By KYLE KERSEY
This new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album kicks ass.
2017 was a very busy year for the Gizz. The band released five albums that year and, while the very concept of hopping genres multiple times over a single year was enticing, I find that I was more in love with the concept of the band’s workhorse release schedule than the quality of those actual releases. Most of those albums are victims of quantity over quality; the endless pursuit of making more music rather than making really good, water-tight albums. And I find that, while many of those albums have some strong tracks and interesting concepts, they’re also incredibly messy and underexplored (“Murder of the Universe” being the biggest offender in the interesting concept but poor execution category).
Come to think of it, the last album of theirs I truly enjoyed all the way through was “Flying Microtonal Banana,” a madcap exercise in eastern-inspired microtonal tuning that was as inventive as it was silly. And the last album of theirs I truly loved was “Nonagon Infinity,” a loose, high-energy garage rock concept album that loops into infinity. It may be only three years old but feels like an eternity ago given the 6 albums released in that timeframe.
Fear not though, as “Infest the Rat’s Nest” is the band’s most cohesive and well-written album since “Nonagon Infinity,” doing away with their skid of meandering jams in favor of an aggressive, thrash-metal inspired sound. Musically there’s not much of a gimmick with this one; no microtonal tuning, endless looping or unnecessary spoken word. Just meat-and-potatoes metal that comes in a multiple varieties, ranging from Motorhead inspired double-kick-drum heavy metal (“Planet B”) to Metallica-esque thrash (“Self-Immolate”) to stoner metal a la “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” (“Superbug”). There’s even a little bit of early Mastodon influence in the guitar sound. Frontman Stu Mackenzie does his absolute darndest to mimic James Hetfield’s trademark snarl, and the results are surprisingly accurate.
And they’re bringing back the energy of “Nonagon Infinity” that was sorely missing in the band’s last project, “Fishing for Fishies” while retaining its eco-conscious message. It’s more urgent this time, replacing the mundane “protect the environment” message with something more along the lines of “THE EARTH IS ON FIRE AND WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” Calling “Infest the Rat’s Nest” urgent would be akin to calling Michael Jackson a poor babysitter candidate: it’s an understatement.
The first half kicks off with “Planet B,” a pretty blunt critique of humankind’s incompetent response to climate change and the irreversible destruction of the planet if the trend continues, the chorus a perfect thesis: “there is no planet B”. Oddly enough the very next song, “Mars for the Rich” introduces a dystopian planet B , along with a commentary on wealth inequality so I suppose this is simply the musical realization of one of Elon Musk’s wet dreams.
The second half is more conceptual, weaving a story about a space-renegades attempting to colonize Venus. So far, so Gizzard, and it’s true that the concept can be goofy, but it’s played 100% straight and, unlike so many other eco-conscious albums, the ending here isn’t optimistic. The crew don’t succeed in colonizing the second planet from the sun, but rather burn to death in its atmosphere (“Self-Immolate”) and eternally in hell (“Hell”).
So it’s bleak. But in a musical landscape littered with feel-good politically-masturbatory albums, it’s actually refreshing to hear something unafraid to be bleak. The apocalyptic premonitions that have become a staple of the band’s recent work reflects a widespread fear amongst my generation; a fear that we’re not doing enough to protect the environment; a fear that we, along with future generations, will suffer because of it. More than anything though, it’s just nice to hear King Gizzard making intense music again.
Highlights: “Planet B,” “Mars for the Rich,” “Superbug,” “Self-Immolate,” “Hell”