Setting: an island off the coast of Europe during the Black Plague. A doctor hopelessly seeks to save the infected. An optimistic young monk learns of a miracle cure protected by years of church tradition. His elder at the monastery tries his damnedest to keep that cure out of the public's hands.

Setting: an island off the coast of Europe during the Black Plague. A doctor hopelessly seeks to save the infected. An optimistic young monk learns of a miracle cure protected by years of church tradition. His elder at the monastery tries his damnedest to keep that cure out of the public's hands.

Sounds like the makings of a killer novel or a critically acclaimed festival flick, but it's actually the basis of the debut album by upstart Columbus art-rock band Wing & Tusk, The Secret of Toadflax Tea, to be released Friday with a concert at Skully's.

The band began nearly three years ago as a partnership between singer Josh Rea and guitarist Nat Hagey. Rea presented Hagey with the Black Plague premise, and the pair fleshed it out into an 11-part story. Then they began writing songs to tell each chapter of the tale.

"We didn't have a band name or anything," Rea said. "The actual band has never to this point existed without The Secret of Toadflax Tea."

Last year the duo assembled a full backing band to play a benefit show, and the new unit generated such a positive response, they decided to stick with the full lineup full-time. Thus keyboardist Roseanne Claiborne, drummer Chris Manis, bassist Daniel Bennett and recently departed violinist Sally Polk joined the band.

Within a couple months Wing & Tusk headed to Cleveland to lay down live tracks for the album with producer Drew Bullock, dubbed "the ghost member of the band" for his integral role in the recording process.

From there it was back to Columbus for month after month of revisions, orchestral overdubs and carefully curbing each composition to fit the story. Rea called the self-imposed writing restrictions "a good kind of limit," creative challenges that forced the musicians to push past first reactions and obvious choices.

"This was completely new for all of us. It took longer than we expected," Hagey said. "It's going to change how I write forever."

That's not to say they'll never write in a more conventional fashion. Although Claiborne said she hopes future albums will also be storytelling vehicles, the band members have enough stray ideas kicking around to release an EP of unrelated tunes before tackling another mammoth project.

As for this one: "There's probably a certain flavor of me being discontent with the church," Rea said, before touching on the parallels between Toadflax Tea's miracle cure and today's stem cell research that "certain people are suppressing."

Before they can pick up the underlying themes, people have to follow the narrative, something Wing & Tusk took painstaking measures to facilitate. Lyrics double as dialogue, while the sounds around them invoke setting and mood. The band is in the process of developing a film to stream along with their songs, which will be played in sequence for the first time Friday. They hope it's easier to decipher than, say, the latest Decemberists record.

"If people can't follow it as a story," Manis said, "that's kind of our failure."

E-mail your local music news to Chris DeVille at cdeville@columbusalive.com