Manchester Orchestra – Million Masks of God (Album Review)

Atlanta’s Alternative/Indie Rock titans Manchester Orchestra return on Friday, April 30, 2021 with their new album The Million Masks of God via Loma Vista Recording. A follow up to their 2017 masterpiece A Black Mile to the Surface, for their latest effort, they take more of a Rock Opera route while keeping a consistent story throughout…exploring just how far they can take the music. 

Before diving into the the exciting new chapter of Manchester Orchestra, looking back, the band of five – Vocalist/Guitarist Andy Hull, Lead Guitar Robert McDowell, Bassist Andy Prince, and Drummer Tim Very – initially came onto the Alternative Rock scene back in 2004. After their initial release of I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child in 2006, they followed up in 2009 with Mean Everything to Nothing; putting them fully on the radar of the world. Hitting the ground running, 2011’s Simple Math saw more of an orchestral instrumentation while Hull began to come into his own both as musician and songwriter, helping the band soar to even further heights. Then taking a grandeur approach for 2014’s Cope, they turned grittier later that year with the acoustic album Hope.

Moving forward, Hull and McDowell took a different seat as they composed the full soundtrack for 2016’s Swiss Army Man. With an even broader audience forming, A Black Mile to the Surface, took on a storytelling style, gaining even more attention from the likes of music royalty like Paris Jackson, daughter of the late Michael Jackson, who asked Hull to help out on her single “Eyelids.” Sustaining instrumental deepness, naturally, they wanted to keep the ball rolling when plotting The Million Masks of God. 

Doing just that, the new album kicks into high gear with the opening of “Inaudible.” Launching with sound harmonies, it is like touching the heavens or crossing over without hitting the surface fully, thanks to the edition of echoing vocals and atmospheric keys. This first track alone shows just how far the band has come and how they are consistently push instrumental boundaries. Trancing transition leads to the “Keel Timing,” the album’s second single. It is here anger and thoughtful of doubt are brewed with simple guitar hook before soon transitioning into a boisterous, thunderous chorus where Hull’s screams lead the charge. 

Keeping your intrigue, then comes “Bed Head.” Rightfully the album’s lead single, it features a soft headbanging beat and some powerful orchestration. Complete with synthesizer effects, there is a ghost-like sensation which is macabre, yet upbeat. Moving on, “Annie” possesses early Manchester Orchestra vibes, however, more matured with a short, sweet guitar lead that is combined with an alternating drum patterns. 

“Telepath,” the third single, comes at you with a beautiful, folky acoustic hook which gives Hull a chance to reflects on love of past. “You are the road I chose to travel,” is a romantic line for the ages and is truly slow dance worthy as the harmonies project a hypnotic tone before the acoustic flow continues on “Let it Storm.” But that is not all, because “Dinosaur” turns the mood around again with its heavy electronics, matched with delicate guitar and piano in tow. Revisiting the lyric “Hold me now, no I will not repeat myself,” as heard earlier on “Keeling Time,” the music comes full circle, turns atmospheric for just a moment, but only as a prelude to more soft screams and shredder guitars. This is before “Obstacle” emerges with a soft Tri-pop sound that leads into the faint guitar hook of “Telepath” which provides a fitting translation, touching on the topic of life, living it fully, and acceptance. 

Continuing the mood of inward reflection, “Way Back” is a glimmery synth cut that sets the stage for the Sci-Fi inspired “The Internet.” Creating the feeling that you are entering into the unknown, the story of The Million Masks of God comes to a close and it settles in just right.

As an overall package, from the album artwork to the production, plus the lyrical story, this album offers a wonderful journey well worth taking. Each member is given time to shine, propelling the boundaries of their chosen instrument to create a complexity of emotion and disparity. Furthermore, the music is even affective due to the fact that the band utilize a mass of personal life experiences as inspiration – that includes the recent, tragic loss of key Songwriter Robert McDowell’s father to cancer. Touching and real, Cryptic Rock gives Manchester Orchestra’s The Million Masks of God a resounding 5 out of 5 stars.

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Michele Johnson has been heavily into music since early birth when her father would play video tapes of music videos and she would dance along to them in her crib, and seeing Eric Clapton as her first concert at the age of 8 years old. Her love for music began to fully flourish when she began to take photos of bands in her sophomore year of high school and after her attendance to SUNY Oneonta, with a psychology degree in tow, it became a full passion. During her time at Oneonta, she played in various musical groups including A capella, took part in a club based on the music industry, and heavily developed her love for live music photography. She has gone on to promote her love for music by teaching music to students as young as 4 and as old as 74! Michele tries to go to as many concerts as she can, at most 5-6 times a month, for she needs her live music fix and her photography fix too! Its a high she cannot get off of.

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