Welcome back! If you are here and are excited to see this post but are confused because you missed Part I or any other part of this series, I have a handy link guide below with every installment of this seemingly Sisyphean task I put upon myself years ago. In the previous post I set up the context for Act V of The Dear Hunter’s ongoing concept album series and dissected the first third of the album, from “Regress” through “The Revival,” in which Hunter is a miserable, opioid-addicted lout who has seen his entire life come apart due to the carelessness of his actions. Throw in an economically-depressed rust belt setting and you’d have the makings of a perfect in-depth media piece about America in 2018! Anyway, in this post I will take you through the second third of Hymns With The Devil In Confessional, from “Melpomene” through “Gloria.”
In some respects, one could be excused for finding this section of the album to be the weakest and least focused. The music goes off on some pretty wild tangents, and the plot perhaps gets a bit muddier with the introduction of Mr. Usher, who is set up as this very powerful character who might be even more powerful and unscrupulous than TP/P and creates an even more drastic foil of evil that Hunter must deal with. We won’t really get a sense of the full scope of Mr. Usher’s role in this story until the full conclusion of the series in Act VI (or perhaps the Act V graphic novel, if/when that happens), but for now it can feel a bit like he is inserted much more as a plot device to push both Hunter and TP/P to and off their respective edges than as a real character (though, as you’ll see below, there is another explanation that perhaps makes a bit more sense in context). This middle section is very much a table-setter for the non-stop action in the final third, and like all table-setters, it has to do a lot of expository heavy lifting without immediate reward. That being said, boy is there some fun and beautiful stuff going on here with plenty to mine in the lyrics. So let’s get to it!
*prognotes: The Dear Hunter’s Acts
Since around the time Casey began the press cycles for Acts IV and V he has gone on record numerous times stating that he regrets a lot of the feelings and sentiments that led to writing much of the material off of Act II, in particular setting up Ms. Leading as a target for unresolved anger and bitterness towards at least one woman in his life, and Hunter as that vehicle. To be honest, there is definitely a lot that feels immature and patently unkind about sections of that album, most acutely in “Red Hands” and “Dear Ms. Leading” (neither of which I glossed over in my analysis of them) What may have been intended to come off as righteous anger ends up projecting more as unwarranted aggression with shades of toxic masculinity in hindsight. The thing is, in the context of that album, that character, and the arc of both, it fits and makes sense. Frankly, you shouldn’t be on Hunter’s side throughout this episode as he proves to be a naive and lovesick teenager who quickly turns into a huge dick as soon as it’s made clear just how naive he has been, and there is little indication that Casey has ever felt the listener should be either.
In that sense at least, Casey seems to have taken the approach that as he has personally grown in the time since writing that music, so should the character who has been a bit of a cipher of himself for so long. Acts IV and V have offered a convenient opportunity to do so, and Casey has used it not only to evolve the attitudes of Hunter, but to give Ms. Leading the redemption and depiction he feels she deserves (at least for a moment). Five albums in, and we finally get an honest to goodness love song in the Acts. “Melpomene” is a truly gorgeous and delicate tune with lyrics that come off as far more genuine and heartfelt than perhaps anything else Casey and the band have put out. I will just quickly mention that I have a particular soft spot for this song as I may have had my wedding band play the song to my wife, and I may have sung it. Several Heavy Blog editors and staffers may also be able to corroborate this, but only I have video and audio proof of this supposed event, so I guess we’ll never know for suuuuuure.
Moving on to the actual content of the song however, in “Melpomene” we come face to face with yet another allusion to Greek mythology. Once again, to the Wikipedia mines!
Melpomene (/mɛlˈpɒmɪniː/; Greek: Μελπομένη; “to sing” or “the one that is melodious”), initially the Muse of Chorus, she then became the Muse of Tragedy, for which she is best known now. Her name was derived from the Greek verb melpô or melpomai meaning “to celebrate with dance and song.” She is often represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus, boots traditionally worn by tragic actors. Often, she also holds a knife or club in one hand and the tragic mask in the other.
So, couple of obvious things to pick out here. Naming a love song for a female character after the Muse of Tragedy is pretty much telegraphing that something pretty bad is going to befall that character. If you’re reading this you almost certainly know what that is. I know what that is. But for the sake of having something to talk about when we actually get to that point let’s just put a pin in that and make note of its bit of flashing red foreshadowing. Second, to return to what I noted above, I have heard Casey state on at least one occasion that he wanted to create a song to redeem and celebrate Ms. Leading as a character, so the title very much works on numerous levels.
In terms of story chronology, Casey has stated that though she doesn’t make a direct appearance in Act IV, Hunter and Ms. Leading were technically reunited during the time of “Wait,” shortly before TP/P pulls the rug out from under Hunter in “Ouroboros.” This makes sense in that it would’ve come on the heels of the quasi-breakup song between Hunter and The Fiancée in “The Line.” With the two parties seemingly in understanding that their romantic relationship is over even if they must technically stay together for political reasons, Hunter is at least emotionally free to engage in other relationships. Given his alcohol-induced hallucinations in “A Night on the Town,” it’s not at all surprising that he would seek out Ms. Leading and at the very least attempt to bring some closure to that ill-fated relationship. Instead it appears time healed the wounds inflicted by each other and the flame was rekindled. By the time we reach this song, Ms. Leading appears to be the one of the few things keeping Hunter at all grounded and preventing him from destroying himself entirely. And Hunter very clearly knows and appreciates this, as the lyrics are nothing short of positively gushing with heartfelt and genuine affection and sentiment.
Cold had I calloused
Walls were raised to bear the weight I’d not take
Too slow were my senses
Muted musings lost their way; disconnected
Only silence remained, holding my breath in the dark
Gasping for air with the lungs of a lark
Reflecting upon their history, Hunter admits that he was callous and not mature enough or emotionally ready for a meaningful relationship with Ms. Leading the first time around, which, as I’ve said before, is super fair given that he was literally a teenager at the time, and all teenagers are just a walking disaster zone of hormones and barely-developed self-awareness. Confronted with adversity and the many challenges that their relationship presented, Hunter threw up walls and projected his confusion and frustrations outward as a self-defense. He was too slow to understand himself and the situation they were in. He then introduces a metaphor of himself as a lark, a songbird known for using their elaborate and melodious calls to attract mates. He claims that he silenced himself for too long, allowing himself to sink deeper into darkness by pushing everyone he could have had a meaningful relationship away. This has certainly been true up until this point. He pushed away Ms. Leading in Act II; he half-embraced the relationship with his half-brother in Act III but always kept him at a certain distance by never revealing the truth of their relationship until it was too late (at which point he utterly denigrated whatever relationship they did have by stealing his identity); and given the fresh opportunity for a new life with someone who was already prepared to love him in Act IV, he positively squandered it in drink and his own growing ambitions. Hunter has not made himself truly vulnerable and known to anyone in years, and it has only led him down a painful and solitary path.
So warm was your welcome; humble in its embrace
Tell me, just how did you save me;
Pull me up from the grave?
Though my youth did mislead, I would retreat to you
Right back to your arms with my spirit aglow
Where the pains of the past exit en masse; through you
Too lost when we part, with the lungs of a lark
Hunter now returns to their present, in which they found each other again, and somehow Ms. Leading was able to move beyond their fraught history and embrace him for who he really is. It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this to him, as Ms. Leading is currently the only other person in this world beyond TP/P who actually knows his true identity. While TP/P uses that to exploit and extort him, Ms. Leading accepts him and reminds him that the person he truly is is not bad. He is not a mere reflection of TP/P, as Hunter has compared himself to at times. He remarks that in spite of how he treated her in the past and the many mistakes he has made along the way, he can always return to her and feel loved, that for a moment he can forget all of the terrible things he’s done and has happened to him, and that he is lost without her. Separated, he finds himself singing his lark song to bring her back to him. It is genuinely touching and sweet, something that there has been so precious little of in this series.
I, far removed from myself, had denied what I lost
When my heart had withdrawn to the fray
In a whimsical way, I would flee from the truth
I could bury in youth
You would have me, if I’d fallen again
Would you bring me back out of the dark
With my lungs of a lark?
Cold have I calloused, but these walls are coming down
Here, Hunter claims that, having removed himself so thoroughly from his true identity, he had also distanced himself from all of the genuine loss and pain he endured with it, which only pushed him further away from being able to experience true feelings and emotions towards others. He had allowed himself to flee from his past and deal with the very real and unresolved issues that he carries with it. Unlike anyone else though, his relationship and love with Ms. Leading allows him to unburden himself. He sings that even if he were to fall again she would still welcome and love him just the same. In the greatest darkness he could still call to her and she would lead him into the light. The final line is a restating of the opening line, but it’s an admission that in spite of his past he will be his true self and love Ms. Leading fully and genuinely. Really not much else to say about this song. It’s beautiful, and though it’s easy to overlook it in the context of the more bombastic aspects of this album and the other Acts, it is easily one of my favorite songs in the series because of its sincerity and wonderful composition.
7. Mr. Usher (On His Way To Town)
Being at about the midpoint of this album, we find ourselves with a track that, on face value, feels a bit out of place musically and possibly that of a light distraction, but in fact represents a huge turning point for the rest of the story. The introduction of Mr. Usher is hugely significant, but talking about and dissecting him as a character or force is a bit difficult as there is very little time in between his introduction and the events that lead to the narrative conclusion of the pre-eminent conflict in this story. Here’s what we know based on the content of the song and some further context provided by Casey and others. Mr. Usher is portrayed as a gangster or “fixer” of sorts, a cruel and shadowy figure who sees the worst in the world and people. Putting aside the typical wordplay in his name that is meant to serve as an identifier – Mr. Usher as someone who “ushers” in the conclusion of the story – his motivations are a bit unclear as he seems to be less concerned with controlling the levers of power than manipulating them to create and maintain a certain order. These can sound like similar things, but the difference is that whereas TP/P’s main motivation is the accrual of wealth and power over his parishioners, patrons, and employees through his cult of personality and acquisition of secrets, Mr. Usher’s motivation is more institutional and wide-reaching. He would prefer to simply install a system that he sees as bringing the most “worth” out of people through whatever means, even if it results in a thriving economy of crime and sin. This is explored in greater detail in “The Haves Have Naught,” so we’ll dive into that aspect more heavily there.
In terms of plot and narrative, it is unclear from the lyrics alone whether Mr. Usher is specifically summoned by TP/P to do damage control with Hunter or if he simply “appears” to throw a wrench in things. There is an argument to be made that TP/P finds Hunter’s relationship with Ms. Leading to be a liability to their arrangement, or simply that growing paranoia is leading TP/P to fear increasingly that Hunter will make a move to take him down in spite of his many warnings. Either way what is pretty clear through this reading and other provided context is that Mr. Usher is meant to represent more than a mere mortal like TP/P or Hunter. He is instead a godlike figure who is far more dangerous and powerful than either of them and also lacking in any sort of sympathy or empathy for other people. TP/P may be a con-man and primarily concerned about his own power, but in some sick and twisted way he almost surely feels some sort of responsibility and paternalism towards his “flock.” Mr. Usher has no such sentimentalism and would sooner see them all perish than defy or escape him. People are merely tools or objects of sin to be used and wrung out. He is, in essence, the incarnation of The Devil as portrayed in “The Most Cursed Of Hands.” His function is to exploit the critical flaws and weaknesses of the main characters and trick them into bringing about their own doom. For Hunter it will be his obsession with vengeance and the need to be the “hero” of his own story. For TP/P it will ultimately be his hubris and cruelty.
Whether Mr. Usher is actually a man or a god (the LITERAL devil) is up for debate. It certainly would fit within the tropes of classical tragedy for supernatural beings and gods to insert themselves into the affairs of men when their flaws or sins seek to upend the natural order of things, be they religious or lawful. There is an argument to be made for either side, and without knowing the broader scope of the story and whether Mr. Usher will play a part in the final act of this series, it remains a bit ambiguous whether his endgame is simply to bring resolution to Hunter and TP/P’s conflict (giving more credence to him as a god who serves a single purpose and exits) or if he’ll be sticking around to pick up the pieces in their absence (supporting the idea of him as a man with his own motivations and greater plan he seeks to set into motion).
One more thing to note before diving into the lyrics. The music here, in all of its big band swing glory, while being very much an outlier for the series as a whole is not unusual for Casey in his use of musical pastiche as a way to quickly communicate certain themes and ideas in this story. Much like his use of classical piano melodies, vaudevillian mischief, and 1920s horn-led urban hustle and bustle to date the series and provide a bit of historical context, this “Mack The Knife” homage is meant to evoke the kind of jazz-age odes to gangsters and thugs that weren’t uncommon in the first half of the 1900s (putting aside the anachronism of utilizing 1940s swing in a 1920s or 30s story, of course). Listening to Casey describe essentially writing the bones of this song while on the phone with Alex Dandino (the writer of the TDH graphic novels who has since become Casey’s creative partner for the Acts and more) is one of those things that will leave you shaking your head in awe, but the reason “Mr. Usher (On His Way To Town)” works well as a track unto itself rather than poor imitation or pastiche for the sake of pastiche is because of the clear appreciation and understanding of the source material, the music’s history, and its tropes that Casey possesses. The song is an outlier and definitely sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the album, but it sure is a lot of fun to listen to at least.
The shutters close when he’s around
The children shut their eyes
In fear of what they must surmise
When all the gentlemen hang their heads down
Yeah, Mr. Usher’s on his way to town
He keeps his sights set straight and true
His idle hands won’t flit or flutter
Never does he slip or stutter
Still his mind is menacing away
Yeah, Mr. Usher’s on the prowl today
He needn’t dirty up his hands
He’ll twist you heart until you’re manic
Lost in endless streams of panic
Pray you’re not the one he finds
If Mr. Usher’s got you on his mind
Given all of the context I already rambled on about just now, there isn’t too much left to say about most of the lyrics of the song itself. If you aren’t already familiar with “Mack The Knife,” go check it out and have a look over the lyrics for some fun and think about how this was a genuinely popular song in its time (fun activity: pull out this song whenever an old white person starts complaining about glorification of violence and “gangsters” in modern hip-hop!). Here, Mr. Usher is set up as a most formidable person whose reputation proceeds him. He is more clever and crueler than other men, and if he sets you in his crosshairs it is pretty much automatically a death notice. The one line of real interest here is the “Still his mind is menacing away / Yeah, Mr. Usher’s on the prowl today,” implying that in this introduction he already is on a clear mission with an individual or individuals in mind to make his next victims. This lends more evidence to the notion of him as an omniscient being of some sort with prior knowledge of the entire situation between TP/P and Hunter who views their conflict as a disturbance of order that needs to be resolved.
Any time the plan’ll get a bit off track
He’s the only one who can bring it back
The main manipulator
Yeah, the wolf who leads the pack
You better lock your doors and shut your windows tight
Pull the shades down and turn off the lights
Always feed the hand that leads to teeth that bite
Because, if he has no use for you
He’ll take you to the river
There are a couple of very cool things going on in this bridge section. First, in another nod and musical homage, Casey once again makes use of the commentating “Greek chorus” (previously represented by The Oracles and presumably as well here) through the kind of female ensemble vocalists common in jazz of the same era as swing. The most well-known of these groups were The Andrews Sisters, and you can immediately pick up on the similarities between them and here (extra props to the contributors at Genius who also picked up on this). Then we come to another glorious musical and lyrical callback at the end of this section. I could honestly write an entire other essay just on Casey’s effective use of certain motifs and callbacks throughout this series, but this one bears a lot of weight as it takes us all the way back to Act I‘s “The Pimp and the Priest”. We get a clever inversion here as the notion of The River and water in general originally signifying purity and salvation is now nothing more than another way in which Mr. Usher can kill a man. In classic gangster fashion, “take you to the river” is a euphemism for drowning by tying someone to a heavy weight and dropping them in the water. It’s a powerful image that really establishes Mr. Usher as top of the pecking order here above both Hunter and TP/P.
He’ll have you hanging by a string
Or noose if he prefers you perish
All your dreams become nightmarish
If you block his path or plan
Yeah Mr. Usher always gets his man
Nothing left to say here other than the definitiveness of the last line also belies the ambiguity of who Mr. Usher’s “man” or mark is here. The immediate implication is that it is Hunter, but the events that unfold certainly suggest that TP/P is included just as much as Hunter, and just as their fates have been intertwined for a while, so too will their downfalls.
8. The Haves Have Naught
In a section of the album filled with outliers, the Broadway musical duet of “The Haves Have Naught” is almost certainly the most surprising of the bunch. There is nothing surprising about Casey throwing in a blatantly theatrical piece into this series, as the core foundation of the Acts (and, by association, The Dear Hunter writ large) has been built upon structures, embellishments, and quirks associated with musical theater. Never before though has he written a song that goes so far into straight-up musical territory. With all guitars and other rock instrumentation absent, the piece is dominated by orchestral arrangement, fascinating use of backing vocals, and, of course, the duet of Casey and TDH newcomer Gavin Castleton (sidenote: if you want to get mad at someone again for being too damn good at what they do, consider the fact that Casey composed the entire orchestral arrangement for this song over one night after finding that they had one extra recording day booked with the orchestra they used for Acts IV and V).
The duet structure in particular is what defines and sets apart this song from anything else on the album or in the band’s catalog, as it allows two characters with wildly different perspectives bounce off of one another in direct opposition. Namely, the lyrics describe a conversation between Hunter and Mr. Usher as they gaze upon The City that Hunter is still technically responsible for. There is no additional context for how this meeting came to be or what transpired between Mr. Usher entering The City and this conversation, but a likely scenario is that Mr. Usher sought out Hunter to ostensibly introduce himself as an associate of TP/P, but more functionally as a way to size Hunter up and begin to plant the seeds that will drive Hunter to take drastic action soon. The purpose of this conversation on a surface level is to pit the continued optimism of Hunter and empathy for others against the cruel and calculated pessimism of Mr. Usher. It is a very effective way to introduce Mr. Usher’s perspective as someone who is perhaps even more corrupted by “malice” than TP/P.
On a deeper level though, it also appears that Mr. Usher is playing a larger game here and that he is playing up his cruelty and callousness to the point of exaggeration specifically because he wants Hunter to perceive him as a grave threat to The City. If the machinations of TP/P aren’t enough to spur Hunter into action to take him out even at cost to himself, perhaps this unmitigated “evil” who claims with bravado that he would expand TP/P’s operations into a whole crime network that would undeniably change the entire makeup of The City and its inhabitants would be enough to finally force Hunter to make the impossible choice he’s been avoiding now since the beginning of this chapter.
Look at that shopkeeper peddling his wares
Shouting his sales pitch, but nobody cares
Don’t you wonder what keeps him there, day after day?
Begging for gold as his hair turns to gray
Blindly they’re bounding apace
Starving for mercy in a merciless place
Only a fool would make martyrs from heathens
And find them so lively when they’re barely breathing
Just barely breathing
We open with Mr. Usher’s perspective as he and Hunter observe a local shopkeeper (who we learn is a toymaker), who appears to be struggling for business. Mr. Usher uses him as an example into why this current system and environment doesn’t suit many of its citizens, who are toiling away in poverty and worthlessness. He compares him and others to a beggar, blindly walking through life and struggling to simply get by. Their poverty, he argues, is a reflection of poor moral character, that they are simply leeching off of the ecosystem rather than contributing to it because they don’t know how. He is essentially telling Hunter, “You claim to be the moral savior of these people, but why? Why spend the effort looking after them when they are so clearly not worth anything and will never amount to anything?” The world is cruel, he argues, and there is no place for those who simply can’t cut it. To spend so much energy caring about their interests is akin to making religious martyrs of those who are not of the faith to begin with. They cannot be saved, and more importantly, they should not be saved.
Just look at that toymaker grinding his gears
Turning no profit but he doesn’t care
He keeps smiles on faces day after day
The children keep sadness and suffering at bay
Blissfully bounding apace
Searching for mercy in a merciless place
Only a monster makes fodder from saints
And finds them so worthless when they’re full of grace
So full of grace
Hunter counters by telling Mr. Usher to look at the shopkeeper more closely. The man is not suffering as Mr. Usher claims he is. He has a purpose. He is there to provide toys for the children of the community. And sure, he may not be wealthy and is barely making enough money to stay afloat, but it is the work and meaning in it that is enough to give him satisfaction. He, and by extension everyone, is a vital part of The City and is not worth any less than its wealthier citizens. It’s interesting that Hunter does not appear to argue with Mr. Usher’s assessment of the world as an inherently cruel and merciless place, though it certainly makes sense given Hunter’s own experiences. But rather than simply give into it as Mr. Usher would do, Hunter argues that it is his role to see the best in everyone and do what he can to bring the greatest amount of satisfaction to the greatest number of people. He then turns on Mr. Usher and calls him a monster for seeing these ordinary people simply doing their best as nothing more than “fodder” to be used for his own personal aims. Everyone is born with grace, and every life is worth saving. In a way Hunter appears to be making the argument that a religious leader like TP/P should be making himself, but Mr. Usher is making sure that Hunter understands that he, and by extension TP/P, are too corrupted by desires of wealth and power to ever be anything but a threat to the people Hunter is there supposedly to protect.
But what better use of hookers and thieves
Than greasing the wheels of perfect machines
That hum into life a harmony of industry?
But what is the use of cutting them down
To smother and choke the soul of our town?
I know there is another way
From here on out we get Mr. Usher and Hunter closely interweaving their own arguments and counter-arguments until they’re literally talking over each other in the section below. Musically it’s thrilling and compositionally brilliant, and lyrically it is equally as effective in really nailing down this disagreement between the two as something much larger than a matter of differing opinions. They are ideologically as opposed as can be, and as Mr. Usher’s words become more extreme and vicious, so too does Hunter’s resolve become more fervent. Mr. Usher boldly argues that he envisions a version of The City where the worthless and poor masses serve him and build an entire new economy and class of criminals and sin that work perfectly in concert with one another. Every human has a purpose, even if that purpose is to create revenue for Mr. Usher (and once again, by extension, TP/P). At this point he is straight-up goading Hunter into taking action as the implication here is “You are idly sitting by and allowing TP/P to do this. I intend to make it worse. I know he has you under his thumb, so what are you going to do about it?” Hunter pleads that this is cruelty for the sake of cruelty and that they are intentionally destroying the soul of The City for the sake of their own greed. And in that last line above we get the response that Mr. Usher has been looking for, a reminder from Hunter to himself that there is, in fact, another way. He has spent so much of this chapter convincing himself that he is trapped without any options that it takes this extreme of a situation to suddenly remember that he always has options, even if none are perfect. He can always choose to out TP/P for who he is and dismantle his enterprise, even if it means sacrificing himself in the process.
But, what is so wrong with giving them purpose?
(Just how could you weed them out?)
(Degrading them without doubt)
A man like yourself could bring worth to worthless
(You’re bleeding them dry)
(They live and die like you and I)
Without the guidance of rulers and tyrants
(And under your guidance; the hands of a tyrant)
These people will just tear themselves apart
In the song’s climax, Mr. Usher makes the closing argument that Hunter could work with them and give them the kind of purpose and satisfaction that Hunter claims he seeks to protect. Most importantly, that these people cannot be trusted to look after themselves. They need the firm hand of a strong leader to give them purpose and worth because, left to their own devices, they will merely wallow in poverty and sin, eventually leading to chaos and anarchy. Hunter yells that they are people just like you and I and cannot be degraded by such tyrannical rule. “Under your guidance” seems to imply that Hunter understands that Mr. Usher is the one really pulling the strings now above TP/P and that TP/P is only one piece of Mr. Usher’s grander vision for The City. It is a wake-up call to Hunter that what is at stake here in his ongoing conflict with TP/P is far greater than his own self-preservation.
Just look at that charlatan steeped in deceit
A threat to the young
To the old and the meek
Don’t you wonder what made him
So vicious, so sick?
So far out of balance?
So cruel and so callous?
So married to malice?
We end the song back firmly in Hunter’s perspective as he considers the conversation that just transpired. Mr. Usher’s message has clearly gotten through to him. He is an existential threat to the people of The City, one that transcends anything TP/P has done, but the two are now closely connected to one another. Hunter is not prepared to take any action yet, but it is certainly a firm reminder that this status quo is untenable, and if he doesn’t do anything to counter these forces of evil, they will not wait for him.
Swinging wildly from a few of the most elaborate songs on the album to its quietest and most intimate, “Light” offers another one of Casey’s most beautiful and touching songs to date. This track is, on a functional/literal level, an ode and lullaby from Hunter to his son (of indeterminate age at this point), birthed from The Fiancée (now The Wife, I suppose), who, as a reminder, is still around and likely throwing eye and verbal daggers at Hunter whenever he makes an appearance around her. It is also him owning up to his mistakes and showing more self-awareness of how his actions have hurt others than ever before. Now, according to multiple fan accounts from information gathered during “Story Time With Casey” sessions (warning: LOTS of spoilers at that link/Casey dispelling many theories and rumors about the Acts, including ones I’ve made!), the context of this track is that following his confrontation with Mr. Usher, Hunter realizes that something will be going down soon in one fashion or another and that both his wife and son are likely going to be put at risk as possible targets because of it. So this song is him saying goodbye to his son before sending them away to his old home at The Lake and The River.
Son, your father’s not all good
But still, I love you more than I thought I could
And when the menace in my mind
Finds me, I simply look to your eyes
And boy, someday I hope I do
See the man you will grow into
And when your heart’s in disarray
Know that your father, too, has made mistakes
This is not the first time that Hunter has been open about having made mistakes and being an incredibly flawed person. Really, a large percentage of both Acts IV and V have been largely dedicated to him grappling with the choices he’s made and being haunted by them. What seems to define “Light” as a potential turning point though for Hunter and the story is that there is a kind of acceptance of what he has done and sense of hope in possibly being able to make things better, if not for himself, than at least others. And in his son, he finds the purest kind of love that is able to dispel the “menace in my mind” and focus him on what matters most.
Son, your father’s lost his head
Still, I mean every word that I’ve said
Though, the truth can truly cut
Here in this confessional, with my blood
Hunter also appears to be fully aware at this point that he is fully in over his head with the addition of Mr. Usher to his predicament with TP/P. And even though he is being truly and painfully honest about himself with his son here, he likens the experience to taking confession, in which he can find forgiveness through his own blood and family. This is in stark contrast to his assessment earlier in “Cascade,” in which he uttered the phrase that forms Act V‘s title. The latter shows Hunter being complicit and equally guilty in TP/P’s sins, and the former is a truer confessional than any church could provide to him.
I’ve been cruel to the ones who have stayed by my side
And foolish enough to believe in my pride
But vanity never could keep me from caring for you
I’ve strayed too far away from the trees and the lake –
The innocent road that I chose not to take –
But still, I can bring you to bathe in the river;
To wash out the world long before your heart’s withered away
Once again, more self-reflection from Hunter that we haven’t seen much of to this point. You can pretty much take your pick with the cast of characters Hunter has not done well by over the course of the story. Throughout the series, Hunter has consistently refused to listen to wise advice when offered to him, either out of naivety or pride. He has been impulsive, reactionary, vengeful, and full of hubris. He made a conscious choice back in Act II to go against the original advice of The Oracles when they told him to turn around and return to the trees and the lake of his childhood home. Much as he said at the end of “Ouroboros” and The Oracles stated in “Regress,” he is too far gone now to turn back. The time to save himself has long passed, but it is not too late to protect and save others, whether it’s the people of The City or his own son. This is the pivotal turning point in which Hunter finally moves beyond self-preservation towards something seeking redemption through saving others.
Lastly, we get yet another reference to The River and its purifying symbolism. Time and time again we return to The River as a symbolic image that represents both rebirth and death, and as we’ll learn soon enough, there is a good reason for that. For now though, Hunter says goodbye to his son, quite likely knowing that even as he says he hopes to see him grow into the kind of man he could never be, he will not get the chance to. He still has work to do here, but before he can get to it, time for an opium break!
And with that, we’re back to more familiar ground musically. Don’t get me wrong. I adore the symphonic tracks and the more subtle and delicate work throughout this section, but it’s hard to beat this band when they blend prog rock riffs and structures with killer melodic hooks and more. “Gloria” is a textbook example of all of that at work. It is also our final moment of relative “calm” and self-reflection before all hell breaks loose in the final third of the album. Following Hunter’s bittersweet farewell to his son (And I guess his wife? Maybe?), his newfound resolve to take action appears to be momentarily shaken by the same demons and doubts that have plagued him throughout. Also an opium addiction. The opium addiction definitely isn’t helping.
Except maybe it is now??? “Gloria” focuses on an opium high Hunter experiences and the many hallucinations and parts of his subconscious basically telling him to buck the fuck up and live to fight another day. This is portrayed exquisitely well visually in the official music video from friend of this column Erez Bader, which I would love to embed here, but since it’s a Vevo account video I am unable to. If you’re reading this you’ve almost certainly watched it before, but if you’d like a refresher have at it.
Open-eyed oversight led me to here
Looking for an avenue to simply appear
One too many steps into the wrong direction
Leading me to throw up my hands
Continuing Hunter’s self-awareness of his mistakes and flaws from “Light,” he reflects upon how he got to this point through the impulsive errors of his own decisions. Rather than ever dealing with his problems head-on, he has always run away or sidestepped them, hoping to “simply appear” somewhere else and have everything be fine. All of this has led to his current predicament with TP/P (and, later, Mr. Usher), which pushed him into this sad state of resignation that he’s be in throughout Act V.
Soon, I’ll know exactly where I stand
Found in a flood of incendiary plans
Oh, I’ve been falling fast into the rhythms without rhymes
I won’t be giving up again
Yeah, I’ll be getting up again
We’ll be getting to the details and fallout of the “incendiary plans” that Hunter seems to be referencing here soon enough, but it’s interesting to note that this idea of burning down The Dime has been one in Hunter’s mind for at least some time. Though it’s unclear at this particular moment whether he has officially decided he’s going to go through with it yet, it is very much in his thoughts, enough to say “soon I’ll know exactly where I stand” in reference to it. The “rhythms without rhymes” line is a fun little bit of meta-songwriting there as it stands as the longest line of the stanza and is the only one to break it’s rhyming scheme. It also is an implication that Hunter has been moving through his life making decisions and taking actions without actually considering what they mean or how they’ll affect him and others, essentially taking steps without thinking, or creating rhythms with no thought of rhyme. But he claims that the time for all of that is over.
I heard a voice; it said: “e dolore magna gloria
Bring me your heart, and then you will awake
In a state of surprising euphoria
But don’t tell anyone”
As Hunter is in the midst of an opium high, he hears a voice that tells him in Latin, “From pain comes glory.” This is a handy little bit of subconscious rallying, as he is essentially trying to convince himself that all of the pain he has suffered throughout his life has a greater purpose and meaning if he chooses it to. He can either succumb to it like he has been, or he can fight back and make it all worth it in the end. It’s also important to note that while the Latin translates more literally to “glory,” that gloria is a commonly used word in religious hymns that does not literally mean the kind of glory associated with personal achievement or as a result of defeating an enemy. It is instead a glory of salvation, wonder, and transcendence, which gives further credence to the notion that what Hunter is seeking is less the “glory” of victory against his foes than personal redemption for his many sins. The rest of the chorus is just his hallucination pumping him up to say that he will experience a feeling of epiphany and renewed conviction upon sobering up, but that he cannot tell anyone what he saw because it was ultimately just that, a drug-induced hallucination.
I wasn’t wrong to fend their ambiguity
Then I learned to turn emotions into weaponry
One too many words said with the wrong inflection
Leading me to throw up my hands
First line is a bit ambiguous in itself, but my best guess is that Hunter is saying that he wasn’t wrong not to heed the words of warning from The Oracles as he had no idea what their premonitions truly meant at the time. He does address what is very clearly one of his most damning and consistent qualities throughout the series though, which is his habit of turning strong emotions of love, anger, grief, fear, and more and turning them into toxic actions that hurt others. In the context of the necessary and long overdue conversations many are having (and far too many are still not having) about the role of toxic masculinity in modern culture and the distinctly American trend of men young and old turning their own emotions into physical weaponry to cause harm to others, it’s one of those lines that is almost certainly very relevant without intending to.
Am I giving up the ghost again;
Surrendering, so that my evils will amend?
Oh, I’ve been falling fast into the space between the lines
But I’ll be getting up again
I won’t be giving up again
More self-doubt and reflection on inaction. Hunter is worried that his resolve will fade and he will once again surrender to allow his sins to dominate and define him. He feels that he has fallen through the cracks, a mere shadow of himself unable to act. But once again, he gets the insistence that he won’t give up this time and that his redemption is possible.
Now, I’ve never heard that sound before
I am nothing but an infant wave stuck in a savage ocean
There is an interesting dichotomy that starts to pop up in the beginning of Act IV in the use of water imagery that really counters the safety, purity, and salvation it offers throughout the bulk of this series. Starting with “The Old Haunt” we get the lines “You want to keep your soul / Above the ocean floor / But there’s far too many waves to try.” In “Waves” we get a bunch of tumultuous imagery of the ocean sinking a ship. We already saw the sanctity of The River get turned on its head by Mr. Usher. And now we have this line in which Hunter describes himself as a small wave caught up in a “savage ocean.” We will be returning to this soon enough with the very symbolic and fitting cap to this chapter, but there is an awful lot of groundwork laid here to set up water as both a means to salvation but also emblematic of the chaos and cruelty of the world Hunter is in.
For now, as Hunter exits his existential fugue, he is more determined than ever to amend for his many years of wrongful action and subsequent inaction. The pieces are in place for a huge and final showdown between him and TP/P. Now it’s time for Mr. Usher to give the respective sides one final push towards their doom.
Hey-oh! We’re almost there. And just like I said at the end of the first part of this, these posts are being released on consecutive days, so come back tomorrow for the final installment of this Act V analysis (quite possibly the final installment for quite a while, if not longer). Go sober up and get ready to burn it all down!
UPDATE: Read Part III here!