Album: Act III: Life and Death by The Dear Hunter
Released: June 23rd, 2009
The Dear Hunter was formed in 2005 after Casey Crescenzo was kicked out of his previous band, The Receiving End of Sirens. What was originally a side project while he was in TREOS, The Dear Hunter became Casey’s full-time project and he recorded the first album, Act I: The Lake South, The River North, almost entirely on his own with help from friends and family. Telling the tragic life story of boy a growing up at the end of the 19th century, the band released the first three acts in 2006, 2007, and 2009 before taking a departure with their 2011 release, The Color Spectrum. This collection contained nine four-song EPs; each individual EP corresponded to a color for a total of 36 songs of various genres and moods. The band followed up with another stand-alone release, Migrant, in 2013 before returning to release the fourth and fifth acts in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The Dear Hunter has released seven full-length albums in the eleven years since their first album, continues to tour, and released a new EP last Friday titled All is as All Should Be.
**Spoiler Alert – Story Details Ahead**
The Story and the Songs:
Act III begins much in the same vein as the first album in the cycle. Its first track, “Writing On a Wall”, is very similar to the a capella prophecy of “Battesimo Del Fuoco” in that it sets the tone for the album; it creates a menacing introduction to the album by foretelling the tragedies to come. “In Cauda Venenum” cannons in after the military snares to evoke the urgency of battle and war. Hunter is now in the thick of it as the track’s intensity gives way to a swooning transition into “What It Means to Be Alone” which calls back to the perceived betrayal by Miss Leading from the previous album. Industrial sound effects lead into the bludgeoning track, “The Tank”, which is the first of four songs showcasing the different sides of war. It is followed by “The Poison Woman,” a song about a medic who intentionally poisons her charges, but spares Hunter after he is kind to her and gives him a vial of poison as a gift.
Things pick up with the 5/8 time signature of “The Thief” and the heavy hitting “Mustard Gas,” which is about Hunter’s unit falling victim to a (you guessed it) mustard gas attack. Hunter is saved by a man who looks startlingly similar to him in the euphoric “Saved”, only to later hear a man boasting of a past conquest who happens to be Hunter’s mother, Miss Terri (for those who don’t recall, feel free to see ACT I), in “He Said He Had a Story”. In the wake of Hunter realizing that the braggart is his father, and the soldier who saved him is his brother, Hunter tries to make sense of all this in the bouncy tune, “This Beautiful Life.”
“Go Get Your Gun” continues the upbeat pace of life on the front-line with a group of soldiers singing around a fire to keep morale up before leading into the somber, connected songs of “Son” and “Father”. These tracks describe Hunter’s decision to poison his father and take his dead brother’s identity. “Life and Death” brings the album to its end with an emotional conclusion as Hunter looks, with hope in his heart, toward the future after the war.
Act III continues to chart the band’s growth in its use of dynamics and orchestration. Clearer production, additional instrumentation, and songs that showcase different styles of music set this album apart from its predecessors for good reason; this is an album about a young man going to war and discovering the dangers and harsh realities of the world, not an innocent boy or spurned lover. Act III has remained one of my favorite albums and held the top spot until Act IV was released six years later; though things are about to get much worse for our protagonist, the songs only continue to improve in quality.
Please enjoy some song recommendations, a song from the album, and check out the band’s social media accounts below!
Song recommendations: “In Cauda Venenum”, “What It Means to Be Alone”, “The Thief”, “He Said He Had a Story”, “Life and Death”
My vinyl copy of Act III: Life and Death; re-released in 2019 with different cover art.