Hidden Gems: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

If you’ve never heard of the band before, their name alone might cause some hesitation, but I promise you that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is the perfect example of a hidden gem. The Australian rock band was first formed in 2010 and has slowly grown a cult following with their bizarre and experimental rock music. They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the stagnant rock genre by exploring new musical territory with amazing success. More impressive than their musical range is their commitment to concept albums with authentic instrumentation and gripping narratives. I’ve mentioned in the past how concept albums hold a special place in my heart; they’re the perfect example of how different artistic elements can be incorporated into one project. They usually feature thoughtful narratives over multiple tracks, musical themes and callbacks throughout the album, and a unique aesthetic that is developed in every aspect of the project. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a master of this medium, to the point where they have developed an entire musical universe. Each album is a unique immersive experience, but with enough distinct elements that the band is consistent and easily recognizable. Since their discography is huge (and I mean HUGE, they released 5 album in 2017 alone), I can only cover some of their material, but I think these two albums represent what I love most about the band.

Infest The Rats’ Nest

Infest the Rats' Nest

Infest The Rats’ Nest is by far my favorite thrash album; the narrative is crushing and perfectly complemented by some of the most heart-pounding instrumentation I’ve ever heard. I’m not usually a fan of the thrash subgenre, mostly because it tends to be overwhelming and headache-inducing, but King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard knows what they’re doing. The instrumentation is clean and concise throughout the entire album, with some parts even sounding symphonic, like they were composed by a heavy-metal Mozart. Along with this, the band is not afraid to experiment with a variety of instruments: many songs feature electronic glitches used to great effect, while they also employ choirs, microtonal instruments, and heavily distorted guitars. The entire sound of this album can be summed up as an army rising up in rebellion, it’s absolutely visceral. If the instrumentation wasn’t enough, the narrative of Infest The Rats’ Nest is just as gripping. The core message of the album is environmentalism (believe it or not), with the first half detailing a science fiction hellscape that used to be Earth, which is now decimated by climate change, plague, and poverty, while the rich have left to live on Mars. The second half of the album details the perils of an escaped spaceship of refugees looking for safety in the vastness of space. Both halves are equally well written and developed, but I especially love the environmental themes of the first half and how well they’re conveyed through the music. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this great concept album, you can read my previous post¬†here¬†which dives more into the lyrics.

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe is an even more obscure hidden gem, and is even unpopular in the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard fanbase. Many criticize the spoken word passages, the overall aesthetic, and some of the more experimental parts of the album, but all of these features make this one of my favorite albums. The first third of the album is a fantasy inspired nightmare about a man transforming into an Altered Beast, and from the first notes of the first track you know you’re in for a wild ride. I think this is one of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s most developed compositions, both thematically and musically. The entire narrative is incredibly cohesive and gripping from start to finish, with the listener experiencing pure chaos as the protagonist descends into madness. I also love how the main musical theme is developed throughout this portion of the album; just as the protagonist is altered into some monstrous beast, the musical theme is altered into a beast of its own, ultimately culminating in an explosive climax on the last track of this portion of the album.

The second third of the album is just as insane as the first, but now with a story featuring The Balrog and the Lord of Lightning. Again, this is an absolutely electric part of the album, with many of the same features that made the first portion so great: incredible musical motifs, fantasy storytelling that is dark and chaotic, and an overall aesthetic that is reminiscent of Greek mythology and epic battles. My only complaint is that this is the shortest section of the album and seems to be the least developed as far as the narrative concept.

However, the last third of the album makes up for what the second part was lacking in a narrative concept. Right from the start of the introduction track you can tell that there is something different; a monotone and robotic narrator welcomes the listener to “an Altered Future”, and suddenly you’re in a science fiction horror story, detailing the murder of the universe. This portion of the album follows the cyborg Han-Tyumi as he tackles what it means to be half-human, half-computer in the most unsettling and imaginative way. I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite part of the album, both because of how experimental the instrumentals are and because of how outrageous and mind-bending the story is. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, so all I’ll say is that it is a completely unorthodox take on artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, and could only be thought up by a band called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Overall, this is an incredible album that lives up to the high expectations of a concept album. It has something for everybody and is a testament to the versatility of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Infest The Rats’ Nest: Environmental Thrash

One music genre that I struggle with is new rock and metal. There’s usually just too much noise and screaming and it gives me a headache, not to mention I have no idea what is going on lyrically or even musically half the time. On the other hand, I really WANT to enjoy heavy metal; the aesthetic is so raw and emotional, and great heavy metal music (think Iron Maiden) can be extremely motivational and profound. So I’ve spent a long time searching for new metal that I can actually enjoy, and that long and tedious journey finally led me to Infest the Rats’ Nest, a thrash metal album conceived by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea). Immediately this album set itself apart: it was clear and concise, with real musical composition that was understandable, it featured an environmental theme focusing on humanity’s destruction of the Earth, and although it was still more aggressive than I was used to at first, it was so catchy that I couldn’t stop listening, and it’s one of the most insanely energetic albums I have ever been able to listen to.

Surprisingly, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard usually produce psych rock and noise rock, which shares a lot of commonalities with thrash metal: it’s loud, over-the-top, energetic, and features a lot of interesting instrumentation. However, I can’t seem to enjoy any King Gizzard project as much as Infest the Rats’ Nest, and I think it’s because it’s the only album that strikes a great balance between the actual music and the content. This album in particular features a great concept that is executed flawlessly, unlike other albums that are all over the place, both in ideas and composition. The story of Infest the Rats’ Nest starts with a burned out planet Earth, largely destroyed by the unsustainable and destructive practices of the human race, portrayed best by these lines from the opening track Planet B:

Urbanization

Scarification

Population Exodus

There is no Planet B

Open your eyes and see

Not only do these lyrics hit close to home in the current day and age of environmental concern, they are so raw and accurate that it takes you by surprise. I never would have thought that thrash metal was the place to convey an environmental message, but listening to this song for the first time was mind-blowing: it makes perfect sense that the destruction of Earth, our home, should be portrayed with cynical clarity and thrashing aggression. These lines are especially powerful due to the perfect delivery by the lead singer and the accompanying gut-wrenching guitars and drums.

On the next track, Mars for the Rich, the perspective is that of a farmer left on a scorched Earth, poor and doomed to die a horrible death, while he watches the rich traveling to Mars on TV. The irony is strong after the haunting message of Planet B, and shows how although there is no planet B for the human race, there is for the rich and privileged.

Mars for the privileged

Earth for the poor

Mars terra-forming slowly

Earth has been deformed

The next track of interest is Superbug, which is exactly what it sounds like: a virus that is immune to antibiotics and ravages the Earth, infecting the population and lasting for generations. The concept of this song is best summed up by these lyrics:

Superbug gave a shrug

And ate all your prescription drugs

and never, ever, ever stopped

Unnecessary

Anti-Bs

Likely killed humanity

This track is almost prophetic given today’s situation, although it was bound to come true eventually given how accurate is and how careless humanity is with antibiotics, especially in relation to factory farming. One thing I love about this song is how gritty and terrifying it is; the Superbug is portrayed as indiscriminate and inevitable, while the narrator anguishes about the Superbug in his blood, knowing that he is doomed and so is the rest of humanity. Again, I think this song really emphasizes how perfectly thrash metal and environmental consciousness complement each other, using grim lyrics and devastating instrumentation to convey the looming destruction of the Earth.

The second half of the album is just as interesting, if not more sci-fi oriented, and continues on the environmental themes of the first half. I would love to discuss it more but unfortunately this post is already quite long; therefore I recommend giving it a listen yourself. Pay attention to the message of each song and how they all connect, while also noticing how well the music complements the message, then feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it further. Regardless, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a stand out metal album, the only one of its kind, due to both the quality of the composition and the effective presentation of its unique environmental message.