Granted, this review isn’t exactly timely arriving five months after the album’s release, but it’s fitting for an album that is the definition of a grower. An hour long rock opera about a pair of star-crossed lovers running afoul of a vengeful forest queen isn’t the easiest concept to sell, but damn it if it hasn’t become one of my favourite albums of the year. From the opening strings of ‘Prelude’ you are compelled to hear the entire story. Colin Meloy takes on several roles, including both the de facto hero William, and the villainous Rake, introduced in ‘The Rake’s Song’, the happiest song I’ve heard about a widower killing his three children.
On Hazards, the Decemberists are joined by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond voicing Margaret, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond voicing the Forest Queen. Jim James of My Morning Jacket provides backing vocals throughout the album.
Musically, the album consists of the proggy folk rock made familiar in earlier recordings, in addition to heavy metal influenced material not seen since guitarist Chris Funk challenged Stephen Colbert to a guitar solo competition. These heavier moments combined with Shara Worden’s voice make the Forest Queen a truly striking and imposing presence. While the concept album makes it difficult for songs to stand on their own, The Hazards of Love is an album that compels you to listen from beginning to end. It’s truly greater than the sum of its parts. For while something like ‘The Hazards of Love 3’ loses its effect on its own, in context it’s a haunting melody of revenge sung by a choir of the aforementioned dead children. Likewise, the other interludes and recurring themes really tie this album together.
I often frown upon bands performing nothing but new material on tour, but I was happy to hear the Decemberists have been performing the Hazards of Love in its entirety. Rather than a loose collection of singles, this is a cohesive work best enjoyed as a whole.
Tags: The Decemberists