distorted guitars accompanying Casey's (almost screamed) vocals here but the melody and ear for a tune is never lost. And then, out of nowhere appears another piece of Vaudeville before going back to the main verse of the track. This is then followed by a kind of heavy Fleetwood Mac style arrangement. This motif is repeated until the distorted guitars finally fade out accompanied by plucked strings and piano flourish.

8. Saved - This track takes down the tempo after some pretty bombastic and heavy arrangements. Plenty of piano and acoustic guitar here. This reminded me a bit of Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme - kind of similar to the quieter tracks from Pornograffitti. The vocal arrangement carries the song extremely well. Played live, you can almost imagine the sea of lighters held aloft! About 3 minutes in there's a lovely Beach Boys style vocal arrangement, underpinned by deep drum patterns, followed by strings.

9. He Said He Had a Story - Back to a raunchy Vaudeville style here as this song recalls the central character's saucy encounter. This is quite quirky and you can just imagine turn of the century US theater, stocking tops, burlesque and drag. There's a sinister interlude before the main track kicks in again in a more rock style similar to Muse.

10. This Beautiful Life - This opens with Casey's vocal and piano carrying a great tune. Then the acoustic guitar and bass blend in before a sort of quirky rock Vaudeville bounces along with 60s style soundtrack backing vocals quite nicely until halfway when this seamlessly blends into a wonderful vocal harmony which builds Queen-like until you're left with just a lead vocal and piano. A circus style backing gradually joins in with quirky percussion until more 60s backing vocals finish of the track.

11. Go Get Your Gun - This is a bit of Country and Western - Dear Hunter style! You get a real Wild West feel with this, mixed with some Ragtime in the chorus. Very clever guitar work, with mandolin / banjo picking in the background. The harmonies stand-out again here; a real strength throughout the album.

12. Son - This is the start of a trilogy to close the album. There are some very rich vocal harmonies at the start. The depth and accuracy are spine-tingling. Then a piano, strummed acoustic guitar and bells accompany the lead vocal in a wonderful tune. The chorus is similar to Muse but stripped down to just piano accompaniment. Then there's a sudden change of direction as this leads directly into...

13. Father - A lovely percussive and piano motif open the track up before Casey's vocals softly sing a wonderful melody. Plenty of strings and piano give this a stage musical sort of feel. Then another seamless change into a fabulous melodic vocal arrangement. There is such depth to this track without it being heavy or over the top. The arrangement builds as other instruments kick in throughout. This all builds nicely until suddenly it's just vocal and piano playing the track out to lead straight into......

14. Life and Death - There's a real Beatles feel right at the start, but vocally it's reminiscent of Jellyfish circa Bellybutton and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. A lovely soft tune then just kicks into the most amazing chorus. This will just blow your mind. It's like the best of the Manics again and after a few more quirky and softer tracks, we're back to the heavier style with distorted guitar backing but never losing that melodic edge. There's some sinister phrasing halfway through but it's so impeccably arranged and produced. Unbelievable. And the chorus comes back to tingle the spine once more. Then there's a piano / vocal refrain and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's about to fade out to close. But no. The guitar comes back in and builds...and builds. And then, you get a fabulous instrumental version of the chorus. This is another tune that will stay in your head for hours. The track - and the album - finally finishes with a simple piano arrangement.

Well that's it. 57 minutes of absolute beauty and brilliance in my opinion. If you've read this far, thank you. Although I do apologise for the long review, an album such as this is deserving of the time. I simply can't stop playing this album and I love it so much, I felt compelled to write this review. If one person reads this, buys the album and enjoys it as a result, that will be job done as this group deserve to be heard and appreciated. The amount of mediocre output heard on popular radio stations is a crime when there is so much talent falling under the radar. And this album is a fantastic example of what's available if you look beyond the obvious. I hope the references help to give you an idea of what to expect. I'm almost certain you'll hear nothing quite like this album for the rest of the year and for those that enjoy rock / indie / prog and more, there's something for everyone here.

Buy and enjoy. 5 Stars.

Baggiesfaninuk | 5/5 |

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