With a name as inaccessible and uproarious as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the odds were stacked against the scrappy progressive-rock band from the start. With an almost unrivalled level of output and a discography that flits erratically between a spectrum of genres, they have evolved into a tricky band to pin down, but immensely rewarding once you’ve become immersed in their idiosyncratic style.
From humble beginnings in Australia, the consistent foundation of seven school friends, including Stu Mackenzie, a vocalist and artist with more than ten instruments in his repertoire, two drummers and several bassists, have emerged as one of the most inventive and generous acts of the last decade. It’s definitely understanding that, for some, their name is just a little too kooky and off-putting, but after releasing five albums of similarly high quality in 2017 alone, their presence in the alternative music scene has become hard to resist.
King Gizzard’s signature style has always leant on a muddy concoction of experimentation and protest. From the smooth fantasy of Polygondwanaland to the science fiction inflections of Nonagon Infinity or Murder of the Universe, their music frequently works to construct a heightened portrayal of our planet in peril. With their latest work after a year’s break (or, at least, a year spent touring the globe rather than recording new music), Infest the Rat’s Nest turns to thrash metal as inspiration for a blunter, angrier message of our current environmental crisis.
If Fishing for Fishies, their prior album released earlier this year, played more towards the environmentally-conscious vegans and occasional peaceful protesters, Rats Nest is purely for the Extinction Rebellion crowd. ‘Planet B’ and ‘Mars for the Rich’ kick off the 34 minute journey with deep felt fury, purely present for anti-capitalist rage that serves as a warning more than their often gentler introductions. Stepping over that hurdle, though, reveals a fast-paced track list packed just as full of experimentation and enlightening instrumentals as their previous efforts.
Swapping tuneful folk and jazzy disco with all the trappings of an early Metallica album, Rats Nest is a difficult listen compared to Fishies, but one that King Gizzard feel as though they’ve been needing to make for a long time. If you’re looking for a gateway drug into their psychedelic offering this certainly isn’t it, especially with vocalist Mackenzie lacing his lyrics with an uncharacteristic growl that threatens to rupture the ears of anyone who has managed to go through life without an embarrassing heavy metal phase.
Luckily, the motorised instrumentation of Rats Nest works well with the thrashier vocals, especially once the energy kicks in to top the album off with the full-throttle head-bangers ‘Self-Immolate’ and ‘Hell’, both sure to become mosh pit favourites come their next tour.
For those who have acclimatised to King Gizzard’s genre-hopping, their latest drop is still an event to pay attention to. Their complexities and unparalleled thrill they take in the privilege to record feet-stomping rock is ever present, and the album’s short length seems to cut its fury short almost as quickly as it begins, ready to start right at the beginning again. The meaty licks and riffs are as squelchy and propulsive as ever, and the thrash style still finds time to blend in pumping drum beats, acidic solos and even the odd sorrowful harmony.
My writing experience has trended towards film reviews, but if any album release was going to make me jump at the chance to try my hand at music writing it was always going to be the latest tracks from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Viewed through a cinematic lens, Infest the Rats Nest is one of several albums in the band’s discography that nails the tone of dark, rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. Simultaneously delivering 80s thrash with a timely environmental message, it could easily serve as the soundtrack to an apocalyptic blockbuster, and solidifies my deep desire for King Gizzard to collaborate with George Miller on the next Mad Max.
Outside my cinematic preoccupations, the latest record from the dedicated group of Australian oddballs is hard to penetrate, but, on repeat listens, layered with cathartic ferocity and energetic charm.
Words by Lucas Hill-Paul