Famously prolific, the Australian psych-rock outfit turn their hand to a heavier sound on their latest record.
Ah yes, thrash metal. It’s certainly distinctive, isn’t it? Only problem is, I’m way out of my depth and have little to no experience with the vocabulary or conventions of the genre beyond a passing familiarity with some of its most widely known artists and songs. In fact, my total inadequacy as a critic of this style runs so deep I kind of wanted to start this album review off with a videogame comparison (I’ll spare you). It definitely sounds good.
Grittily triumphant opener Planet B starts the album off strong with lyrics decrying “urbanisation”, “scarification” and the ensuing “population exodus”, positioning these dystopian premonitions over some of the tautest, most joyously performed metal music I’ve ever encountered, played with watertight precision. It contains clear reference to the artist it’s interpreting while still holding onto enough of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s trademark goofiness to retain an airy sense of fun throughout the album, despite the oppressively dark tone of its narrative. The aforementioned Planet B flaunts breakneck thrash riffs, fret spanning pentatonic bass licks that rumble throughout its flawlessly smooth transitionary moments, and a thundering performance on drums shamelessly flaunting the band’s mastery of the subgenre.
You’re probably wondering how I got here. I like boring indie music and terrible pop songs from the late 80’s – what am I doing here reviewing this thrash metal album? King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are an Australian rock band who’ve made their name as one of the most stylistically adventurous bands still clutching guitars in 2019. Their discography spans many styles and genres, from thundering psych rock song cycles (Nonagon Infinity) to the only subtly psychedelic folk-pop excursion Paper Mâché Dream Balloon. Recently, they’ve favoured whole album genre homages more and more, as seen on electro-boogie-woogie record Fishing for Fishes that also dropped earlier this year (in case you couldn’t tell, they’ve also made a name for themselves for being… persistent).
"[Planet B is] some of the tautest, most joyously performed metal music I've ever encountered, played with watertight precision."
This has culminated in them producing an album that passes for a straight-faced thrash metal record. All of these songs still embody King Gizzard’s promises of unrivalled chunky guitar tone and simple, clear rock production while also allowing enough of the band’s usual idiosyncrasies to shine through and charm the listener. A prime example of this is Superbug; an earth-scorchingly fun and impressively chunky Josh Homme indebted stoner-rock intro that transitions into thrash inflected verses, incorporating some of the album’s most shamelessly cheesy and hedonistically pleasing licks and riffs.
The album’s overarching narrative and concept cannot be ignored any more than the through vein of thrash metal that interconnects these tracks could be. At its heart, beneath all the doomsday theatrics and metal bravado, the album’s core message is a simple, alarmingly prescient warning of environmental Armageddon brought on by global warming. This is piercingly clear from the album’s second track Mars for the Rich onward; the rats referenced in the album’s title are the rich. The narrative flows smoothly throughout the album, allowing the band to exercise varying degrees of bombastic B-Movie camp juxtaposed with genuine existential horror, somehow balanced by the impeccable pacing and transitions in mood. Despite it fizzling out a little at the end, the narrative adds a degree of flow and a sense of cohesiveness to the entire experience that cannot be overstated.
"The album's core message is a simple, alarmingly prescient warning of environmental Armageddon brought on by global warming."
It adds immeasurable weight to the thrillingly unpredictable riff-fest Self Immolate; chugging along with the record’s most varied and unconventional groove, this track sees the guitar’s otherwise watertight, almost calculated thrash riffs become engaging and nail-biting puzzle boxes of tightly wound rhythms. Also, massive kudos to the drumming found on the intro of this track and at many other moments throughout the record for effectively embodying the unknowable existential dread – the creeping doom – engendered by global warming.
The amount of fun I’ve had with this album easily reaches the same high-bar as my first exposures to System of a Down and Metallica as a teenager; King Gizzard have produced a record that’s just as brutally… brutal as it is stunningly technical, with the smidge of self-awareness necessary to pull this sound off without the same status of groundbreaking innovators as those aforementioned bands. With heaps of bombast and good ol’ fashioned fun, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard once again display their ability to tackle unfamiliar styles with both grace and impressive attention to form and detail. This album includes many a punishing, chugging riff, eye-melting tap-frenzy solos and enough kinetic energy to power Australia. What more could you want really?