Last year, Aussie psychedelic mind-benders King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard gave us the endlessly looping, choose-your-own-adventure masterpiece, Nonagon Infinity. It was undoubtedly the most amusing and fun record of not just 2016 but this decade. Earlier this year, they challenged themselves with Flying Microtonal Banana, which featured short bursts of neo-psychedelia played on instruments that cost no more than $200. Surely after nine albums in five years, the septet had reached the zenith of their creativity. Well, album #10, Murder of the Universe, is on a whole different level in terms of the band’s brilliance.
Murder of the Universe is a concept album unlike any other concept album. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Philip K. Dick, King Gizz have re-imagined the bizarre and uncertain times of today’s world through the narrative of another universe in an alternate time. This place is filled with shapeshifters, powerful gods, immortal warriors, flaming beasts, cyborgs, and even the odd human. The one familiar thing, though, is the music – it’s loud, bombastic, whimsical, hazy, and a sheer delight. In other words, it’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard at their very best.
Forget about the 21-song track list. The album really consists of three parts with many of the songs bleeding into the next. The first “nine songs” on the album comprise Part One, which is the birth of the “Altered Beast.”
This creature starts off as human before evolving into a primordial creature. His sole goal is to rule and dominate, crushing anything that stands in his way. Observing his power, many want to follow him and spread his path of destruction. Elements of prog-rock, Krautrock, sludge-rock, and spaced-out psychedelia rain down at a frenetic pace throughout the first 20 minutes. The vocals of frontman Stu Mackenzie alternate brilliantly with guest vocalist Leah Senior, the narrator of this sci-fi/fantasy fairytale. Mackenzie wildly explains the action and the Altered Beast’s desires while Senior is the voice of the beast. When her voice explains a savage-like scene, such as on “Altered Beast II”, both amusement and astonishment are felt:
“What harm could any mortal like you can do?
I am the golden wolf and you are caribou
My left hand is a map, and my right hand is a fork
I will pull you part like a butcher pulls pork.”
As this section progresses, more people are turning into Altered Beasts as “The Beast’s DNA is dug into your nucleus,” which is explained on “Altered Me III.” The track also represents a moment of calm as the instrumentation slows down to reflect the transformation that is happening. But as is King Gizz’s fashion, the noise escalates before the ending, and a new Altered Beast is born. However, where there is new life, something dies. In this case, it is one’s humanity, which explained with great creepy effect on “Life/Death.”
Part Two brings us into an alternate universe where Middle Earth and Westeros collide. Here King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard tell the tale of “The Lord of Lightning” (is this Baric Dondarrion?) versus a demon of the ancient world, “The Balrog.” For nearly 14 blazing minutes, the band focus on the rise of The Lord of Lightning, the blaze of destruction left by The Balrog, and then finally the epic conflict. The descriptions of each character and the action within the ultimate fight are fantastic. They could have been taken right out of the novels, though they are not. For instance, in describing The Balrog, the band cites the iconic scene of the beast facing off against Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring:
“Skin begins to burn
There’s nowhere we can turn
There’s no way we can win
The devil puppets him
His pyre muscles flex
We are his next subjects
His power has us floored
Kneel before the overlord.”
Who wins this match is brilliantly explained on “The Floating Fire,” where The Balrog’s body smoulders on the mountain side. But The Lord of Lightning doesn’t stay around to rule. Instead he disappears with his deed done. It is a story where the world today still awaits a similar hero to smote The Balrog.
Part Three focuses on a world that has met its oblivion. The raucous “Digital Black” kicks off this section, explaining how a “black wave of death” has consumed the world. All that exists is “Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg,” who is the narrator of the final thirteen minutes. Akin to the replicants in Blade Runner and Lance Bishop in Aliens, Han-Tyumi wants be human. He wants to feel emotion, experience love and pain, and to know what death is like. Instead, he’s stuck in a post-apocalyptic place where very little life exists.
The music is toned down slightly, but it’s still gritty and retains King Gizz’s head-bending effects. The songs are more founded around proto-metal, creating a grimy and head-banging atmosphere. Loneliness eventually overwhelms the Cyborg, and he floats in space in his “Vomit Coffin.” Eventually, he witnesses the “Murder of the Universe” and meets his end. Everything is toned down as the song evolves into a neo-psychedelic atmosphere. There is even a sense of calm and inevitability thanks to the pronounced flute that cuts across the track. This is just one last surprise on an album full of them.
Yet by now, we shouldn’t be surprised by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s brilliance. Now 10 albums into their career, they have taken fans on a wide-ranging, mind-bending journey. Murder of the Universe is just another stop on this non-stop ride, although it is arguably the band’s most epic to date. And that’s the only way to describe it – EPIC! Well, it’s immensely fun, too. What will the band have in store for album #11? We won’t have to wait long as they are planning three more LPs by the end of 2017. Early word is that the next record will be jazz-inspired. That should be, at the very least, interesting. For now, we’ll enjoy the exhilaration of Murder of the Universe, which is out now via Flightless Records and ATO Records. It can also be ordered on the band’s Bandcamp page.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are Stu Mackenzie (vocals/guitar/flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (harmonica/vocals), Cook Craig (guitar/vocals), Eric Moore (drums), Joey Walker (guitar), Lucas Skinner (bass), and Michael Cavanagh (drums).
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