King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard release two excellent records within few months
Augie Collins | Friday, September 1, 2017
While some of us were busy forming a symbiotic relationship with our sofas over the summer, the busiest band in the world had their hands full releasing not one, but two full-length studio albums in a two-month span. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, an eyebrow-raising seven-piece crew led by front man Stu Mackenzie, hails from Melbourne, Australia, and formed in 2010. Close proximity releases have become the status quo for King Gizz though, as they have rolled out 11 full-length albums since 2012 alone. What enables the band to be so prolific with their releases is the fact that King Gizz’s sound is ever-changing. Starting with their roots embedded in the garage and psychedelic rock culture, King Gizz quickly broadened its musical range, dipping its fingers into folk, jazz, soul and heavy metal. This summer’s releases, “Murder of the Universe” and “Sketches of Brunswick East,” explore King Gizz’s hard rock and jazz wardrobes.
“Murder of the Universe” was released in June, and is divided into three separate chapters: “The Tale Of The Altered Beast;” “The Lord Of Lightning vs Balrog,” released in May; and “Han-Tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe,” released in April. Each chapter is distinct, yet predominantly linked through sci-fi and doomsday themes.
“The Tale of the Altered Beast” tells the story of a human who happens upon a human-beast hybrid that he refers to as the Altered Beast, with Leah Senior (dubbed “The Reticent Raconteur” for the second chapter) narrating perhaps otherwise confusing parts of the tale in a cold, metallic voice. Through the three tracks of the “Alter Me” and four tracks of the “Altered Beast” suites, we hear the alternating voices of the Beast and human as the human becomes more comfortable with the idea of being altered by the Beast as it once was. The narrator eerily recites “For all its revulsion, and warp, and taboo / A part of you wants to be altered too” during “Alter Me I.” Mackenzie’s vocals flair as he incessantly screams “Altered beast / Alter me!” throughout the chapter.
The songs can seem repetitive, as guitar hooks are frequently reused and lyrics repeated, but despite this, the tracks are never tedious to listen to as they blend seamlessly together to tell the story. When the two entities eventually merge to form a further altered beast that craves even more flesh, the burden of two consciences dwelling inside the same body takes its toll as the Beast’s mind unravels, leading to its death.
The second story, “The Lord Of Lightning vs. Balrog,” focuses on an almighty battle between the forces of light and darkness. With a folktale style storyline, it details the destruction dealt upon a small village by lightning cast from the Lord’s fingers. After an errant lightning bolt reanimates a corpse, a monster known as Balrog is brought into existence. At the end of the opening song, The Reticent Raconteur recounts, “And as the cadaver lay static with open crusted eyes / The smoking corpse began to twitch at my great surprise / Then the figure sprung up and at once it caught a light / And the creature known as Balrog was born that very night.” Eventually, the Lord destroys Balrog after it refuses to be subservient to The Lord of Lightning, laying waste to the village on its own terms. While the chapter is comprised mostly of spoken word narration, “The Lord Of Lightning” and “The Balrog” provide an upbeat and more structured tone to the middle third of the tale’s six tracks.
The last chapter, “Han-Tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe,” deals with A.I. technology as an apocalyptic catalyst. The voice of Leah Senior is dropped in this chapter, as NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech provides the narration, including the voice of the cyborg Han-Tyumi. The final tale is King Gizzard’s most heavy metal effort to date, as they leave the meatiest riffs for last. While Han-Tyumi is creating a machine whose only purpose is to vomit, one of the things he is unable to do, King Gizzard creates what feels like a wall of industrial sound on the singles “Digital Black” and “Vomit Coffin.” All hands are on deck with both drummers playing wildly amidst the chaotic guitar picking. Han-Tyumi’s creation ultimately malfunctions, coating the earth in vomit and destroying the universe, hence the album’s title. The listener is left trying to catch their breath when the last track finally fades out, concluding a whirlwind of a journey.
The band’s second summer release, “Sketches of Brunswick East,” in collaboration with Mild High Club’s sole member Alex Brettin, was conceived after Brettin stayed at Mackenzie’s house following a performance at King Gizzard’s own Gizzfest in December 2016. A series of bare-bones iPhone recordings were then exchanged between the two before the album was recorded in just three weeks and released in August. The album’s title is a nod toward Miles Davis’ groundbreaking collaboration with Gil Evans, “Sketches of Spain.”
“Sketches” is overwhelmingly jazz based, providing a stark contrast to “Murder of the Universe.” A steady bass plucking drives the album, with pipes, nature sound effects, and airy vocals giving it a mellow and relaxed feel. While “Murder of the Universe” felt like the soundtrack to a grisly final boss battle, “Sketches” seems better suited for the time spent waiting in the video game lobby. The album flows effortlessly, while the band employs the use of every instrument imaginable. Bongos are slapped and maracas are shaken while Mackenzie’s signature wah-wah guitar sends ripples through tracks such as “A Journey to (S)Hell” and “Rolling Stoned.” “Sketches” is an album that will get there when it gets there; just climb aboard and relax for the ride.
So far 2017 has been monumental for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, with three equally daring albums already released and two more promised before the year is through. King Gizzard is presenting an eclectic feast; it would be remiss of us to not indulge.
Artist: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Album: “Murder Of The Universe” and “Sketches Of Brunswick East”
Favorite Track: “Vomit Coffin,” “Lord of Lightning,” “Countdown,” “A Journey To (S)Hell”
If you like: The Murlocs, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5 (Murder Of The Universe); 4 out of 5 (Sketches Of Brunswick East)