In advance of their fifth full-length, The Hazards Of Love, due out March 24, Portland art-rock band The Decemberists is offering a free download of one of the album's tracks, "A Rake's Song." Or at least they're trying to; their website, decemberists.com, currently seems to be choking under the load, with the "sign up for this download" form and the front page only working sporadically.

Here's a sneak preview of the sneak preview: "The Rake's Song," a typically grim, catchy Decemberists chant-along about a selfish man who guiltlessly murders his children, is likely the best track to ease fans from the relative simplicity of the group's last album, The Crane Wife, into the heavily stylized new album, which is being billed as a rock opera, and is much more heavily produced and layered than past Decemberists albums. It's also meant as a complete, 17-track novelistic story, though sometimes the narrative line gets a little obscure. From the press release:

The album began when Meloy – long fascinated by the British folk revival of the 1960s – found a copy of revered vocalist Anne Briggs’s 1966 EP, titled The Hazards of Love. Since there was actually no song with the album’s title, he set out to write one. Soon he was immersed in something much larger than just a new composition.

The Hazards Of Love tells the tale of a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, William; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake… Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden deliver the lead vocals for the female characters, while My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Robyn Hitchcock and the Spinanes' Rebecca Gates appear in supporting roles. The range of sounds reflects the characters’ arcs, from the accordion’s singsong lilt in “Isn’t it a Lovely Night?” to the heavy metal thunder of “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing.”

“There’s an odd bond between the music of the British folk revival and classic metal,” says Meloy. “A natural connection between, like, Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath – of course, Sandy Denny from Fairport even sang with Led Zeppelin on ‘The Battle of Evermore.’ I think there’s a shared sense of narrative and ambience, of moving beyond the first person in your writing. And I thought it would be interesting to mess around with that.”

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And mess with it they do, usually much more heavily than on "A Rake's Song," though its screaming "Brick In The Wall"-style children's chorus and pounding percussion makes for a solid gateway into the rest of the album. The Decemberists intend to tour this spring, playing the entire album in order as the first half of their concerts, then dipping into older material for the second half.