I like progressive rock because it tends to be less formulaic than other genres of music. You never know what to expect musically or lyrically. The Dear Hunter's new album Act III: Life and Death couldn't be any further from formulaic. It's easily one of the freshest and most original albums I've heard in years.
While this is my first exposure to The Dear Hunter, I would describe their sound as a combination of the high drama and big sound of Muse with the narrative and thematic elements of Coheed and Cambria. Where Coheed and Cambria have woven a science fiction epic, The Dear Hunter follows a protagonist through World War I. Act III is the third album in a six act series.
The Dear Hunter's sound is a bit difficult to describe as I don't know of any similar sounding contemporaries. They're a rock band, but on this album the instrumentation is amazingly varied and perfectly integrated. An array of horns, strings, piano, and electronic sounds are arranged creating a unique sound that at times comes off like a musical or Broadway soundtrack. Much of the music has a Vaudeville undercurrent which fits the period of the story.
After opening the CD case with its faux leather book appearance and aged postcards for each song, I felt like I was about to embark on an adventure. The opening track, "Writing on the Wall" , starts with accapella harmonies that are later joined by a piano. It sounded like a precursor for something really big. Next, "In Cauda Venenum" follows with its bombastic, sonic assault that drops you and the fictional character right there on the front lines. Like a rocked-out Broadway production the song features a choir, an explosion of horns and guitars, and lead singer Casey Crescenzo's strained almost screaming delivery. "In Cauda Venenum" blew me away on my very first listen. "The Tank" and "Mustard Gas" are a pair of less intense, but still very dramatic tracks that continue the high drama.
The dark lyrics found throughout the album describe the horrors of war. Most of the lyrics are deep and are definitely not your typical radio rock fare. So, while I found the sound and adventurous experience enjoyable, most of the album may not fit a casual listening mood especially if you tend to really pay attention to lyrics.
While the lyrics are heavy, you wouldn't know it from the tone of some of the songs. The upbeat "Go Get Your Gun" features a banjo and is a foot-tapper even though the morbid lyrics speak of death and war. "What It Means to Be Alone" and "This Beautiful Life" are interesting sounding poppier offerings. They're poppier in that they're softer and not as audacious or as intense as the aforementioned songs. But, they are still very unique with strings, a nice hooks, and again The Dear Hunter's unique sound.
"He Said He Had a Story" reinforces the album's thematic quality as it describes a particular scene from Act III in great detail. The song follows the protagonist as he has an encounter with a lady of the night. It's one of those unexpected places that a progressive band like The Dear Hunger can take you. It's well-told, tastefully done, and boasts one of the most memorable and catchy choruses with a swingy, Burlesque backdrop.
Act III: Life and Death transports you to a dark World War I era drama. Like the best progressive rock bands, The Dear Hunter has succeeded in creating music that is both original and accessible. You're not likely to hear another album that's so large in musical scale, so well-produced, and so unique. I highly recommend that you embark on this adventure.