With The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists have out-nerded themselves and, in the process, they've created one hell of an epic masterpiece. A lady held captive, a vengeful queen, a shape-shifting monster and an unrepentant rake are a few of the characters the Portland-based band follows on this multi-genre adventure. On the biggest, most innovative concept album of the 21st century, the Decemberists switch between metal, renaissance-era folk and everything in between. Frontman Colin Meloy has called the 17-song rock opera "a natural connection between Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath ... a shared sense of narrative and ambience." The Decemberists have always used colorful narratives to tell distinctive musical tales, but this is the first time they've focused an entire album on a single plot. Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark sings the part of the abused maiden in a devastatingly sweet, timeless tone, while My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden belts out the queen's heavy-metal verses with vigor. But Meloy is the star, transforming his voice as he switches characters and surrounds himself with a musical cast worthy of indulging true royalty. Harpsichord, organ, electric and acoustic guitars, and synthesizer shimmer around a story that sucks listeners in and doesn't let go until the last note. — Danielle Sills
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