Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
One thing that cannot be disputed regarding the Aussie psych-rock septet King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is that they are not only one of the most prolific bands out there, but they’re also undoubtedly one of the hardest working. After releasing nine albums in nearly half as many years, they’ve maybe developed their craziest piece of work yet with Murder Of The Universe. Their second album of 2017, following the excellent Flying Microtonal Banana, could be looked at as one gigantic concept album or rather as three mini concept EPs. In the words of the band’s front-man Stu Mackenzie, “I think it’s the most narrative-driven thing we’ve done – it’s three distinct, but somewhat interrelated stories”.
The narrative of the album is split into three distinct stories, starting with the speeding prog-psych-metal of its first suite The Tale Of The Altered Beast – and yes, it’s based on the classic Sega arcade game from 1988. It follows the tale of a human being who comes across a strange creature – part human, part beast. This is where the record’s daunting spoken word passages begin, starting with a soft yet robotic voice of a girl (voiced by Leah Senior) who says things like “The void that you feel within would suggest/That a canyon has opened up inside of your chest/And whatever you do, there’s no turning back/You’ve reached the end of the cul-de-sac. Through it all, she is accompanied by Stu Mackenzie’s rigidly precise vocal gestures. When he yells things like “Emptiness inside of me/And hollowness all around me//I cut myself to see it bleed/And now I don’t feel anything”, he and the band sound more like John Dwyer’s Oh Sees.
The music on the album shifts with the changing narrative elements, and by the time The Lord Of Lighting Vs. The Balrog comes around at the record’s halfway point, you’re ready for a change-up. Don’t get too comfortable though – if the second part of the album is a bit more tame than the first in terms of its arrangement, the story is equally as strange and wacky, as we follow the Lord of Lighting and his battle with the Balrog, which is supposed to be some sort of atomic monster. “You made the atom split/It caused a massive rift/And he came screaming through/Here to bite the head from you” is what Mackenzie keeps returning to as a lyrical and musical motif. As the story progresses it just gets stranger and stranger – it’s loaded with sound effects and even some nods to one of the band’s previous albums, Nonagon Infinity.
Although it’s the shortest chapter of the album, the third and final story Han-tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe is absolutely the eeriest. Following a cyborg who somehow is able to obtain the conscience of a human being (Han-tyumi is an anagram for “humanity”), the story works as a sort of modern day Frankenstein. The chronically vomiting cyborg attempts to create a creature like himself, but when it rejects his love he decides to swallow the universe whole. The final chapter seems to work as a cryptic analogy for the current state of our own humanity.
It may be a bit difficult to get through the whole thing, but those who traverse the entire landscape of Murder Of The Universe will be rewarded with hours of listening pleasure. If Flying Microtonal Banana was a venture into tonalities and musical modes that were foreign to the band, then this follow up is an attempt to capture that same ambition in the context of a concept album. Only the second of five release planned by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for this year, it’ll be a real trip to see where they take their next record, Sketches Of Brunswick East.