From the 13th of August to the 17th of August in 1876, Richard Wagner premiered the entirety of his newest opera, the one which would define his legacy after 26 years of working on it, Der Ring de Nibelungen. While Casey Crescenzo hasn't spent nearly as much time with The Dear Hunter (~9 years), nor as much time working on his the Acts albums, the six part story has as much passionate heights and ambition as Wagner's work did over 100 years ago. It's no surprise to hear, then, that his biggest influences include the “big, lush, giant sounds” of Romanticism. It is a surprise to hear that, after 6 years of working on unrelated projects (The hodge-podge Color Spectrum and oddly one-off Migrant), he's returned to his hexology with Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise. But, for all its Wagnerian charms, I didn't find the musical or lyrical dynamo in this belated continuation; in fact, since The Color Spectrum, it's become clear to me that there's more passion than power in this grandiosity.
Which isn't to say the album lacks strength. “Rebirth,” which opens the album, has all the trademarks of a Dear Hunter song: light instrumentation that emphasizes the tight, often yelped harmonies followed by an orchestral piece that announces a new tone and new song. This new song, “The Old Haunt,” filters the previous harmonies through anathema. It's no mistake that the opening of Act I, “Battesimo Del Fuoco” into “The City Escape,” is parallel structurally. Act IV is its inversion. The rebirth in reprise is a musical and narrative one in terms symbolized by the last track's title, “Ouroboros.” Escaping the city becomes returning to it, leaving the deceased mother to living with the surviving step-mother, from the Dear Hunter to becoming his step-brother, all summed up in the moanful cry of “I never wanted to be your city's son.” Although I'm not sure how the embarrassing disco revisionism of "King of Swords (Reversed)" belongs.
I played “Bitter Suite IV and V: The Congregation and the Sermon in the Silt” – a continuation of both the wordplay and acrimony towards organized religion that began in "Suite I" through "III" from Act II – for my brother. Non-plussed, he said he'd grown to think Dear Hunter didn't vary enough to be interesting. And it's true, to an extent, that Crescenzo imbues his work with the mercurial and familiar; that's how Wagner, and the Romantics, worked as well: in Leitmotif. I also found myself absorbed in the experience more than the composition of Das Rheingold when I saw it with my friend years ago. And whenever I listen to a Dear Hunter album I think, “I could stage this as a rock opera.” It carries itself as an oldie, for better or worse. It's a sound that demands to be seen as much as to be heard. Why else would you write with colors?