Murder Of The Universe

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Flightless, 2017

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso


Seeing as how this is the band’s first appearance on The Daily Vault, I figure some introductions are in order. Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (or just King Gizzard for short) is absurdly prolific. They’ve cranked out 10 full-length albums since their debut in 2012 and they show no signs of slowing down. Murder Of The Universe is their second album of 2017. That alone would be an achievement, but they’ve promised to release a total of FIVE albums this year. (So check back in December to see if they achieved that goal or not.)

They play what I’d describe as psychedelic progressive garage rock, and they play it with a heavy emphasis on intensity and lo-fi production. Their albums sound dark and dingy. Analog distortion blankets their music in a thick layer of fuzz at all times.

In spite of their immediately recognizable sound, they shift their style drastically from album to album. Generally, each release of theirs has some sort of concept to it. Last year’s Nonagon Infinity was constructed to be a continuous piece of music that loops perfectly. Their first album of 2017, Flying Microtonal Banana, was composed and performed on instruments modified to play microtones. Their 2015 album, Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, was an acoustic release. And the album before that, titled Quarters, had four lengthy jams that were all exactly the same length. The band also has an ongoing narrative of sorts weaving through their music. Recurring motifs pop up across albums, their lyrics tell stories of a parallel fantasy world, and their album art and music videos often provide visual representations of this universe. It’s something Frank Zappa called “conceptual continuity,” and few artists since Zappa have embraced this idea with as much verve as King Gizzard.

I’ve seen some arguments about whether King Gizzard is a prog band or not, but Murder Of The Universe should put that argument to rest since it’s the most outright prog album they’ve ever released. The album consists of three suites of music, which run for roughly 15 minutes each. It’s loaded with intense riffs rocking out in odd time signatures, and each suite tells a story through not only lyrics but also spoken narration. Also, you can bet your ass there are big swaths of mellotron punching through the mix on a regular basis.

The various musical portions of these suites are split up by spoken word segments, and that’s by far my biggest issue with this album. These spoken word parts do connect the story the album is telling, and they can be pretty entertaining in their own right, but there are so many of them you can’t go more than a minute or two without another one popping up. On one hand, the spoken word segments fit the mood of the album and help make it stand out stylistically. In the same way you could identify their previous disc as “the one with the microtones,” you could identify this one as “the one with the narration.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

However, I would have vastly preferred just to let the music play out on its own without having talking on top. Perhaps they could have included the speech as text in the liner notes or something instead. As it is, it distracts from the music far more often than it enriches it. And that’s frustrating since the music the band is playing underneath all the talking is some of the best they’ve ever performed.

The first suite is my favorite of the three. “The Tale Of The Altered Beast” has some of the most intense sections the band has ever laid down. When I saw them perform it in concert a few months ago, I was ready to proclaim it their best song ever. The constant narration (which wasn’t present live) kinda puts a wrench in that for me, but it’s still pretty great. It chugs through a constantly evolving series of memorable riffs. One of King Gizzard’s biggest strengths is their strong command of rhythm. When they latch on to a great beat, it can become downright hypnotic, and they really nail some tremendous rhythms in this section of the album.

Reprises of themes from previous albums appear during “The Lord Of Lightning Vs. Balrog,” which uses direct quotes from Nonagon Infinity to bridge the themes between the two battling characters named in the title of the song. The theme from “Trapdoor” also briefly reappears recontextualized in a new context (and I’m sure more attentive fans will notice other references I’m not picking up on). The Balrog character is a reanimated corpse, so it’s fitting that older material by the band has been revived to form this suite’s connective tissue. It does feel like a little bit of a cheat for them to repurpose some of their best older material in this suite, but what worked before works again and it all comes across pretty effectively.

"Han-Tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe” is my least favorite of this album’s three suites, but only by a small margin. It tweaks the spoken word approach a little by having it done by a text-to-speech device, which adds to the disorienting eeriness of it all. This is the heaviest of the three suites, with some of the non-narrated sections almost bordering on metal. The themes this suite plays with are a bit less memorable than those of the previous two, and it focuses the most on the narration. While this suite does have the most narration on the album, it also tells the most vivid story, relaying the tale of a cyborg that wishes to die and destroy the universe with vomit. So even though I don’t enjoy it as much as the rest of the album, it still stands out as a memorable experience in its own right.

Murder Of The Universe is the most uncompromising album King Gizzard has released to date. The band’s haunting fantasies are completely unleashed to a greater extent than ever before, and it’s packed to the brim with their unique personality. It’s ultimately a bit frustrating, however, since the music here is so great yet the voiceovers make for such a distraction, even if they do give the album its unique vibe. At the very least, the band is still as bold as ever and willing to try new things whether they work or not (or both at the same time). I don’t know what the band has in store for the rest of 2017, but I’m excited to see it unfold.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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