The Dear Hunter is a band very special to me, and I’ve noticed many prog fans have a hard time getting into the albums, and the story because it’s not conventional prog. But i can say that any prog fan that takes the time and listens through the albums usually can’t get enough. The Dear Hunter is truly one of the greatest prog bands I know and i think it’s a shame not enough people know them, so I decided to do an overview on the band’s albums, and dig deep into the story of the albums- The plot, the characters, the musical style and the meaning behind the concept albums. You can read through the whole thing or go straight to the explanation of the story line presented in the already released 5 acts out of 6. This is going to be published in 5 parts, and this part will probably be the longest. (note from future me- i was very wrong. this one is probably the shortest and this is probably going to be published in 9 parts) I’m writing this based on information i found online- *prognotes, and more sources online that i don’t know their origin. this part is heavily based on *prognotes’ explanation of the plot.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the whole story: The story revolves around a central protagonist, who is only known to us as The Dear Hunter (probably named Hunter by his mother). Over six acts the story and music follows our protagonist from the time shortly before his birth through his entire life, with many foibles, conflicts and tragic events along the way. The story begins at the turn of the 20th century and though the locations are never specified, we know that the central locations are The City (logic and context would suggest that it’s a major city on the eastern US coast) and The Lake And The River. (taken from prognotes)
I’m hoping once you get acquainted with the story line and the style of the album, you’ll be able to get into the band much easily and be able to experience and appreciate what i believe to be one of the greatest story telling a concept album can have and one of the most unique combination of rock and prog. So first of all let’s talk about the formation of the band (taken from wikipedia):
The Dear Hunter is a progressive rock band originating in Providence, Rhode Island. It began as a side project of Casey Crescenzo, formerly of The Receiving End of Sirens. The band’s sound features a wide variety of instruments and styles. Casey is the mastermind behind the composition of the music and the plot of the storyline presented in these 6 acts. The band began as a side project of Casey Crescenzo when he was a full-time member of The Receiving End of Sirens. The Dear Hunter was originally intended as a vehicle for music Crescenzo had written that didn’t fit with the sound of The Receiving End of Sirens.
In the winter of 2005 Casey recorded the Dear Ms. Leading demos. He created 10 copies on burned CDs that were circulated amongst his friends and posted online for download. While elements and characters featured on the demos would reappear on the subsequent Acts, Crescenzo has confirmed that there was a transformation in how he represented these themes and persons; while the story had its origins in his personal life, the Acts removed most autobiographical elements in favor of fiction:
The reason I originally wrote it is obviously because I was bitter. The demos were almost all thematically interchangeable with one another. They are all kind of bitter and about a guy falling in love with a prostitute and stuff. When people call those demos an album, I just think it is a little ridiculous, because if I was to release that, I would be ashamed of myself. There is nothing to it – it’s just one subject. I went through something with a girl, and like most immature artist people, you write about it and complain a lot…And that is why I didn’t want anyone to hear those (songs from the demo)…I think I did what any writer does – they include themselves in their work to an extent as much as they can, since that is your only real link to humanity – what you experience. So if I am going to try to make anything realistic, all I have to go on is what I learned on my own…It is more that every character is a collection of experiences and feelings I have had about people in the past.
without further ado, let’s start the overview. seeing the lyrics while reading the explenation will help you understand the plot and the musical themes throughout the albums:
Act I: The Lake South, the River North
- “Battesimo del Fuoco”:
“Believe you me, the price is clear
A child born, the mother near.
To death and life, both hand in hand,
A failed life exposed the man
Who led her off into the flame
To cast her back to hell again.But, hear you me, the break of dawn
Will wash away the sins thereof.
Unto the lake, beyond the tree,
The child waits, alone is he.The flame is gone, the fire remains….”
this song acts as a prologue in which a narrator sets up what is about to transpire. “Battesimo del Fuoco” translates from Italian to “baptism of fire”. He speaks to the audience of a woman (“The Mother”) who births a child at a great price. The existence of this child will threaten and eventually be the demise of her own existence, and the child will suffer a life of grief and tragedy as a result. Essentially, while the mother will be cast into a literal hell of the afterlife, the child will experience a metaphorical hell of the living. The second verse suggests that the sins of the child could potentially be washed by the water of the lake, perhaps a metaphor for an innocent upbringing removed from The City. However, because if the inevitable death of the mother, the child will be alone waiting by “The Tree” for a salvation that will never come and will be raised into a life of sin. “The Flame Is Gone, The Fire Remains” is an important constant throughout the series, this line merely signifies that the child, our protagonist, will be alone in this world. with his mother (the flame) dead, the fire that she produced will still burn without her.
2. “The Lake South”: One of the two instrumental tracks, filled with beautiful orchestration.
3. “City Escape”: This is the beginning of the story. the story starts in The City, with a woman- The Mother, who we will soon learn is named Ms. Terri. The woman is fleeing for her life, from unknown pursuers who seem intent upon inflicting immense harm upon her. She is revealed to be a prostitute who is trying to escape her employers. She is horrible wounded by them, bleeds but continues to run. she sees a river and finds that to be her only hope to escape and survive. She jumps into the water and manages to evade them. She’s been badly injured by the experience but remains alive. “Places, people, the stage is set”: a fourth wall break (we will see this occasionally) as either a tool for the “narrator” or what we’ll soon encounter as The Oracles, who serve the role of an omniscient operatic chorus of Greek-style tragedy but also interact with both Ms. Terri and the boy at different times.
4. “The Inquiry of Ms. Terri”: After Ms. Terri escapes her pursuers, she takes a train out of The City and is finally alone in her own thoughts. It’s revealed that she’s pregnant, and that the reason for her leaving is to raise the child. The father’s identity is unknown at the moment. She wants to raise the child outside the corrupting sin of her line of work. Despite her best intentions though, she is caught in internal struggle as she attempts to reconcile her past with her future of raising a child. She worries that a woman with her past, won’t be able to raise a decent, moral child and eventually man when she herself has lived a life of sin, surrounded by immoral men. Caught in this conflict, she thinks about her worst fears for her son, that he grows up to be an indecent man who preys on women like herself. In my opinion, this fear might also be associated with the identity of the father.
Moving past her fears and doubts, she finally resolves to raise her son right. She’ll teach him how to treat a lady properly: “My love, I’ll carry you, and I’ll teach you how to treat that Leading lady that you’ll meet”. probably a reference to the other main character in Act II that he’ll eventually meet: Ms. Leading. In order to do so, she must protect him from her past- he cannot know of her former career.
The Dime- The name of the brothel which Ms. Terri was employed, will play a big role in future acts. It is mentioned in the chorus of the song, and doesn’t get mentioned by name again for the rest of this album.
5. “1878”: this song can essentially be viewed as the equivalent of a film montage showing Ms. Terri raising her young son in their cabin by The Lake and The River. the boy is growing up shielded both from the evils of the world she left behind and the past that still haunts her. throughout the story, i find the main character a bit naive and lacks “real world experience”. Probably in direct connection to the way she raised him, maybe protecting him too much in fear of him finding out about her past.
Still, it’s not easy letting go of the past. Having left behind her only source of income, Ms. Terri is clearly struggling to make ends meet for both herself and her son. “Fell in another hole (For The knife) Loss of control (For The knife).” The repeated imagery of the knife, falling into holes, and bleeding out signifies either a metaphorical struggle that’s bleeding her dry or actual contemplation of suicide. She’s constantly worrying if she is doing the right thing, even if they’re living in poverty. “Would it be so horrible if she put herself out there again for the sake of having a little more money?”. Thoughts are weighing heavily on her mind, and despite the nostalgic and generally warm feeling of the song, the content itself is not all bright and innocent.
it’s mentioned on *prognotes that the year 1878 is year that The Church, another major fixture that is about to be introduced, was established in The City.
6. “The Pimp And The Priest”: here we finally meet our primary antagonist. a man of the cloth known only as The Priest who runs The Church in the City. The Priest is quite an industrious man, we discover, as he enters a different role once the sun goes down as the proprietor of the brothel known as The Dime. The Priest finds vulnerable women to prey on from those who come to his church seeking guidance, and he manages to keep his pews stocked with the guilty sinners who frequent The Dime-whether they know it is the same man or not. I think that the reason the narrator decides to name him “The Pimp And The Priest” is to emphasize the duality of the character and the contrast between the two roles. also, we have “The Lake and The River”- a place of nativity, and pureness. By naming him “The Pimp And The Priest” he further emphasizes the contrast between good and evil.
The juxtaposition of spiritual and sexual release/satisfaction here becomes all the more twisted when you throw in the manipulation and guilt tactics needed to feed one directly into the other and back again. This probably represent a general suspicion and cynical attitude towards organized religion.”Take me to the river…”
“sing softly, sing me to the lake. sing softly bring me to the lake”: once again water is used as a way to symbolize either some sort of escape or cleansing of sin: in “Battesimo del Fuoco” mentioning the lake as a place to wash oneself of sin and “City Escape”, when Ms. Terri jumps into the lake and managing to escape The Pimp and The Priest and start a new life, cleansed of sin. it’s possible that the use of the fiver here is meant to signify the false salvation that The Church offers, since the use of “cleansing” in religious baptisms and the role that water and rivers play in that. While the lake is held in duality to it as the path of “true” salvation away from the church.
7 and 8. “His Hands Matched His Tongue” +”The River North”: this track is the first time we get the point of view of our protagonist- The Boy or The Dear Hunter as his mother called him. He is no longer a young child and is beginning to question both himself and the world around him. Being raised by his mother, shielded from the crueler and less innocent parts of life, The Boy is very naive,and without any significant life experience. Though the boy is blissfully ignorant (and will reach enlightenment many times throughout the story), he still recognizes that trouble weigh heavily on his mother and that she is hiding both her and his past from him.
Yet, he cannot bring himself to ask his mother these questions. He wants to help her, but can’t if his own mother remains a mystery to him. even outside the confines of The City and around the cleansing waters of The Lake, he still finds himself plagued by the sings of ignorance and cowardice. The Boy even recognizes that his mother will not be around forever and that he does not have infinite time to avoid asking her these questions. But still knows that he will never do it and that she will eventually pass without him knowing the answers. Still, he’ll hold onto the things she taught him: to always be a good person and to live a happy life. However as we’ll soon find, it will not be so easy for him to hold onto these words wand live by them. The tragic irony of Ms. Terri is that even after teaching her son to be good and guarding him from all the wrongs of the world he still manages to do the same mistakes as she did, and be used by powerful, immoral men. He will become a man filled with flaws, shaped by experiences to come. these experiences will shape his personality due to his ignorance and naivety.
The final track is the other instrumental song, a melancholic track. The only available version on YouTube cuts off the “hidden” postscript to the track, in which we have another fourth wall-breaking moment. We hear an audience begin to applaud, grow silent, and then we hear an orchestra tuning, with a growing swell of sound sweeping us into what will be Act II. It’s a reminder that the story hasn’t even begun.
This is Part I. We will post 4 more parts describing the plot of the other 4 acts in detail. Hope you enjoyed reading.
*part II is already up and can be found here.