by Jack Diablo
Album: The Hazards of Love
Artist: The Decemberists
Label: Capitol
Release Date: March
Colin Meloy and his gang of Portland, OR based troubadours, The Decemberists, are among a handful of bands who refuse to write songs destined for the shuffle and humbly cling to the album concept.
Their latest creation, The Hazards of Love, is not a mere collection of singles, but a 17-song suite with a single dramatic theme. Every track tells a tale, intertwining to develop one tragic story of love and loss; replete with archetypal characters including star-crossed lovers, a vengeful forest queen, a murderous rake, and the ghosts of his children.
In Hazards, The Decemberists have taken the folk songs and sea shanties synonymous with their sound and applied methods of theme and variation, a concept they’ve experimented with on albums like The Tain and The Crane Wife. Creating something at once unique and nostalgic, The Hazards of Love is an album that begs to be listened to from start to finish – lyric sheet in hand. Mirroring that of reading a book or watching a movie, this album demands your full attention and unmercifully reminds us that great music was not created to be simply background noise.
Even though the album is intended to be heard in its conceptual entirety, there are tracks capable of standing alone. “The Rake’s Song” has already made waves and does not require any prior knowledge of the album’s story to relish and enjoy. Its contagious chorus and head-nodding beat make it a single destined for a top spot on the indie charts.
What’s most impressive though, is how the band has proven that it’s not limited to traditional ballads but can gracefully shift gears to churn out foot-stomping distorted metal breakdowns with well-oiled execution.
When the queen speaks in “The Queen’s Rebuke / The Crossing”, she is accompanied by sludgy guitar riffs as Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond lends her voice to channel the ghost of Grace Slick. What initially seems to be an absurd fusion of heavy metal and folklore, in hindsight makes perfect sense when you consider the work of early metal pioneers such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Jethro Tull.
Granted it is early but I can already tell you that this is Grammy-worthy stuff and my premature pick for album of the year, so do yourself a solid and pick it up (preferably on vinyl)!