For a band that has always been ambitious, Manchester Orchestra’s latest, The Million Masks Of God, presents their brand of rock on an even grander scale.
Gaze upon the galactic cover of Manchester Orchestra‘s new record and immediately you’re reminded of your smallness in relation to the heavenly bodies. What if you could make music that reflects this overwhelming realisation? This is the environment that the band has created on its sixth record, The Million Masks Of God.
The first sound on the record which hints at this mightiness is the human voice. Like rounding a bend and catching the first glimpse of a snow-capped mountain, “You’re inaudible” commandeers your senses and momentarily leaves you breathless. This inescapable, celestial choral presence is one of the album’s mainstays. When it is eventually eschewed for tracks that favour solo vocals in tracks like Annie and Telepath, the harmonies are replaced with generous lashings of reverb; even when it gets folky, the soundscapes remain epic.
And while the mixing unambiguously prioritises the vocals, the treatments of the other instruments are inspired. There’s no doubt that it’s a sumptuous production from beginning to end, but that shouldn’t be confused for empty glossiness. On tracks like Keel Timing, for instance, guitar tones are — for want of a better word — conventional. Yet, perfectly so. Satisfying, with just the right amount of earthy crunch. Understanding that they set the rhythmic template for this urgent piece, the raw materials have just been enhanced tastefully, rather than radically transformed.
And when things do get experimental, it’s tastefully executed. The band, along with Catherine Marks and Ethan Gruska had a hand in the production, which paid dividends. On Telepath, for example, fingerpicked guitar sits atop a bed of muffled, yet reverberant drums, with low strings that incredibly morph into the ghosts of synthetic choirs. These micro-moments of ethereal wonder a littered throughout, harmonically anchored rich synth and string drones.
While the sonic juxtapositions abound on The Million Masks Of God, thematically, the narrative has a strong thread that rewards the patient listener. Songwriter Robert McDowell had been processing the loss of his father throughout the creation of the album, so the understanding of life and death — or at least an attempt to — was a key inspiration. Getting to grips with such monumental concepts is the work of a lifetime and aptly reflected in the scope of this record.
And even if you can separate concept from album, experimentation this daring on a rock album released in 2021 demands consideration. If you take this particular journey, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
A Million Masks Of God is out now. Stream it below: