Hey everyone. I know it’s been a while (these reviews are hard to write), but today we start reviewing Act III of The Dear Hunter saga. In the last one we just finished Act II, with our protagonist leaving Ms. Leading and the City. He thinks he learned his lesson and is finally ready to face the world.
…. and now- Act III begins. This act is pretty dark, and takes us far away from the city and everything that transpired up to now to the horrors of World War I. This one, like the first Act is shorter and more aggressive than the second act. It took a while for me to like it when i first got into The Dear Hunter, but after a few listens I started to understand how good it is and how good is the story behind it. This Act is very interesting music-wise and the lyrics are absolutely brilliant. Casey’s a poet. so let’s dive in.
- “Writing On A Wall”:
“Come away young man where the ground is red and you need a mask to breathe.
Oh it’s been so hard, but your luck could change if you’d just roll up your sleeves.
We had tried our best to warn before but it didn’t get you far.
Now we’re here again with a wish to mend your agonizing scar.”
The Oracles are back with a warning to The Boy. As always, The Oracles are setting the scene and help move the story with foreshadowing for certain things yet to come. They reveal to us that The Boy has joined the army during World War I. We don’t actually know where, but it’s safe to assume it’s in the France-Germany border (after hearing the song Mustard Gas and The Poison Woman), probably in 1917-1918 since the us army has joined the war around that time. We don’t really know why or when he enlisted, but it was probably done in an attempt to put the past behind him and run away from his history (and it’s not going to be that easy). “Come away young man where the ground is red and you need a mask to breathe.” this is a reference to the many casualties of the war. They are offering The Boy another chance to listen to their warning and mend his scars.
“Open eyes young man vigilantly hands and a heart prepared for pain.
You will lose much more in this vicious war,
Past and present stay the same.
But the time to come can be altered some if you listen to our song… do we sing in vain?
Does the fact remain “there is nothing can’t be done?”
they’re warning him yet again from pain and loss. Things will get worse and he will continue to lose those he loves. Past and present stay the same- your actions will not change the past nor the present, so this future he’s wishing for is worthless, and will only harm him. They wonder if it’s worth it and do they sing in vain again. It’s certain that nothing can be done, since The Boy keeps acting on his own misguided instincts and doesn’t learn from past mistakes.
2. “In Cauda Venenum”
This song offer a harsh commentary on war in general and this war in particular. This story usually doesn’t offer any political commentary but this song certainly criticizes politicians and the different means people use when going to war. The album’s full of horrifying stories about the war and the way of fighting but this is the only song that actually talks from the narrator’s perspective on the different aspects of the war, almost mocking the individuals who ultimately create and fuel wars by sending others in. But i think that it has a lot to do with this particular war, that as we know- had inhuman ways of fighting that included mustard gas, fighting in underground tunnels and more. It is, one of humanities low points.
The rough translation of the title of the song is “The Poison is in the tail”. It can be interpreted as something that starts off normal enough but waits until the end to reveal its true horror. It’s very easy for different leaders and people in key roles (politicians, men of religion, and military leaders) to decide to go to war since it’s not them who pay the ultimate sacrifice in the end. It’s the simple soldiers that have to live with the horrors of this war, and their families that have to cope with the lost of their loved ones. The poison lays in the rampant bloodshed and taking of lives of those already in a position of weakness under those who command them.
“We’re biting our tongue, (biding our time),
An apparition; awoken
With an urge to own and occupy
Who ever said this was easy?
A majesty’s massacre floods the fields of red
Blood on your body naturally rushes the blood to your head
To your head!”
The Boy talk about how all of his fellow soldiers have to transform themselves (biting our tongue) and strip away their humanity for them to awaken the urge occupy possession, land and people’s lives. The ones that control the war have that urge themselves, but only see it as an abstract and not reality. For them, occupying land and possession is an idea and not reality. they don’t have to pay the psychological price that the soldiers on the battlefield have to pay. That’s the difference between an idea and it’s execution- the idea is abstract, and focuses on the final outcome. the execution on the other hand is much more demanding, and hard to bare, and it mainly focuses on the means to achieve the idea, rather than it’s final outcome.
“And now with our hands in line, these arms move tonight
and we cry “We can not allow this,”
“This is terrible.” With ideals we’re idle as they lust for more.
But oh, if we settle the score
We’d never been so excited to see you before.”
Once you start, it’s really hard to stop. The ideals cry out that what you’re doing is wrong but you can’t let the enemy, who uses the exact same means to win. As individuals, they don’t want to pay that moral price and they want to stop. But when you’re in a group, you’re willing to sacrifice your own moral principals for the group’s objective. There’s a feeling that all of it is worth it if you end up defeating the enemy, putting your trust in the leaders that tell you that you’re doing the right thing.
The song continues to talk about how “In the cradle you’re helpless”- as babies we are harmless. but we’re taught to become creatures both capable and eager to wreak havoc and create disorder in the world.
“Oh! What a terrible, terrible game we play.
Replacing a bond for a body and the players;
Politicians who say what they need to say.”
“Oh, when I think about your eyes
Oh, when I think about your smile
Oh, when I dream about your lies
Traveled all this way just to find love”
The Boy has a small flashback to the time he spent with Ms. Leading. suddenly, all of the misery he felt doesn’t feel so bad. The only reason he enlisted was to escape from his feeling towards Ms. Leading, maybe even hoping to find love there, not realizing that the only thing that he will find is misery.
3.”What It Means to Be Alone”
When The Boy sees the death and destruction around him he finally realizes what a huge mistake he has done. Right now he is truly alone and has nothing. “Prayers from above, never answered quite enough. Now the only one you have is you.” Not even god can help him at this point.
“Smoke arose on azimuth glares.
Bodies brewed in frigid winter air,
Where families’ sons are robbed beneath their feet
And hearts concede “ad ova”
The angel sings “ad astra”
Our eyes to the sea,
We thought that we had a cause for suffering
And reason enough to die alone”
this verse paints a very vivid picture of horrifying things. bodies strewn everywhere, men’s lives taken all over the place from stepping on landmines. “Ad ova” in latin roughly translates to “to the beginning” (ova meaning egg, or a symbolic inception or origin), and “ad astra” translates to “to the stars.” In this context I think it means that the men on the battlefield think about their families and where they came from, wishing they could go back, only for the angel to reply-to the stars, meaning there’s no escape from death. The Boy then remarks that he thought there was a reason or a higher value for fighting and suffering but the reality of war is far bleaker and more complicated than that- and that is one of the reoccurring themes throughout this Act.
WOW. this is one hell of a song. Casey does well in transferring to the listener the horrors of war through the very tense music and brilliant lyrics. this song, and “Mustard Gas” are talking about brand new technologies that change the way armies fight. These songs are meant to show us these things from the eyes of a soldier that sees it for the first time. These next 4 songs form a miniature song cycle within the album as The Boy encounters 4 objects, individuals, or groups that are manifestations of war and humanity at its worst and most cynical. The Tank became emblematic of the world’s entry into mechanized warfare, a symbol of the machine-like hardening that such wars would have on those participating.
“Eight wheels lusting for the lives of infantry (His bearings shift)
His turrets turning from accountability (He takes his aim)
We sing our final song and soon this verse is over
He makes advances ’till his wheels cease to roll (His God is smiling)
His God is smiling on his cold mechanic soul
His plot is perfect if it sees no contradiction
There is no sign that he shows a sign of slowing”
This is nothing short of poetry. Every time i read this it gives me the chills. The Boy is talking about The Tank and it’s operator as one terrifying being. The Boy remarks for the machine’s lack of “accountability”, since unlike traditional warfare, the operator (or in this case, the whole being) is very distant from the kills. Accountability is the basis to the concept of basic human morality. The Boy envisions this being to have no consideration of human worth, and instead of seeing it as a soul-less being, he actually sees it as a being with a very twisted soul, in which he believes he is carrying out his God’s wishes. The tank is neither all man or machine, but it takes the worst aspects of each and mutates them into a cold, killing thing.
“You’ve stained your skin and I won’t stick around, around
Long enough to count the hearts that hit the ground
So long ago was I one of them?
Your urgency hastened by his ingenuity (It’s just a matter)
Matter of moments ’till your body is debris (So say a prayer)
His plot is perfect if it sees no contradiction”
In the chorus, The Boy reacts to two separate elements from his past and present, thus uniting them (“past and present stay the same”). seeing the dead soldiers stained with blood, The Boy decides to run away from the fight, not sticking around long enough to count the hearts that hit the ground. talking about the soldiers as “hearts” that fall to the ground makes us remember this is the same description taken from Act II, where different hearts/lives hitting the ground to the fate of the men who dealt with Ms. Leading. He spends the following verse running for his life from the steady, relentless destruction of the tank behind him.
“And still he moves on
Arm and iron conquer heart and soul
And what of those in silent disconnect
Sundry souls akin in consequence
Begging for bliss beyond the pain
Relief is just a turret’s turn away…”
“arm and iron” is the combined being of man and machine that will conquer those who only possess flesh, hearts, and souls. He then expands the metaphor to all of those in war ““in silent disconnect” who cut out their own morality and humanity in order to become a ruthless killing machine- part man, part machine. For these individuals, the only relief they can find in war is succeeding in their mission in taking as many lives as they can with them. Even though our protagonist is naive, and easily influenced, he did not make that transition into a soldier without humanity, so he decides it’s better to run away and keep any last shred of humanity than to stay and lose it.
5. “The Poison Woman”
The Boy flees into a nearby city, and there he finds a woman only known to us as “The Poison Woman”. She uses her knowledge on drugs and medicine to take lives – but in a completely different way from the tank. Using deception, she offers soldiers drinks laced with poison to their demise. It’s never stated that she favors one side over the other in this war, or that she has any motivation to do what she does other than pure enjoyment in killing. As we know, these four songs are meant to describe certain horrifying elements of war and violence- a manifestation of humanity in it’s worse moments. most of the reviews I read said that The Poison Woman doesn’t have any clear motive to poison soldiers other than the enjoyment of killing. If it’s true- the poison woman herself is the manifestation of violence and war. but I read one review that said that she’s poisoning soldiers that come to abuse and rape her. If that’s true, then she’s just a symptom and the things she has to go through is the manifestation of violence and war. Still, i don’t think this interpretation adds up with the lyrics, calling her wicked.
Similar to the effects the war has on the soldier in the tank, The Poison Woman has a similar effect as she prays on trusting men. Like the soldier in the tank, she strips away her humanity and becomes an eager killer. As The Boy encounters her and see what she does, the lesson he learned in Act II is reinforced, and he realizes that few people are who they say they are.
“She has her superstitions
They’ve got their rationale on call
(They never saw it coming, they never stood a chance)
She’s got a new tradition, involving ethylene glycol
(They never saw it coming, they never stood a chance)
She has no apprehension, habit sustains her wickedness
(They never saw it coming, they never stood a chance)
“With the weight of the world on her shoulders, she
Don’t want none of the sins as they unfurl in her palms, in her palms
Take this bottle”
ethylene glycol is a compound most commonly found in antifreeze. It’s known for its sweet taste and for the potent alcohol-like intoxication it produces when ingested in small quantities. It’s most likely that The Woman gave the soldiers the poison telling them it was wine, or some other alcoholic drink. It’s probably hard to trace the kills back to her since fatal effects of ethylene glycol are not immediate- the victims usually die days later from kidney failure if they don’t overdose.
The Boy does not fall for her tricks and even confronts her about it. It appears to be that once she was confronted, she felt an enormous amount of guilt and burden from what she did (supporting the idea that she doesn’t do this because she enjoys killing but more as a defense from soldiers and a reaction to the things war make people do). She’s offering The Boy a bottle of the ethylene glycol, which he accepts. Now all we have to do is wait for that bottle to make an appearance again.
6. “The Thief”
Our protagonist meets the third incarnation of war. The first two represents destruction and deception, the third one- greed. He encounters The Thief- stealing goods off of dead or sleeping soldiers. Again, we find an individual taking advantage of the oblivious, and this is a reoccurring theme throughout the Acts. different people with the power and means to take everything from those who can’t do anything about it, or are unable to. It happens with The Pimp and The Priest, and it’s happening here, with the three encounters we already talked about.
“Love seems barren when cash is king
Wealth here for the bleeding, what good will bring
More than I could ask from those who sleep
A crooked mind, an honest heart ancillary
The Boy confronts The Thief asking him why he’s doing what he does. He tells him that wealth and money for the dead are worthless. It seems like a logical point although it’s really cynical and cruel. The Boy says that he has an honest heart but a crooked mind, which allows him to twist morality and justify the horrible things he does. It’s not the logic that matters, it’s The Thief’s indifference that bothers the boy so much.
I’ve got the time tonight”
It’s not clear who says these lines. It’s a possibility that The Boy is saying these words, and that he joins The Thief to rob bodies. But that’s very dissonant to the more “moral” approach he took so far that guided him to not get influenced by these dark aspects of war. *Prognotes mentions that the answer is actually in the video for the song “What It Means To Be Alone”. which, among other things describes these events too. After confronting him about the nature of what he does, The Boy asks The Thief how to return to his camp (he points to an insignia on his jacket resembling the symbolic tree we’ve come to know and love).
The Thief brings him to the edge of a battlefield and points him in the right direction, though he tells him he should leave this things behind because they’ll only weigh him down. Unsurprisingly, once The Boy does so and takes off, The Thief promptly takes those possessions for himself. This leads us to one of the darkest songs, describing one of the most terrifying things.
7. “Mustard Gas”
This is one of their best songs, IMO. The Lyrics are unbelievable. so let’s dig in:
“Here they are
A panic floods the field
They play the part, performing oh so well”
Returning to the battlefield, The Boy finds himself caught up in crossfire and, worse yet, we meet the most terrifying manifestations of war yet: The Mustard Gas brigade.
“With empty cause, they carry on
A twisted soul, an apparition
Born of a beastly brand
They butcher purposely
(Just have the sense to run away)”
Unlike the first three characters, there’s no rationale for doing what they do. They Kill because they can, and treat the enemy as a pest that needs to be exterminated. This war was really humanity’s way of testing the moral boundaries of the way to fight. each side had his own twisted take on how to defeat the enemy. The Narrator describes pure fear in this song. “just have the sense to run away”- there’s nothing to do but to run away from these animals.
“Scream at the sky and beg
Beg for a reason he would allow this
Look to the sky and say
We would be better off without this
Who would allow this?”
The Boy once again prays to god to end this suffering and madness, only to find silence. What god would allow such a thing to exist? to allow people capable of doing this things to exist?. These four songs takes the boy though all these different encounters to challenge his sense of morality and shape it. The only logical conclusion is that this world is run by those who breed hate, greed and destruction and use it to manipulate those with actual desires for love and morality.
“We’ve never felt alive
But none of us can die just when we want to
We’re stuck in this disguise
With leather skin these eyes designed to haunt you
But do we haunt you?”
Taking on the perspective of the soldiers in the masks, They portray themselves as inhumane beings. They’re not alive but not dead either. Their gas masks serve as a disguise to hide what they’ve truly become and present themselves to others as beings lacking in any identity whatsoever. The Boy falls and almost dies from the attack.
Well, this is it for now. we’ll continue hopefully next week or two.
as always, you’re welcomed to write what you think about the story so far, the characters, or if you have something to add that we might’ve missed.