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The Decemberists – As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again (Album Review)

The Decemberists set the bar very high with ‘As It Ever Was, ‘So It Will Be Again’, a record packed with highlights, a fully-loaded taste of their essence, pulling in every colour and thread they have touched upon in a long and varied two-decade career.

It is fairly standard for a long-established band to herald the arrival of a new album as the best of their career. Time will often prove the positive proclamations to be wishful thinking; they know deep down the glory years were the early days when the songs landed with a natural, fresh energy. The Decemberists, however, are a different beast, a collective built around the songwriting of main man Colin Meloy that have been largely inactive since 2018’s ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’ album. Thanks to Meloy’s numerous creative interests outside of the band, including solo covers records and authoring a number of books (the Wildwood series was written alongside his illustrator wife Carson Ellis), he could allow himself the luxury of only bringing the band back to the table when new material was strong and plentiful enough to justify a group configuration as his primary creative outlet. That they genuinely feel comfortable in calling As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again the best Decemberists album is testimony to the quality of the songs collected and recorded here on the band’s first intentional double LP.

The primary reason As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again might stand tall as the definitive Decemberists release is that it pulls in every colour and thread they have previously touched upon in a long and varied two-decade career. Never easily pigeonholed, here you have mournful country blues, sprightly indie pop-rock, lilting Americana, grainy back-porch folk and a climax with a near twenty-minute-long track in which the band don their capes and plug into every prog rock instinct hinted towards in the past. Joan In The Garden is an epic escapade that, in its journey reflecting Joan Of Arc’s hallucinatory visitation by angels, moves slowly and dizzyingly into an echoey netherworld of ethereal noise and visitation before (in classic prog style), erupting into a full-throttle rock-out closure. They did go in this direction a little once before with the brilliant The Hazards Of Love album, but here on their longest-ever song, The Decemberists really throw everything into the melting pot to fully realise that aspect of their music.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again begins in a quite different place, a folk-rocking electric jingle-jangle no less on Burial Ground in which we are propelled willingly along a bounding jaunt downhill to the end. The Reapers is a title that suggests a similar finality to the subject matter, whilst the minor key tone to this questioning folk ballad firmly backs that up. The background to this song and another album highlight, the brazenly jaunty Oh No!, lies in some of the solo music writing projects Meloy undertook after the pandemic. He had been writing songs for the animation adaptation of his first Wildwood book, and he was also invited by a playwright to score a currently unnamed theatre project. Feeling unbound by the need to write music in a purely band-related context, Colin Meloy revisited old notebooks and picked up once-discarded shards of lyrical ideas and musical scraps. By the time he felt the song pile had built to a Decemberists album-like level, he gathered the band in producer Tucker Martine’s Portland studio (there had been one premature attempt six months previous) and, with occasional helpers such as The Shins’ James Mercer and REM’s Mike Mills, nailed the whole record in a fully motivated and engaged two week period.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is absolutely a record packed with highlights. I have enjoyed several listens now and feel safe in my assertion that there is not a weak song on this album; the bar is set extremely high. William Fitzwilliam is a chewy country ballad inspired by a 16th-century British diplomat that the writer insisted “just had a name that had to be sung”. The Black Maria and Long White Veil are the centrepieces to the record’s heaviest moments, staring the black holes of our destination down hard and provoking our already heavy hearts with pedal steels and doomed acoustic guitar swipes. Contrastingly, All I Want Is You is a gentle and beautiful ode with a simple, universal sentiment, whilst America Made Me feels like a timely fist-pumping jingoist anthem ripe for misinterpretation in such a crazy political era within the US. So much ground is covered here, making it a wise move that each of the four vinyl record sides has a distinct theme and tonal feel. They really have captured everything that was always wonderful about the Decemberists on this release, and just maybe, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again might, over time, endure as the go-to album for a fully loaded taste of their essence.

The Decemberists are now on an expansive North American tour that wraps up in August on the West Coast. The band will also be appearing at All Points East in London on 25th August.

To celebrate the album’s release tomorrow (Friday, June 14th), they will livestream their concert from Revolution Hall in their hometown of Portland, OR. Tickets are available here.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is released on June 14th via Yabb Records.

Pre-Order / Pre-Save the album: https://orcd.co/aiewsiwba
See Upcoming Tour Dates: https://decemberists.com/tour

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