The Hazards Of Love

The Decemberists

Capitol, 2009

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Okay, now this is just cool. Shucking off any notion of being wimpy, Civil War-obsessed art-folk insufferable indie hipsters, the Decemberists released a flat-out progressive rock record as their follow-up to The Crane Wife.

It takes balls to do something like this, especially because you can hurl almost any adjective at this disc that is reserved for prog-rock discs and it fits. Audacious. Pretentious. Impenetrable. Ambitious. Impressive. The entire disc is pretty much one long song broken up into pieces, a couple of which repeat, with passages veering from edgy acoustic folk to electric rock that retain a signature sound. Elements of previous Decemberists records are here, but the band had never attempted anything like this before (or since, as it turns out).


The story is set in some sort of forest, probably in a much older time, and concerns a pregnant lady named Margaret who is attempting to find her lover Williams and instead comes upon a forest queen and a rather unsavory jealous rake. "A Bower Scene," one of the shortest passages, is indicative of the project, riding an insistent quick strum that gives way to monstrous electric power chords. This then careens into "Won't Want For Love," which is all slow drums, spare electric chords and great guest vocals from Becky Stark.

The middle of the disc sags a bit, but it ramps up to the best four-song sequence on the disc after a brief "Interlude." "The Rake's Song" is chunky indie folk with grit, "The Abduction Of Margaret" is exactly the same as "A Bower Scene" with different words, but this time those fat power chords are the basis for the next song, "The Queen's Rebuke," which features a wailing electric guitar in the background and a general Black Sabbath vibe, especially in the "Crossing" section of the song, which could have come straight off Paranoid by way of a Deep Purple album.

This leads into "Annan Water," which is starkly simplstic – just Meloy and some verdant, vibrant acoustic strumming; the dulcimer solo that comes in actually feels needed, not tacked on. "The Wanting Comes In Waves" and the closing "Hazards Of Love 4" are at turns rocking, thoughtful and wholly original. Meloy stated in interviews that he was going for a mix of British folk and original heavy metal influences, and darned if he doesn't come close to pulling it off, although of course the balance is skewed toward the former.

Sure, the story is ridiculous, tragic and gut-wrenching in spots (I won't go into detail about what happens to Margaret or the baby, but it's horrible), and that drags down the overall grade. Also, a little more variety and perhaps trimming of a couple songs in the middle would have sharpened the focus here to a fine point. But it's clear Meloy doesn't care about his public perception or his band's past; he is going for broke here, and it's a fascinating journey. If indie-prog-folk-metal wasn't a genre before, The Hazards Of Love invented it.

Rating: B

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