Album Review: The Dear Hunter, ‘Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional’

Written by Andrew Howie

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The Dear Hunter is one of the most intriguing groups around right now. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Casey Crescenzo, formerly of The Receiving End of Sirens, their music is a compendium of masterfully-composed symphonic music, heavily focused on storytelling and dramatics. This does not mean it is all classical, as Crescenzo’s tightly-constructed songwriting leaps and bounds through industrial, gypsy-folk, vaudeville, horror soundtrack, progressive rock, a cappella, and more, all underneath his insane vocal range, often layered in five-part harmony and the occasional jazz break.

The bulk of the Dear Hunter’s material is the Act series (each album a different Act, obviously, and they tell the story of the Dear Hunter, an orphan around the turn of the 19th century looking for the truth about his origins). The latest installment (there will be six when the story is complete) is Act V: Hymns With Devil in Confessional, and it roars out of the gate as everything I wanted it to be. I’ve basically been waiting for this since I finished listening to Act IV for the first time. It foregoes the longer, sprawling compositions of Acts I and II, instead keeping song length under seven minutes, but packing those minutes with enough diverse material to make your head spin.

Anyone who has listened to this band before knows how the tension and release works here, Crescenzo’s voice commanding the orchestra, firmly in the driver’s seat, before it all unleashes in a screaming fire of distorted guitars, pounding drums, thunderous horns and sweeping synths. This music is meant to be deafening, played at high volume with the time to listen to an album uninterrupted. I have yet to undertake the monumental task of listening to all five acts in a row, because I really want to wait until Act VI is released and I can hear the story straight through.

Speaking of the story, it’s almost Coheed and Cambria-esque, only not in space and slightly less fantastical. As I mentioned earlier, each album is a different act in a giant script, with the protagonist learning a bit more about himself with each record. New characters are introduced, and the story is a bit easier to follow than something like Coheed. The lyrics tend to be a bit more straightforward, but the story itself is far too dense to even begin to try and tell here.

The main thing I took away from this album was that the storyline in Dear Hunter albums is careening towards a thrilling conclusion; the music almost sounds like it’s coming undone at this point, and it’s kind of an exhausting album to get through. There’s just so much to take in and pay attention to. It certainly demands multiple listens. There are also numerous callbacks to previous Acts throughout song titles, melodic motifs, and lyrical references.

If you haven’t been a fan of the Dear Hunter before now, I hesitate to tell you to start with Act V Hymns With the Devil in Confessional, simply because of where it falls within the storyline, but at the same time this is a great place for a new fan to start. The music isn’t quite as sprawling and operatic; don’t get me wrong, those elements are still there, but there is the same diversity packed into smaller, easier-to-digest songs. I also think that if you haven’t been a fan before, this album would probably make you one. Happy listening!

Rating: 9 out of 10