Manchester Orchestra – ‘The Million Masks Of God’ review: indie’s grand architects settle into their stride

Though their sixth album reckons with death and afterlife, musically it finds the Atlanta quartet at their most assured

If Taylor Swift hadn’t found Aaron Dessner‘s phone number, Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull’s work co-writing and producing Paris Jackson‘s debut album ‘wilted’ would’ve been the most surprising but suitable indie/pop crossover of last year.

Hull’s work with Jackson – a fully tattooed Manchester Orchestra devotee – makes total sense. Over the past 15 years, the Atlanta band have become masters of grand, sweeping indie rock and received cult acclaim that’s deserved to break through to more mainstream success.

Across their career so far, the band have written five self-contained ‘statement’ albums, each one showcasing a particular side of their wide-ranging repertoire. Since the start of the 2010s, they’ve added string sections and sky-reaching majesty to their music (2011’s ‘Simple Math’), gone back to basics on a pedal-to-the-metal rock album (2014’s ‘Cope’) and created a conceptual opus about welcoming new life into the world (2017’s ‘A Black Mile To The Surface’).

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By now though, the band have made such statements and proven themselves. On album six, they finally settle into their stride. New album ‘The Million Masks Of God’ doesn’t aim to explore another untouched corner of the indie rock sound, but acts as a bringing together of everything that has come before.

If their last album celebrated new life – it was written largely as an ode to Hull’s then-newborn daughter – ‘Million Masks’ mourns death. The album was recorded during the final days of guitarist Robert McDowell’s father, and this mournful haze sits over the entire record.

While it’s an album preoccupied with death, it also explores the idea of an unidentifiable afterlife, and how community and togetherness can help you live on in the wake of tragedy. “I was told that there’s a wonder in the place our bodies go,” Hull muses on fierce standout ‘Angel Of Death’.

Musically, this thematic weight plays out on an album that serves as a sonic journey. A frenetic first half (‘Keel Timing’ and ‘Bed Head’) slowly melts into a second side that favours lush arrangements and soft acoustic guitars, representing a resolution to the album’s trauma.

Manchester Orchestra have always been a band that would suit a Greatest Hits album, pulling highlights together from their somewhat disparate catalogue to get a greater picture of what they can do as a band.

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With ‘The Million Masks Of God’, they’ve written something that feels similar to one – a record that traverses every corner of their sound, from beefy rock songs to string-assisted grandeur and acoustic bliss, further cementing their place as an under appreciated band to treasure.

Details

  • Release date: April 30
  • Record label: Loma Vista
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