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Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks of God (Album Review)

Friday, 07 May 2021 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Shervin Lainez

You could say the Atlanta quartet Manchester Orchestra are one of modern rock’s biggest secrets, seemingly destined to fly beneath the radar. It’s criminal in many ways, and a minor miracle that they’re not as highly regarded as Band Of Horses or Bears Den, bands that occasionally tread similar ground.

‘The Million Masks of God’, the band’s sixth studio LP, continues with a conceptual core of sorts, following up a similar approach on 2017’s ‘A Black Mile to the Surface’. It’s not so much that it’s obsessed with life and death, although the latter concern does provide a morbid backbone to much of this collection, more what lies beyond the final curtain.

Religious references pop up during the melancholic, piano-backed Let it Storm as fingerpicked guitars play off Andy Hull’s voice: “I don’t wanna hold back my faith anymore.”

Annie is similarly thought-provoking alongside some beautiful chord changes as the LP’s protagonist “talk[s] to God” in a touching manner.

Guitarist Robert McDowell’s father passed away during recording and raw emotions pour from Angel of Death, where a searing opening shows its intent. Obstacle tells us “daddy’s at the hospital” in another mournful moment, the pace switching up as an anthemic chorus contributes to a fine cut.

As is becoming the norm with Manchester Orchestra, you need to give ‘The Million Masks of God’ time to seep in. Repeated visits gradually reveal layers of complexity that will eventually delight, but the first couple of plays will keep its treasures closely guarded. Opener Inaudible is awash with gorgeous vocal harmonies and melodies, their beauty becoming more visible with each listen. Similarly, the gloomy intro to Dinosaur is misleading as the track unfolds into a slow-burner of considerable force.

Once again, the band relishes the opportunity to blend rockier moments with more subtle touches. Glorious closer The Internet is suitably epic, managing to stick a foot in both camps, while Telepath features a laid back approach with cello and fingerpicked guitars before stunning vocal harmonies deliver the goods.

Keel Timing hits the rocky highs with a repetitive Noel Gallagher-esque guitar riff before bleeding without pause into the excellent Bed Head. As a whole piece ‘The Million Masks of God” is quite a thing of beauty. Manchester Orchestra may well deserve more credit than they'll get yet again, but they’re repeatedly doing everything right.

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