27 Jun 2017

King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard - Murder of the Universe (album review)

From whenst Kronos birthed Zeus et al from his big, swollen, godly tummy, the Greek mythologies have continued to enthral Western literature consumers. For longer than the mind can conceive, tales of lust and love, self lust and self love, and forces more dark and powerful than the mind can imagine have been lapped up by people that have far longer attention spans than me.

On a similar timeline, although one that spans for decades rather than millennia, rock 'n' roll bands have tried to sculpt their own wildly imaginative narratives within the confines of the medium of the art. In truth, the long-haired, heavy purveyors of this quotient of rock has always thrived best when it attempts to forge mythology rather than work the conventions of pop song writing into full blooded firestorm of the rock thoroughfare. The titanic riffage of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality - obviously the greatest rock album of all time, if we're limiting the confines of what rock is to the fairly narrow genre confines the term describes now - has a much greater impact than almost any other record you could put on today, because it simply sounds like a relic of a world other than our own. Even the name of the album builds up an image in your mind's eye of something greater and more important than humanity. Master of Reality. Christ.

Whilst their number-one-in-the-charts heavy rock peers like Royal Blood and Foo Fighters resigned to banality, it really does feel as if mainstream heavy guitar music is lacking something that has the gargantuan impact of those early Sabbath, Zeppelin or, ummm, at a push, Maiden, records (as well as a great deal of prog. See: 666 by Aphrodite's Child), we must instead turn to the fringes for a refreshing take on music that snarls, kicks, and not only parallels but blows the epic (a word here used in the correct context) allegories of Homer and Hesiod clean out the water.

At this juncture, I'd like to welcome to the stage King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Although genre-wise, they've spanned mind-melding psychedelic freakouts, meandering prog jams, Barrett-like acoustic jaunts, and stomping garage rock, their 2016 effort Nonagon Infinity was their most rock-focused effort to date, with tracks like People Vultures and Gamma Knife being amongst it's most savage. However, with last Friday's Murder of the Universe, King Gizz have laid down their most rock-focused, raucous, and above all, narratively bombastic effort to date.

The Australian band's music has always seemingly occupied a sphere much unlike the Earth we call home. People-Vultures stalk, Lords of Lightning rule supreme, and rattlesnakes slither along the unfamiliar ground. In short, whilst crafting some of psychedelia's most instantly gratifying records (maybe ever), King Gizzard have built up a world that is their own that unravels itself to you more and more upon repeat listens. The characters you'll meet, and the showdowns you'll witness when you take the plunge and become a prescient observer of the Murder of the Universe are creations entirely conjured by this group and unlike any other in the realm of fiction.

Han-Tyumi, the confused cyborg, is the titular character of Murder of the Universe's third movement. A malfunctioning man-machine, his spoken word adorns the last five or six tracks of the album, entwining themselves with manic guitar squalls and kraut-rock rhythms with ease. "Born if you can call it that, in a world that is dense in black", his narrative goes; a creation devoid of humanity conscious enough to fetishise it. Suffering a lust for those qualities which make one human, the protagonist recalls: "(I want) two things that a cyborg can never do... two things I strive for... two things between myself and mankind; I want to die, and I want to vomit. I want the perspiration, and the nausea; I want to be sick. I want to feel the hot piquant nuggets".

Now, halt. Tell me the last time a band were able to conjure up such vivid images amidst spiralling psychedelic rock chaos. At risk of throwing cliches at you; Han-Tyumi comes to life and is much more richly drawn the Heracles, or Eurydice. And of course, the musical brilliance that unfurls as the album reaches its climaxing curtain call Murder of the Universe is nothing short of brilliant. The ensuing gruesome death Han-Tyumi welcomes with open arms after his soy-protein munt machine causes him to achieve his self-purge builds and builds into a tempestuous storm of repulsion and revulsion.  A musical catharsis more gratifying than anything in mythology, Greek or otherwise; especially when that smug prick Icarus flew too near the sun and was overcome by a violent, watery death seconds later.

The rest of the LP's duration revolves around two other similarly astonishing, vivid plot arcs. The first twenty minutes is engulfed by the narrative of the Altered Beast. A juxtaposition of Leah Senior's intermittent deadpan spoken word passages and froth-at-the-mouth guitar jams that hurtle through this altered universe faster than anything in Led Zepp's back catalogue, it's an exploration of evil that sees Stu Mackenzie's adopted persona battling to maintain alterity in the face of the altered beast. As the music spirals to it's crescendo of depravity, Senior's retorts become not only more menacing, but more poetic as well. A favourite being 'my left hand's a knife, my right hand's a fork/I'll pull you apart like a butcher pulls pork'. It's a stomping freakout made only better by the fact that the Motorhead-esque Altered Beast pieces are juxtaposed with texturally interesting and melodically nourishing skits like Life/Death, that act as a much needed breath of fresh air.

Perhaps zaniest of all is the showdown between the Lord of Lightning and The Balrog, the warring factions at the heart of chapter two. A self referential short story, it begins with a 17 second number called Some Context, which essentially sets the scene with no words but a stand-offish Link Wray guitar lick lifted right offa 2016's People-Vultures. Fragments of I'm In Your Mind's rumbling basslines crop up too, as the Lord and the Balrog face off in a battle that makes Zeus vs Typhon seem like Darth Maul vs Qui Gonn (the lamest of the Star Wars prequel lightsabre battles). More than the rest of the other albums

Murder of the Universe affectively creates a lucid universe so unbelievably rich in imagination, a world that materialises in front of your very eyes from the off. An altered future, King Gizzard have succeeded in making an album so magnificent, so unique, and so bombastic that it puts every other 'rock' band in the world today to shame. It has its own mythos, creates a world and then destroys it again with ease. In fact, King Gizzard show so much ambition on this album alone, even if you discard the context that this is their second of FIVE albums released this year, that it genuinely begs the question; why aren't this band considered the best band in the world?


(Words: Cal Cashin)