Two down, three to go? A while back, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard said that they would be releasing FIVE albums in 2017. I thought it was all just an elaborate wind up at first, but at this rate, they may just make it to New Years with all five of those albums. In this day and age where artists often take two or three years between records, King Gizzard have flown in the face of that by releasing a string of super high quality albums really quickly. Murder of the Universe is the second part of the potential 2017 Gizzard pentalogy (?), and represents perhaps the most insane musical project the Australian psych-punks have ever unleashed upon us, and that’s saying a lot for a band whose last album was entitled Flying Microtonal Banana.
Every King Gizzard album represents a sort of experimental concept that ties the project together. 2016’s Nonagon Infinity was an attempt to create an album that looped back in on itself at the very end to create a never-ending album length song, and earlier this year they created an entire album played only with microtonal instruments.
The idea of this new project is a little harder to pinpoint. Essentially, the album consists of three separate song cycles that each tell an individual story, with frequent interjections of spoken word lyrics to flesh out the story. The first, which I will refer to as “Altered Beast”, centers about a man who slowly transforms into a cannibalistic monster struggling with his lust for human flesh. Yeah, I think it’s pretty apparent already that this record goes to darker places than previous King Gizzard albums.
The second one is a little more abstract, but I think it is a sort of fantasy epic about a wizard who fights a balrog, but I’m not sure. This second portion contains multiple references to Nonagon Infinity, even starting with a quick snippet of “People Vultures”, a track from that album, before going off on its own little adventure.
The third and final movement is the most disturbing of all. It focuses on a tortured cyborg named Han-Tyumi, who is obsessed with death and… vomiting. It all culminates with the cyborg man creating a machine that infinitely spews vomit, eventually engulfing and extinguishing the universe, hence the title of the record.
You know I’m gonna love this. This really is one of the most batshit crazy records I’ve ever heard in my entire life. There are albums that deal with very serious real world social issues and there’s stuff like this that has no regard for anything within the realm of us humans. Some stuffy music listeners seem to have trouble accepting the fact that the latter is just as valid as the former. I think critics tend to be snobby about records that try to have fun like this, but King Gizzard actually do really well critically so I’m a bit curious as to what the overall reaction to Murder of the Universe will be like.
A problem that I had with Flying Microtonal Banana was that it was very predictable by King Gizzard standards. The more moody approach seemed like a bit of an anticlimax coming off the high energy of some of their previous releases. This, on the other hand, throws off-the-rails insanity right in your face from start to finish. The tricky thing is that the true lunacy doesn’t reveal itself immediately. The “Altered Beast” suite, while still containing a high level of weirdness owing to the narrations, starts off as pretty standard King Gizzard fare, with the famously propulsive psychedelic rock they’re known for. they’re known for. But about half way through the first segment, the band starts to introduce darker concepts to the lyrics and drop some of the heaviest riffs in their catalogue, probably the closest the group have ever gotten to being a straight metal band. Special props have to go to drummer Michael Cavanagh, who navigates his way through some really screwy time signature wonk in the second half of “Altered Beast”. I maintain that he is also one of the most powerful drummers in modern rock. While past releases from the band have often featured two drummers, as far as I can tell Cavanagh is the only drummer on this record, and he sure does hold his own.
The record really takes a turn for the nutty during the second movement, incorporating everything from Tuvan throat singing to some twistedly dissonant guitar and highly distorted synths. The track “The Balrog” in particular is an album highlight for me. The second segment boasts one of the wildest instrumentals King Gizzard have ever put to tape, and it really does capture the sense of a magical fantasy battle with its furious pace and extremely loud blasts of noisy synth effects sounding almost like the spells and fireballs the wizard and the balrog are throwing at each other. This segment captures this cinematic feel better than any tenth-rate power metal band in recent memory. The section ends with a spacey finish as our hero stands over the corpse of his fallen demon enemy.
But we still have a whole segment left. I don’t mean it lightly when I say that this third section is supremely fucked up. I don’t really want to go into specifics on this one for the sake of surprise, but be warned, if you have a weak stomach, the track “Vomit Coffin” may make you squirm a bit. This section turns down the kinetic energy a bit, choosing instead to cultivate a grimey, sludgy atmosphere, which is appropriate, given the… ahem… vomit aspect.
The sheer excess of this album may have been borderline reprehensible if it wasn’t so endlessly creative all the way through. The album is kind of a mess, but in the best way possible. People have a tendency to look at story driven albums like this as pretentious, but in my opinion Murder of the Universe is exactly the opposite. These guys know how bugged out this is, and they intend to take you on a crazy acid-soaked rollercoaster ride. Murder of the Universe feels like you’re listening to the most epically ridiculous fanfic ever made set to music. It’s like we’re getting a look into a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy geeks having the time of their lives making a truly absurd album. I’ve probably listened to this album six times today alone, and that doesn’t happen often. I feel like it’s going to take a long time for me to absorb everything this album throws at me, but so far I’m loving it.