Over the past couple of months, the Melbourne, Australia-based psych rock sextet King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard have quickly become JOVM mainstays. And considering the wild variety of things that I’ll write about in any given day, week or month that shouldn’t be terribly surprising. The act, comprised of Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, and flute), Ambrose Kenny Smith (synths, harmonica), Cook Craig (guitar), Joey Walker (guitar), Lucas Skinner (bass), Eric Moore (drums) and Michael Cavanagh (drums), the Australian psych rock sextet have developed a reputation for incredibly energetic live shows and for being incredibly prolific, as they’ve released 10 full-length, studio albums since 2012 — and with each album, the band has revealed a relentlessly experimental song and songwriting approach; in fact, their earliest releases blended elements of 60s surf rock, garage rock and psych rock and their later work featuring elements of film scores, prog rock, folk, soul, Krautrock, heavy metal and proto-metal.
Released earlier this year, the band’s tenth studio album Flying Microtonal Banana found the band delving deeper into trance-inducing done, non-Western musical scales and metronomic rhythms — and in fact, the sound on that album is so profoundly unique and evolved, that it required the members of the band to reinvent their own instruments after they began experimenting with a custom microtonal guitar, made for the band’s frontman Stu Mackenzie. As the band mentioned in press notes on Flying Microtonal Banana they found particular inspiration from the movable frets of a Turkish instrument, the bağlama, a classical lute — and three guitars and a bass were customized for the band to explore wildly different scales and a new set of musical notes not normally heard in Western music. They then customized a keyboard and a mouth organ. Additionally, the material on the album finds the and incorporating the use of a Turkish horn called a zurna, which looks a bit like a clarinet but because it’s a double-reeded instrument, the possess a wobbly sound that Mackenzie says “blends perfectly with the secret notes on the guitar.” And as you may remember, album single “Rattlesnake” paired a chugging, motorik-like groove and anthemic, chant-worthy hook; but while clearly drawing from prog rock, Krautrock, psych rock, heavy psych, stoner rock and even space rock, the song finds the band putting a familiar Western sound into a decidedly Eastern context — and as a result, it’s not only a wild, mind-altering spin on something familiar and seemingly done to death and then some, while possessing a familiar acid-tinged yet alien, otherworldly sound.
Unsurprisingly, the Melbourne-based psych rockers will follow up on one of the trippiest and more unique sounding albums I’ve heard this year with Murder Of The Universe, a concept album meant to end all concept albums forever, as the material thematically concerns itself with the downfall of man and the death of the planet — and it evokes the greater sense of fear that we’re foolishly inching closer to our own destruction. As the band’s Stu Mackenzie explains “We’re living in dystopian times that are pretty scary and it’s hard not to reflect that in our music. It’s almost unavoidable. Some scientists predict that the downfall of humanity is just as likely to come at the hands of Artificial Intelligence, as it is war or viruses or climate change. But these are fascinating times too. Human beings are visual creatures – vision is our primary instinct, and this is very much a visual, descriptive, bleak record. While the tone is definitely apocalyptic, it is not necessarily purely a mirror of the current state of humanity. It’s about new non-linear narratives.”
Structurally, Murder of the Universe‘s tracks are separated into three chapters and the album’s first single ““Chapter 3: Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe” offered an incredible taste of what listeners should expect from the entire album, as it’s a 13 minute, shape-shifting, face-melting prog rock song that evokes Biblical visions of the apocalypse — enormous mushroom clouds, pools of fire and blood, death and unceasing war, poverty and misery, featuring a cyborg, who desperately longs to be alive, to simply be.
Now, as you may also recall earlier this year, the Australian psych rock collective was on Conan to perform an abridged version of their latest single “The Lord of Lighting vs. Balrog,”a nearly 14 minute hallucinogenic, heavy psych and prog rock-inspired shape shifter of a song that features face-melting guitar riffs while detailing an epic, mythical battle between the Lord of Lighting and Balrog, in which the fate of the universe and all living things will depend on; but just underneath is a sobering meditation on the nature of life and death. And yes, the resemblance to Black Sabbath is both uncanny and fucking awesome.
Created by Jason Galea and Ben Jones, the recently released video for “The Lord of Lighting vs. Balrog” is gloriously, defiantly hallucinogenic while drawing from 60s videos, complete with an extended sequence of the band performing in a haunted forest with rapid fire cuts; in fact, the cuts are so rapid that if you suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy that it’s suggested that you not watch.