Review Summary: In the light, you arrive, as the curtain closes.The Million Masks of God
is an album that Manchester Orchestra could never have made until now. Their sixth LP jumps gorgeously out of its shell in much the same way as “Deer” and “The Maze”, with a dense arrangement, lush layered vocals, and a melody that will follow you around for days. But where it goes from there is a quiet revolution in style. By the time the end of penultimate track “Way Back” swells, with its (honestly) Paul Simon-esque harmonies, were it not for Andy Hull’s unmistakeable voice, you could be forgiven for wondering if you’d experienced the right record.
Of course, then “The Internet” crawls its way in and builds, sounding very much like “The Silence” in ominous tone and melody, if not quite stature. The band have made much of this album as a companion piece to A Black Mile To The Surface
, but though there are callbacks peppered throughout – both musical and lyrical – this is a million black miles away from Part 2. Maybe the band felt that 2017’s masterpiece started to broaden the band’s palette and Masks
continues that. But truth be told, half of the songs here rip the concept of Manchester Orchestra apart at the centre and rebuild it from new inspiration.
I’ve already made the ludicrous Paul Simon reference, so – in for a penny, in for a pound. Other names that spring to mind on close scrutiny include Silversun Pickups (like, everywhere), Coldplay, and Radiohead. Only on lead single “Bed Head” do the band sound undeniably
like themselves. Part of this is a fresh application of layered electronics, which form the backbone of tracks like “Keel Timing”. But there is something deeper. “Dinosaur” starts out sounding like the brother to “Pride”, but quickly discovers a groove
that this band has honestly never even hinted at before. “Let it Storm” is underpinned by gentle piano and picked guitars, but has the momentum of a persistent stream, unassuming and yet somehow irresistible.
At the centre of these dense new textures is Andy Hull. The performance he puts in here is by all accounts much quieter
than at any point in Manchester Orchestra’s career. But it calls to mind the transformation of Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue on Beggars
; he grabs vocal clothing he’s donned at times through his career – sinister, whispered, pained, aggressive – and wears them with a confidence and versatility that is genuinely stunning. Even the closer, in its imitation of Black Mile
’s swansong, contains an actual Andy Hull falsetto that deserves a mention of its very own. Lyrically, Hull is again a new person, cryptic throughout, burdened as ever by faith and love and responsibility, but more introspective than you’ve ever heard him.
All of these things swirl around each other to create a Manchester Orchestra album unlike any you’ve heard before. It’s degrees of magnitude calmer, more complex, and less immediate than Black Mile
, let alone Cope
, which is now a distant blip on the radar of the band’s growth into an alternative rock outfit with a truly vast range. If Black Mile
took their anthemic, widescreen songwriting to a whole new level, Million Masks
looks sideways rather than upwards. The end result is gorgeous, with fewer clenched fists, but more to wrap your arms around. The sunshine, if you will, to the darkness.