Having been a massive fan of Manchester Orchestra and everything Andy Hull touches, from his collaborative group with Kevin Devine in Bad Books to the soundtrack for oddball film Swiss Army Man, for over a decade now makes each new appearance from the group a special one for me. The group have progressed further into underappreciated indie rock titans over the years, expanding their sound into even larger and grandiose realms that include the symphonic arrangements on Simple Math and the cinematic love letter to Hull's newborn daughter on A Black Mile to the Surface. The groups sixth album since their inception sixteen years ago, The Million Masks Of God, is yet another grand statement from the group that pads their already impressive resume even further.
The Million Masks Of God lingers in ideas of death, with Hull stating the album is about "from birth to beyond" through a narrative about meeting the angel of death. It isn't a far cry from the groups previous album Black Mile, taking on similar motifs and cinematic textures, but approaches it from a brighter and more celebratory look at the journey through life. Intended as a 'movie album,' The Million Masks Of God lives up to these lofty goals through large instrumentals and heavy themes. It truly reads like a soundtrack less than an album in many respects.
As always, Andy Hull is the perfect centerpiece for Manchester Orchestra. His voice is one of the most well-rounded and recognizable in indie rock; undeniably identifiable with every performance. His ability to maintain power from whisper to roar never looses its joy, with every song serving to his endless strengths. Having dabbled in raucous rock and sincere indie folk across the groups career, Hull has accumulated an unmatched skillset tailored to any variation of the groups sound encapsulated into one record.
This most recent effort certainly does explore many of the facets of the groups sound up to this point. Angel of Death and Keel Timing both focus on grittier guitar riffs and an expansive sound, Bed Head and Obstacle starts to become more soaring in its melodic tendencies, and Telepath and Let It Storm return to a more acoustically focused indie rock tone. As is often the case, the group end on their biggest statement with the finale, as The Internet starts at a low rumble that grows louder with distorted guitar solos and a full band rising phase that fades into a quiet closing. All the songs here help to weave the album together into a cohesive album; the intended movie album comes to life.
Informed by personal hardships in the form of longtime member Robert McDowell's father passing, The Million Masks Of God is one of the veteran acts biggest statements in a career full of them. It's hard to imagine Manchester Orchestra will ever leave their status as cult indie favorites rather than a fully fledged stadium group, but even so their albums behave like they should be performed in front of the largest crowds at full volume. If that day never comes, at the very least we can experience the weight of their projects in our own homes and immerse in their cinematic take on indie rock. For any fan of Manchester Orchestra, the larger they get sonically the more appreciation you can find in their work. The remarkable moments we are given new material will likely never lose the significance they hold.
Favorite track: Bed Head