About two hours into a four-hour train from Venice to Rome, I made a startling and possibly world-changing discovery: The Dear Hunter's new EP, All Is As All Should Be, is actually about the Balance Arc of the popular Dungeons and Dragons podcast, The Adventure Zone. There are six songs, one for each aspect of the seven birds prophecy: The Twins, The Lover, The Protector, The Lonely Journal Keeper, The Peacemaker, and The Wordless One. The album cover even features a handprint made from the rings of a tree.
"Now, Phoebe," I hear you say, "All Is As All Should Be is a collection of songs based on fans' lives. It's not a fan album for your D&D podcast." And that's true, but play with me.
Warning: Spoilers for everything up to episode 67 of The Adventure Zone.
1. The Right Wrong - The Protector
With the chance to go back and amend every grievance, how could I resist preventing my demons from ever existing and making a mess of the life that I could have had? Would I return to you? To the love I knew?
This is the song I was actually listening to when I had this earth-shattering revelation. I had just finished relistening to episode 48, where the chalice offers the boys the chance to change a moment in their history and was more than a little surprised when "The Right Wrong" came up on shuffle.
The very real possibility that Magnus would have taken the chalice if it didn't mean giving up all he'd done with the Bureau, making him the only member of the IPRE to actually be tempted by one of the relics, is a bit of characterization that I find fascinating.
A large portion of Magnus' character comes from his fixation on the lives he might have saved, especially Julia's, and the ways he wishes he could change his actions are perfectly mirrored in "The Right Wrong."
Not only are questions like, "Where could you have gone, the only right I had wronged?" and "What character would I be if my conscience was clean? What would become of me?" at the core of Magnus' character arc, especially as his past actions becomes foggier after The Eleventh Hour.
The song's final decision that "despite all my skeletons, I see all is as all should be" is exactly where Magnus lands at the end of episode 48. It was quite literally the exact dilemma I had just listened to in an hour and a half episode of TAZ condensed into a four-minute song.
2. Blame Paradise - The Lonely Journal Keeper
Did you believe it? Can you unsee it? It isn't difficult to scribe a scheme if you manage to master the subtleties of doublespeak. But I can't keep up, no, the stories creep up.
I wasn't exactly expecting the rest of the songs to relate to the podcast, but I was definitely keeping a closer eye (ear?) on the lyrics. About halfway through the EP's second track, I started to realize it's a pretty solid retelling of Lucretia's decision to rewrite the canon at the end of The Stolen Century.
It begins with Lucretia's plan to beat the Hunger being rejected by her friends with "So I beg for rationale in the midst of all the rage, but I'm met with reduction. Again, I offend before I've opened my mouth." The chorus carries her through the alteration of the world's memories: "The truth's no longer deified. Instead, we wade the wreckage of this false information that you can't deny. Tell me this isn't real life." The rest references her friends slowly start to find the cracks in their memories and "the stories creep up."
Once again, the most important decision of a character's arc is summed up in a song on this album.
3. Beyond The Pale - The Peacemaker
Have we inherited the flaws of fumbling gods too small to stumble on their own who never grow? If you demand we fall, how will we evolve beyond the pale of your holy sprawl?
At this point, I'm basically building a tinfoil hat right there on the train. "Beyond The Pale" is literally about a man's struggle with faith considering how often his god allows him to fail, AKA the basis of Merle's relationship with Pan.
As Merle's powers fade and he begins to believe Pan has abandoned him toward the end of the Balance Arc, the questions asked throughout this song are the core of his character.
What's really interesting, though, is the way this song begins: "Reanimated, I awake awaiting mistakes I shouldn't make born of bonds." This is the first of several references to reawakening or moving throw cycles in this album, and one particularly interesting reference to bonds.
4. Shake Me (Awake) - The Wordless One
If day becomes dusk, don't let that stop us on our way to something more uncertain, 'cause when we arrive, oh, honey, honey, wherever we're going, we may never want to leave.
I'll admit, I was sort of dreading finding a song for Davenport. Of all of the seven, he receives the least characterization, so if I didn't find a song about travel or a smaller aspect of his character, like his tendency to find simple things to do in his free time, I was going to be at a loss.
"Shake Me (Awake)," conveniently, sings of constant travel and the need to abandon normal life to fit as much into every day as possible, including the smaller things, because you don't know when your life is going to end. It's a song that embodies the IPRE's entire mission, but especially their captain's.
He's the one who relies so heavily on the mission that Lucretia had to erase nearly all of his memories, the one who spends the time he gets to himself each cycle relaxing in trees, drinking wine by himself, or playing cards, the one convicted of rage by the four judges at the "the endless circles [he's] been running in."
It's fitting that a song that so perfectly captures the mission be given to the man whose life was the mission.
5. Witness Me - The Lover
My spirit has been drifting for years in secret as a narrative appeared in plain sight. The fiction forced the truth to imitate.
Barry has always been one of the most intriguing characters in The Adventure Zone to me, and "Witness Me" echoes one of the most intriguing periods of his life almost impossibly well: the years between The Stolen Century and the end of The Suffering Game.
Barry's time spent between life and death, watching a new story take the place of history, trying to get his friends to notice and trust him, and unable to join them without losing himself and his memories, is completely laid out in this song. It's hard for me to even pick a lyric to prove it with because literally, every lyric fits.
It even comes with a call-and-response section where separate voices, easily interpretable as his lost friends, sing, "Join us and watch all the world from afar. We're all just the same, we lost who we are."
You kind of just have to listen to it.
6. The Twins - All Is As All Should Be
Copycat, you can't look back. Your eyes, they haven't seen nothin'. But, at the end, when you're looking out through my eyes, you'll see that all is as all should be.
With only one song left and the Twins the only ones left on the list, if "All Is As All Should Be" didn't fit I was going to have to either find a way to reassign already perfectly assigned songs or give up on this venture entirely.
Luckily, this song is, remarkably, perfect for Lup and Taako. It's the only song sung by one person entirely about their relationship with another, centered around someone who is watching the other move through life without them, slowly closing in on the truth, the moment when all is as all should be.
So, basically, it retells Lup's perspective on Taako moving on without her.
What's weird about this one is how specific the lyrics are, though. Not only does the song bring back that idea of reawakening at the beginning of a new cycle of life with lines like, "Is all that remains the will to start again or is there more retained when another life begins?" It applies that idea to the concept of fading from a person's life: "As I fade away, you come to be and when the cycle ends, it begins with an unfamiliar me."
When combined with the fact that the person forgetting (in this case, an identical twin) is called "copycat" and the song's assurance that "all is as all should be" despite the music underscoring it being markedly heavy leading to a joyous ending as all is proved to be right, it really feels like an impossible coincidence.
Somehow, every single song on this short EP matches up with the IPRE. Not just in small ways, but in loud, easily interpretable ways that reflect the main portions of each of these characters stories. At the very least, this is a very strange coincidence.
At most, this album is secretly Casey getting his feelings out about the TAZ: Balance finale. Until he denies it all, I'm gonna start banking on that latter.