*prognotes breaks down and analyzes your favorite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.

We’re in the final stretch! In our previous installment, our protagonist went on a huge existentialist bender, The Lover was fed up with his shit, The Pimp/Priest re-entered the story in the most garishly devious way, and The Boy decided that entering politics would be the best course of action to take down his nemesis once and for all. This final third of Act IV moves quickly and sort of papers over a lot of potential story details, presenting us with more in the way of broad strokes plot summary than introspection and character development (though there is still some of that). To be perfectly honest, though certainly fun and plenty enjoyable, I found this section to be the weakest part of the album overall because of that sense of hurtling quickly towards the album’s conclusion, which presents a cliffhanger conflict that will likely come to define most of Act V. That said, there is still more than enough going on here to unpack, so let’s drive straight into the belly of the beast together!

*prognotes: The Dear Hunter’s Acts

Acts I-III: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Act IV: preface, 1, 2, 3

11. “King of Swords (Reversed)”

If you Google the title of this track you will quickly learn that we’re dealing with some Tarot card symbolism here. While “The King of Swords” card in its upright position represents a strong force of intellect, wisdom, and seriousness, in its “reverse” position it’s, well, the reverse, or at least a mirror image. It represents a strong-willed individual who wields a lot of power, but that intellect is now twisted and perverted for dark and selfish reasons. It’s someone who is cynical, cold, and uncaring, the kind of person who has zero qualms about using another individual for their own gain.

In other words, “The King of Swords (Reversed)” seems to be an appropriate representation of the character of The Senator, who, as you may recall from “Abandon,” is never formally introduced by name but plays a significant role in the back half of this album. As an important and influential member of what appears to be the state government (as well as the father of The Lover), he has identified The Boy as someone with a strong enough “story” (a war veteran) and, more importantly, a blank canvas who he can craft and bend to his will, both of which he sees as important qualities for a politician. With The Boy deciding in the previous track to enter politics in order to take out The Pimp/Priest and ultimately do good for the people of The City, The Senator is The Boy’s key to achieving his goal as he enters the race for mayor as a genuine dark horse.

However, as we follow our protagonist through his campaign, it becomes abundantly clear that the track’s namesake belongs to him. Though he starts out skeptical that he’ll get anywhere in the election, as he continues to gain in the polls there are implications that he is being tainted himself and letting his desire for revenge consume him, bringing out some of the darkest moments for the character yet.

Gears turning that no wrench can attack
Consideration
Or pause had their time come and pass
No gloves bet you can’t get enough
Make a fine parade so the public sways in your wake

I just thought that I would go
Till the money’s gone
I never wanted to fake it
Now I can’t stop till everyone
Who ever done me wrong
Knows I’m not willing to take it

Boy, you’ve got a hard time
Bring yourself to glory

I never wanted my name up in bright lights
But I think that I might be there soon
I owe it all to you (I owe it all to you)
I was never looking for fame or the limelight
But I think that I might be there soon
I owe it all to you

We re-enter the story well into The Boy’s mayoral campaign, in which he finds himself utterly swept up by the momentum and excitement of it all. Harkening back to the unstoppable machine of The Tank, The Boy comments that the gears of electioneering are moving at full-force and cannot be stopped. Immediately we get a sense that The Senator is running a very dirty campaign for The Boy, one where the gloves have always been off and it creates spectacles to build up support (sounds eerily similar to a certain other campaign going on this year, to be honest…). In this sense, the crazy late 70s disco-tinged party rock sound of the music here completely fits the lyrical content. It’s meant to not only be a spectacle, but one that marks a very important turning point for our protagonist as he seems to fully surrender to the kind of cynical, opportunistic forces he’s been struggling with for a while.

The Boy himself appears as shocked as anyone at his turn of fortune, admitting that he assumed he would lose. He also admits though that, in spite of entering the race wanting to run on genuine ideas and values, he’s now being driven by the desire to win and vengeance against all of those who have stood in his way up to this point. He justifies it all by saying he deserves this “glory” after all he’s been through. Entitlement is not a good look for this character, and it’s something that will almost certainly get him into trouble sooner than later.

No one ever told me what it meant to be alone
I had to learn on my lonesome
Now every feigning flame I chance upon
I put the fire on
I keep my wheels in motion

Boy, you’ve had a hard time
Bring yourself to glory

Once again calling back to a moment from Act III (“What It Means To Be Alone”), The Boy claims that having to deal with so much hardship and loneliness has hardened him and allowed him to adapt to any situation to take advantage of it. In a way, everything that has happened up to this point has given him the perfect tools to be the kind of polished, overly-slick and disingenuous person necessary to rise in politics. Every opportunity for him to move ahead is a new flame, and he is the all-consuming fire, ready to swallow it up and make it his own.

Boy you’ve had a hard time
Bring yourself to glory
You’ve had a hard time
Bring yourself to glory
You’ve had a hard time
Bring yourself to glory
And here’s those spoils of war that you asked for

The emphasis of this line near the end along with the final addition only goes to show how hunger for power and greatness has fully consumed The Boy in such a short period of time. Perhaps those characteristics were always present within him (they almost certainly were), but for the first time in this story he has the opportunity to express them and use them to his advantage. There is a true ugliness to the statement about spoils of war, as it seems The Boy views his survival of the war and stealing his brother’s identity as kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest” victory. He came out in a better position than he entered, and therefore he deserves some reward for what he views as his cleverness and ruthlessness. If he could ever be described as “The King of Swords,” this campaign has certainly flipped him upside down to reveal his ugliest and most cynical nature.

12. “If All Goes Well”

Skipping ahead a little, we don’t get to see the actual election and the fanfare, but it doesn’t matter because The Boy won! We now find our protagonist suddenly thrust into a position of great power and continuing his vengeful streak from the previous track. What we see now though is the mind of someone who suddenly realizes he’s completely in over his head and having a major “Oh fuck” moment. Suddenly paralyzed by the options and duties afforded to him, he weighs his desires to both do good for The City and also achieve the vengeance he’s been lusting after for so long. Ultimately he allows himself to be swept up in his own ambition and hubris, which, as it always does, will lead to nothing good.

Was it logical lusting after fame
When ambition had never ended well for us?
Now everything that you lost is surely coming to you
Every catastrophe has shaped me into something new
Just don’t get carried away making those same mistakes
I know my limit but I’ll push it, yeah, I’ll push it good

That the track actually opens with this self-doubt and line of questioning is interesting, especially given that the music continues its party/bar rock feel. On the outside The Boy might be cool and acting prepared to make moves against anyone he perceives to be a threat to The City or himself, but on the inside he is all doubts and second-guessing. He recognizes that he’s putting himself in a prime position to both be exposed and knocked down, but he also seems to know that he can’t help but be swept up in his own momentum. This track actually features some of the most direct and straight-forward lyrics in the whole series, almost completely stripped of metaphors and symbolism. They’re the words of a man with just enough self-awareness to understand the danger he’s putting himself in and yet seemingly without the will to actually do much of anything about it.

I’ll give ’em a hold and a break to breathe (never forget who picks you up when you fall)
And if they can’t play nice I won’t play with ’em at all
I’ll give them a kick when I learn to lead (you’re getting over your head once again)
And if they don’t get out, then I’ll just bury them all

The chorus of this track is an interesting mixture of outward bravado and internal doubt. He seems to understand that in order to stamp out the corruption plaguing The City he’ll have to be aggressive against those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, but he also knows that he’s essentially learning on the job and figuring all of this out as he goes. So he’ll act tough and speak loud, and he just assumes he’ll figure out the whole leadership thing eventually. And if not, he’ll at least leave a trail of destruction in his wake. Beneath that though, he appears to at least be mindful of the dangers of making the wrong enemies and getting in completely over his head. Given his history of decision-making throughout this story though, it’s safe to assume that he will indeed continue to fail to learn the correct lessons from his mistakes and get himself in trouble time and time again.

I swear my motive can still remain sincere
And I can remedy all who’ve wronged before me
Now everyone that you lost would come back crying to you
Abandoned memories of family trees I’ve buried too deep
Just don’t get carried away making those same mistakes
I know my limit but I’ll push it, yeah, I’ll push it good

In spite of all evidence pointing to the contrary, The Boy still sincerely believes he isn’t in too deep and can still remain virtuous in his position, all the while atoning for the wrongs those who came before him committed. And yet even as he says that he recognizes that he’s letting his past affect his attitudes and actions now. His grudge against The Pimp/Priest and others is intrinsically colored by his past and his family, and his entire worldview has been shaped by those experiences. Try as he might, he cannot fully abandon the memories of the people of his past, which makes the repetition of the pre-chorus line an even more plaintively futile statement.

Will you carry us to Eden
Someone to believe in
Breaking down the walls which kept us locked away
Lead us into brilliance
Born by your resilience
Love us all in spite of what we’ll do to you

I knew that I did this for a reason

Say what he might, but by the time we get to the bridge and outro for this track, it’s clear that The Boy is not being driven by sincere motives, but rather a combination of bitter resentment/vengefulness and delusions of grandeur. He dreams of the public singing his praises and asking him to show them the light in much the same way that TP/P’s congregation did the same only a few tracks ago. This is not a promising combination for a good leader, and it’s easy to see that our protagonist, much as he noted in “Remembered,” is barreling down a path to his own ruin.

13. “The Line”

Ah yes, The Lover. Remember her? Evidently The Boy didn’t much either. Having been utterly consumed by his own ambitions as mayor, it’s not surprising that he let his already-fraught relationship with his “fiancée” essentially wither on the vine. This relationship was doomed right from the start, which takes out a lot of the potential emotional weight of it, but thankfully Casey’s songwriting is as on-point as ever here, resulting in one of his most beautiful and affecting pieces to date.

The track’s title is a reference to “The Sermon In The Silt,” in which The Boy was warned on multiple occasions not to get too close to “the line,” which meant allowing his past and desire to destroy TP/P to destroy the new chance at a fresh start he had been given. It’s clear by this point that that is exactly what he has done, and to her credit, The Lover refuses to sit idly and be ignored in favor of The Boy’s own ego-driven obsessions. So “The Line” is indeed a break-up song, albeit one in which both sides appear to agree that they simply cannot meet the other’s needs and just decide to go their separate ways.

Heartache buried down below
With your hands tied tight around it
Have a hard time letting go
Like it never even happened

It’s the end of the line for you and I
Don’t make believe we even tried
It’s the end of the line for you and I

As Casey’s done a couple of times in the past (most notably in “Evicted” from Act II), this track is written essentially as a dual-perspective duet, with the characters trading verses to put forth their perspectives. The main difference here is that each character speaks not about themselves, but the other. First up is The Boy speaking of The Lover. He describes her as someone perpetually carrying around her buried heartbreak that she never really got over from losing her actual love, The Son, the first time during the war. From The Boy’s perspective, she’s never been able to let go of that part of her past and accept him for who he is, which of course is preposterous given that he’s acting as an imposter of the man she actually loved. The Boy, no longer driven by a desire for love and being loved (at least in the romantic sense), views his relationship with The Lover as almost purely transactional. He got what he needed from her in her political connections, and now that he no longer has a practical use for her, he has little interest in maintaining the charade of a loving relationship.

Spring had gone and clipped your wings
And the summer led astray
Autumn left a bitter sting
But the winter froze away

It’s the end of the line for you and I
Don’t make believe we even tried
It’s the end of the line for you and I

In the second verse, The Lover gives us a succinct summary of The Boy’s transformation over the past year from aimless sad sack to power-hungry politician. In the beginning of his time with her he was reclusive, utterly stuck inside of his own head, and medicating his internal turmoil with alcohol. The summer was likely around the time he made the decision to enter the mayoral race and was “led astray,” according to The Lover. Autumn would’ve been election season and the time he began truly being consumed by his political ambitions and completely ignoring her. His victory would have been a “bitter sting.” Perhaps she held out hope that after the race they would be able to focus on each other again some more, but as he settled into his new position and became more and more obsessed by the trappings of it, all remaining hope for that “froze away.” The Lover is left with nothing, in a way even worse off than she was before The Boy entered her life and likely tarnished the positive memories she had of the man she actually fell in love with.

Now we dream
Of bigger things
Now we sing
To set us Free
Was lost in limbo long enough for two (Now we dream)
But my identity was wasted on you (Of bigger things)
Cast out the past like demons ritually removed (Now we sing)
Make way for the awakening, so long overdue (To set us free)

It’s the end of the line
It’s the end of the line
It’s the end of the line for you and I

The first part of this final verse appears to be the true “duet” part of this song as the perspective changes to “we.” The sentiment is bittersweet in a way, in that they’re united and speak of bigger things and freedom, but understand that their relationship is the thing holding them back from these things. From there The Boy takes over again and claims that his period of “limbo” in the beginning wasn’t him, that this most recent version of him is, and that he recognizes that this identity is not the one that The Lover wishes for. But The Boy is done pretending to be someone he is not (if not in name at least in actions). He states (once again) that he’s putting everything from his past behind him and moving forward as this reborn version of himself.

This is all obviously wishful thinking, as this story has displayed time and time again that The Boy cannot escape his past and that his history will always come back to haunt him. The Boy has, in fact, learned nothing, and although it’s probably for the best that he and The Lover go their separate ways given how he’s treated her, he may very well come to regret this decision and think back to what he could’ve had down the road. But for now, The Lover is just another body left in our protagonist’s wake.

14. “Wait”

Suddenly unencumbered of any responsibility beyond himself once again, The Boy’s obsession with his position and mission to take down TP/P have become all-consuming. In a moment of introspection though, he turns his attention to matters of the soul in an attempt to reconcile all of the sinful acts he has committed in the past and he knows he will likely have to commit in the future.

I lost my faith when I was young
I clenched my fist to bite my tongue
I leave a wake from all the things that I had done
Cause there wouldn’t be a thing when I moved on

Then I said wait
Are our bodies really piles of dirt?
And is the soul just a metaphor?
I keep my eyes from looking too far up
I fear that there is a heaven above

As shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, The Boy has never considered himself a man of God, completely eschewing it from the time he found his mother’s body murdered. Quite conveniently (I swear it’s coincidental!), after having just invoked the imagery of The Boy leaving a trail of dead, abused, and mistreated bodies in his wake, he does the same exact thing in the first verse. Almost every person of note he’s come in contact with in this story he’s manipulated or lied to in some way, leaving them worse off than when he met them. The most notable exception to this is TP/P, who has likewise done the same on an even larger scale. It seems that the only way he believes he can bring down his nemesis is to essentially become him and embrace his darkest and most ruthless side. This track is essentially The Boy fully admitting for the first time that he is a terrible person who does terrible things, and the shred of optimism and hope he held out during “If All Ends Well” has completely dissipated into a simmering darkness.

As for the chorus, in spite of his lack of faith, he still fears retribution for his actions, whether in this life or whatever comes after. He seems to know that he cannot run from his past forever, and even if he dies without having to confront what he’s done, he may well have to answer for them for an eternity after. He fears the existence of heaven because of its implication that there must be a hell, for that is surely where he is going.

I stood in lines to bow my head
I’d fold my hands and speak in tongues
To whisper worries to the dead
But I could tell no apparition heard a single word I said
But I’d still call my fear in to the air

Then I said wait
Is my body really part of the earth?
And is there blood running through my veins?
I’ll know when I turn to dust
But I fear the answer isn’t enough
So, will I never know heaven and hell?
Or is eternity something worse?
I keep my eyes from looking too far up
I fear that there is a heaven above
(heaven above, heaven above)

Once again, he speaks of going through the motions of the faithful, of attending mass and of prayer, but he remains unconvinced that any of his prayers are being heard. And yet he cannot help himself from continuing to do so and cling onto to the sliver of hope and dread that there is a higher power out there and greater form of justice. Much of this album has been concerned with a kind of existential dread and terror, but at no point has The Boy been this consumed by matters such as these. He is wracked by guilt and both fears and, on some level, appears to desire some kind of divine retribution for his actions. Perhaps if he knew there would be ultimate justice he wouldn’t feel the need to carry it out himself against The Pimp/Priest. The fact that he is so wracked by fear and guilt though is a signal that, though he has certainly made many terrible decisions and has done many terrible things, he will never be able to stoop down to TP/P’s level of malice and malignancy.

I want to give it up
I want to give it up
I want to give it up
But I just need it too much

Utterly consumed by hatred and anger, he needs to carry out his vengeance against TP/P. For all the reasons he knows he shouldn’t, and for all the recognition of what he and others have sacrificed to get him to this point, he has come way too far to stop now. He can feel how close he is to achieving his goal, and yet, as he usually does, he has made a grave error and underestimated others. For while he’s been plotting so has his nemesis, and TP/P is about to show him just why he is so much better at this game than The Boy is.

15. “Ouroboros”

So, let’s talk a little bit about our grand finale’s namesake. The ouroboros, if you’re not already familiar, is a symbol reaching back millennia that commonly depicts a serpent or dragon in a circular shape eating its own tail. It often is used to symbolize something cyclical, such as the life cycle of birth and death. In a more general sense though, it represents something in which the beginning and ending come back around to the same place. There have been a few nods to this concept in this series of albums, most notably in Act III. That album’s title itself, Life and Death is one, as expressed in the plot of that chapter (The Boy is “reborn” through the act of stealing the identity of his brother who had just died in combat). “In Cauda Venenum,” which I wrote in my analysis of the song is Latin for “The poison is in the tail.” The Oracles time and time again have warned The Boy that he cannot escape his past (“Writing On A Wall” features the line “past and present stay the same”). The bulk of Act IV has been spent in a seemingly futile attempt of The Boy attempting to start anew while repeating the same mistakes and winding up right back where he was.

I bet you thought that you’d succeed
Pulling the wool right over me
Hard to believe this snake stayed in the grass
Just long enough to catch your rabbit’s feet
With telescoping glances
Hands romanced enticing you to keep
Laboring against the clock in spite of secrecy
You couldn’t know revealed itself
To me the second you decided to compete

And so it is here. In the final track of this album, we learn that while The Boy was scheming and slowly building up his plan to take down The Pimp/Priest once and for all, TP/P was merely biding his time until he could flip the script and reveal that he’s been in control all along. It’s unclear at what point he discovered that The Boy was back in town and pretending to be someone else – it could’ve been during “The Sermon In The Silt” or once he began running for mayor – but what is clear is that as soon as he discovered The Boy’s secret, he sat on it, knowing that he now had leverage against him whenever he needed it. It’s quite likely that he, in fact, played a part in getting The Boy elected by throwing his support to him, knowing that he would have someone in office who he could pin under his thumb. But all along TP/P was the snake/serpent hiding in the grass, waiting for his opportunity to strike. Just as it was when he worked for TP/P as a driver in Act II, The Boy is once again under TP/P’s influence. Past and present are the same. The ouroboros is complete.

Furthering the connection are direct allusions to their first encounter in “Smiling Swine,” in which TP/P “telescoped” his hand, and the “hands romanced” belonged to The Boy, having just laid with Ms. Leading for the first time. As devious and evil as The Boy believed himself to be in “Wait,” once coming face-to-face to the next-level chessmaster tactics of TP/P – in which he allowed The Boy to drive himself crazy amassing the clout and political capital to take him down, only to pull the veil back to reveal that he had known all along – it’s clear that he is simply outmatched.

I fell down then I fell apart
“I never wanted to hurt no one.
I never wanted to be your city’s son.”
I cried out to his crooked heart
“I never wanted to hurt no one. No one but you.”

In the song’s chorus, the final facade has finally fallen from The Boy’s visage. Just as much as he ever was, he is the scared, confused child caught in the middle of an uncaring world that seeks to do ill upon others. His latest incarnation as a tough, bare-knuckled politician was just the latest in a string of imposter acts. The second he is challenged by TP/P, all tough talk disappears, and he reverts to a painful cry of how he never wanted to hurt anyone and how he never really wanted to become mayor. His only goal was to take down TP/P, and he failed.

I bet you thought that you could breathe
A satisfied sigh of relief
A terrible thing, forgetting where you came from
Or have you trouble when you fall asleep
I’ve seen you fabricate, manipulate and here, you masquerade
But if we’re poaching ghosts, you know I’ve got a few that I would raise
Settle yourself
As long as I’m protected
You can bet your secret’s safe with me

At this point TP/P is basically just toying with The Boy for his own sadistic pleasure. He twists the dagger in him even further as he reminds him of his past and feigns mocking pity – “Oh, how sad that you’ve forgotten who you are and where you came from. Does it keep you up at night?” He mocks his plan as well, claiming that he’s watched him deceive everyone else around him, almost seeming to give him an ounce of credit while reminding him immediately that he may be good, but TP/P is far better. We then get into the blackmail, in which he tells The Boy that his reputation and identity are safe as long as he doesn’t touch him, The Church, or The Dime. Here he is betting that The Boy has a big enough ego and cares enough about his reputation to favor self-preservation over obtaining his ultimate goal, creating a scenario of mutually-assured destruction. Of course, it would be foolish to assume that TP/P would end there, and you can bet that he will continue to use his leverage to take advantage of The Boy to his own benefit at every opportunity from here on out.

Lost my soul
In the place of the great deceiver
Foolish hearts led foolish plans awry
They told me don’t veer far from your home
Try never to leave her
Near I landed; here I’ll live and die
Travelled too far from the river’s side
It wasn’t long before I felt nothing below me
And all of the ground I thought I’d gained
Taken away
Thought I was strong; not strong enough;
My mettle was bending
Foolish plans kissed foolish hearts goodbye
Travelled too far from the river’s side

We’re left in internal monologue with The Boy as he fully recognizes the error of everything he’s done to this point. He regrets having lost all remaining bits of himself that were good (his “soul”) when confronted with TP/P and his history with him again. He recalls how The Oracles told him on the train to turn back home and not abandon his mother’s dead body. He’s spent most of this story running away from danger and from his own past. But now he’s here and stuck in a situation he cannot simply run away from again. He’s not resilient enough to overcome this, he thinks. He is way in over his head, and for once, he sees no way out. He’s traveled too far from home, from his ideals and morals, from the people he knows and could’ve provided support. He is eons away from The Lake, that source of purity and innocence, and strayed too far from The River to ever find his way back. For the first time, he is truly trapped and must serve the man he swore he would defeat. If there is a fate worse than hell, as he was just pondering, then he may have very well found it.


WE. ARE. DONE. Holy moley. Look, I have very much enjoyed taking this journey along with all of you, and clearly I love this music and this story, but I think I would be 100% okay with not speaking of any of this again for quite some time! Whether you’ve been with me from the start of this or jumped in somewhere in the middle, I truly appreciate each and every one of you who has read these, commented on them, traded theories with me, and shared them. I hope this proves to be a useful resource to anyone looking for a very in-depth guide to the innerworkings of this series. I think it’s fair to say that no one but Casey and the band has any idea when we might see Act V (and it’s quite possible that not even Casey knows yet), but whenever it does drop, I’ll be here ready to be the biggest nerd ever about it and over-analyze the shit out of it.

Until then, keep the fire going.

Comments

4 Responses

  1. jherb88

    I love the album’s use of orchestration throughout. One of my favorite storytelling techniques in the album is the weaving of the melody/chord progression from Wait throughout the album, most notably in the intro piece and at the end of A Night on the Town. It’s kinda of an illustration of the guilt bubbling beneath the Boy that all comes to a head during Wait.

    By the way, have you heard the new song Dear Hunter have been playing on tour?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ghd04ESIusU Lyrics are in the description and it’s most definitely from Act V. Suprise: The Boy has a son! (that’s a weird sentence to type)

    Reply
    • Eclecticore

      AHHHHH I HAVE NOT. I haven’t seen them this tour since they haven’t hit NYC this time around. Saw them last year for the Acts II and III shows and then the first Act IV tour.

      This is 100% a canon track though, and it’s great. Also, yes, we really all need to agree upon a new name for The Boy. It’s just becoming more and more ridiculous to say.

      Reply
  2. Garrett

    Nick, Can’t thank you enough for the time and dedication you put into all of these posts. It’s been a very enjoyable read and I (as a reader) really appreciate all the work that must have gone in to this. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Alex

    Had this tab sat open on Firefox for about three weeks, waiting until I had time to read it and give it the attention it deserves.
    Great writing, Nick; I’ve listened to these albums so many times, but still haven’t thought through all the lyrics in this way.

    Reply

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