It’s been a bit over six years since the last time The Dear Hunter released a piece of their grand, turn of the century, six-act epic of a rock opera. Within that time Casey Crescenzo has drifted far and away from the continuation of Acts, which left the impending Act IV release in an awkward limbo on the conceptual madman’s backburner. But the releases of The Color Spectrum and Migrant allowed Crescenzo to not only escape the repetitive nature of sticking to a storyline, but also to cement a complete line-up of incredible musicians for the first time since Act II. Now here we are, six months following the surprising announcement of Rebirth in Reprise and we can finally hear their contribution to their namesake’s storyline.
Simply put, this record is phenomenal.
It pulls you in from the opening seconds of “Rebirth” with Crescenzo leading in a chorus to serenade us with our first melody, separating to encapsulate the definition of the title and general tone of the record before being led out by a delightful arrangement of percussion and that signature circus-esque atmosphere that fans of the Acts have come to know. The fifteen track, seventy-five minute journey leads down a haunting path that skips between the band’s typical progressive rock sound and other elements that they have toyed with in the time since Act III. They bring every aspect of music they can to the table for what culminates in a whole and grandiose example of musical evolution rather than simple progression.
The first third of the album brings us back to the story’s mainland in a stream of consciousness styling. “The Old Haunt” asserts its dominance early with drummer Nick Crescenzo’s snare roll and the band is off to the races. It maintains it’s abrasion before weaving in more melody in the chorus, which then becomes a mainstay as the track seamlessly transitions to a calm before unleashing a fury to ride out on. Going from that through the more ballad rock single “Waves” is refreshing like a feeling of the ocean’s breeze that the track portrays. The underlying strings complement the band’s excellent instrumentation, one of many moments throughout the record that feel stronger due to Crescenzo’s experience dabbling in other records as well as composing his first symphony.
The haunting electronics and vocals that make up the first minute of “At The End Of The Earth” are another example of the band’s spectacular efforts to expand their sound, which then transition perfectly through impeccable chorus to a ripe guitar solo a la Pink Floyd. It’s a dimension of progressive rock that hadn’t been represented much in their sound until now, acting as a dynamic foundation behind the transitions throughout the record. The potential of piano in The Dear Hunter’s sound was truly proven with 2013’s Migrant, and it takes center stage again in “Remembered”. It’s here where Crescenzo’s vocals shine as a complementing layer to the piano and majestic orchestration rather than being in the front of the mix, in what proves to be one of the record’s more intricately arranged tracks.
Of course it’s fitting for all of that to be followed up by “A Night On The Town”, the 9-minute epic of a lead single that swings and blasts the album’s second act into the fold. The amount of musical diversity in this track is completely off-the-wall, switching effortlessly from the uptempo party vibe and brief moments of calm to pause, before one of the many reprises to the melodies of earlier acts pulls the curtain and devolves into a creepy combination of tones. That leads perfectly into “Is There Anybody Here?”, which maintains the record’s cinematic subtlety while channeling energy from Dark Side of the Moon. The stark contrast between verse and chorus astounds, and when combined with yet another mind-blowing guitar solo it stands out to be one of the best tracks on a record full of them.
The second half of Rebirth in Reprise is drastically different in both tone as well as diversity of genres. “The Squeaky Wheel” hits a very hard pop-rock note, leaving Crescenzo’s impressive vocal melodies to take center stage and blow everything away. The pair of “Bitter Suites” is trip through the center of the Acts’ antagonism, going from a spine-tingling, accordion-led “Congregation” to a despicably villainous “The Sermon in the Silt”. Both are eclipsed by the sixth part of the suite “Abandon”, which is comprised of such delicate instrumentals underneath some of the best vocals that Casey Crescenzo has ever recorded. It hits like a fist straight to the chest before being overtaken by barrage of ambient, post-rock sounds fighting their way past formidable stringed foes.
Where the record goes from here continues to surprise and blow me away with each listen. “King of Swords (Reversed)” combines a The Doors’ “Burning Down The House” , disco-pop style of swagger that unfurls into a pop-soaked monster of a Broadway musical chorus as Crescenzo belts “I never wanted my name up in bright lights/But I think that I might be there soon/I owe it all to you”. As the track fades out following the climax you probably aren’t expecting the Smash Mouth tone that opens “If All Goes Well” and clings to the background throughout, but it happens and works brilliantly. “The Line” shakes things up by offering the record’s gentlest moments, drawn from aesthetics found on the Green and Blue EPs from The Color Spectrum. “Wait” also yields comparisons to the nine EP effort, specifically the more industrial sounds on the Black EP. Desperate calls of fear for Heaven being real are backed up by the track’s intense synth wahs and yet another vocal performance that avoids becoming stale.
The culmination of the journey taken through arrives with “Ouroboros”, which at first haunts with ghostly guitar melody and dazzling rhythmic notes, then expands with Crescenzo’s vocals. The calls of “I fell down then I fell apart/I never wanted to hurt no one/I never wanted to be a city son” claw their way into your memory before an exchange of horns signals in the expanded instrumentation that eventually leaves a satisfying, cliffhanger ending to both the music and the story behind it.
I didn’t expect to love this record as much as I do. Being a fan for several years, I feel like most of that has stemmed from my adoration of their concepts more than their music. Their non-Act projects have helped to fully define what this band does and how they go about doing it, which is what fuels Rebirth in Reprise to be so incredible. It achieves a peak level of cinematic presentation, instrumentation, production and overall scope that we’ve yet to see from The Dear Hunter, which surpasses not only the band’s entire discography but the general state of each genre that this record intersects. It only took six years, but the wait for Act IV, as well as the band’s definitive release, is finally over.