Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe

The closing album of the ‘Gizzverse’ trilogy, the Cousin It of the discography, Murder Of The Universe is every bit as freaky as the album cover suggests. Like King Ghidorah the album’s three heads each tell a separate but connected narrative that loosely tie in to concepts from 2016’s ‘Nonagon Infinity’ and 2014’s ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’. It is a wild odyssey into the deepest realm of Stu Mackenzie’s story telling, oddly maybe his most personal album yet.

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The first chapter rocks back and forth between folk singer and label mate Leah Senior’s cool narration, and the relentless noise from the band, telling a gruesome tale of change, the origin of the ‘Altered Beast’. Occasionally these hot and cold elements encroach on each other, wild licks and riffs drown out Leah’s voice, while her descriptive prose can easily distract from the complex and impressive instrumentation. The strongest negative point for the whole album to me are the moments when this cacophony becomes too much, the band are known for their slightly muddy lo-fi sound, but this doesn’t lend them any favours here, where potentially great details are easily lost. However the moments where it works, it really works, showcasing some of the band’s most intense technical skills, and even managing to throw back to Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo à La Turk’, weaving it’s tricky 9/8 time signature and rhythm in an out; an unlikely interpolation but somehow logical considering they have referenced Brubeck before; in the ‘Take Five’ inspired chill psych jam ‘The River’, from 2015’s album ‘Quarters!”.

“the aim was basically to make a version of ‘Nonagon Infinity’ that was just more brutal, more disgusting – something like that. I wanted it to be scary and gross and, honestly, a little bit challenging.” – Stu for LoudandQuiet

Chapter two is hard to fault. Starting with a new and less repetitive narrative, the Reticent Raconteur Leah is much more palatable this time round, her voice given much more space in the mix. This chapter ties into the two other ‘Gizzverse’ albums in a very literal way. The 17 second track ‘Some Context’ that intros the chapter actually seamlessly connects into ‘Nonagon Infinity’s ‘Mr. Beat’, allowing you to give that album a loop before it then transitions straight back into Murder Of The Universe where you left off at the start of chapter two. Just a couple of tracks later, the end of ‘The Lord Of Lightning’ calls back to the beginning medley of ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’, which once cut in half slips in almost seamlessly, similarly as before transitioning back into MOTU at ‘The Balrog’. This chopping and changing of albums and references is reminiscent of the intense King Gizzard stage show set, where key tracks are taken and connected together into a nearly continuous 90 minute barrage. The narrative here ebbs and flows in a more engaging way, allowing more tracks to stand out individually as well as working in with the rest.

“‘Nonagon Infinity’, at least for us, was a fairly calculated record, and although ‘Murder of the Universe’ was coming from the same place, and some of the most difficult songs and takes we’ve ever put down are on there, it still felt a lot more free, because when we were in the process of finishing it, we were letting the tracks go their own way, and if that meant they ended up in these far-out places, then great. That’s how the record took on so much of its concept and personality, and it was a much more enjoyable experience for us. We got to mess around a lot more, I guess.” – Stu for LoudandQuiet

The last chapter is maybe the darkest and most sci-fi of the three, Leah Senior being replaced by ‘Han-Tyumi, The Confused Cyborg’, voiced by text to speech software for an authentic cyborg experience. If the previous narrative could be considered conventional, that convention, alongside the planet as we know it is seemingly now a distant memory. This chapter also has a couple of stand alone tracks that aren’t totally dominated by spoken word, but solid metal in their own more distinctly dark and doom-like flavour. The album’s most gripping moment comes in for the conclusion, as Han-Tyumi’s story draws to a close, the sounds open up and begin to crescendo, driven by deadly pulverizing bass, then just mere seconds from the end when everything drops back, placing all emphasis on the conclusion of the tale revealing in a chill inducing payoff, the engulfing obliteration of the known universe.

Very ambitious stuff, but did they quite grab what they were reaching for? The second of five albums released in 2017, its easy to think they bit off more than they could chew and rushed through this one, especially when considering aspects like the repetitive writing, re-used concepts from previous albums, and what could even be construed as sloppy mixing and structuring in chapter one. Quotes above set the context for how the album was created, considering the gruesome nature of it all, the beautiful strangeness, perhaps strict planning and careful execution would have given too much polish to something tarnished and rugged. Among the whole discography, MOTU certainly has it’s flaws, is nowhere near as accessible, but it definitely offers something unique.

“the whole time I was writing it, I was convinced that everybody was going to hate it except me! So I guess I made that one for myself, for a change.” – Stu for LoudandQuiet

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