Following the previous success of K.G, King Gizzard’s new record displays some of their strongest musical work and pushes their current style further into prog-rock. Rebecca Hyde explores what the versatile Melbourne-born band have to offer at the start of the 2020s.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a band that have been known for their variations within genres, and their ability to adopt an entire new one for each album, particularly through their thrash-metal environmental protest album Infest the Rats Nest and the similarly themed but alternate in style funk-boogie-rock fusion of Fishing for Fishies. It is no surprise that the band chose to title the two albums, K.G and L.W after themselves, as they both indicate some of their strongest work and consolidate that well-known, experimental, and mythical King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard sound.
The album’s opener is unfortunately L.W.’s weakest moment. Starting with a minute-long jam, led by a sporadic guitar improv, which hands over to a synth-keyboard, the track feels slightly under-produced and weak, especially in comparison to the rest of the record. Considering L.W. is a continuation of “experiments in microtonal tuning”, according to the band, this opening track lacks the energy, creativity, or pragmatism of the likes of Rattlesnake, the opener to one of their previous microtonal-based albums. The following track, O.N.E, is in a completely different league of song-writing, layering of sounds, and motifs, making If Not Now, Then When? sound more akin to a King Gizzard cover band than the confident musical explorations presented throughout the rest of the album.
‘This is daring, dauntless, and quintessentially King Gizzard.’
The second single released in the build-up to this album, O.N.E is an absolutely gorgeous three minutes and forty seconds of genre, pace, and rhythm-changing musical delight. The whole track ebbs and flows between phrases, with a laid back vocals and keys intro that could comfortably work as its own song, before breaking down into what can only be described as microtonal-funk-prog-rock (these genres are getting a bit lengthy, aren’t they?) with a boisterous instrumental section, which passes a solo between band members before opening up to a short but calculated piece on the band’s new microtonal guitar, backed by nothing but a stop chorus with impeccable timing and a catchy drum fill to bring them back into the verse. This switch between rhythm and pace is paralleled by concerning lyrics, “Am I going insane? /Am I able to wake from the nightmare?” perfectly timed to run alongside the melody played through on guitar. The song ends with a sanguine rhythm section that fans of their never-ending album Nonagon Infinity will be pleased to hear blends directly into the next track. This is daring, dauntless, and quintessentially King Gizzard.
Pleura, which follows, was the last single released before the full album. It’s a lot of fun, hopping between whispered and warming vocals to lead singer Stu’s deep and almost robotic groan-singing. Despite sounding incredibly unpleasant from that description, the sound is immaculate, and his vocals have clearly developed hugely thanks to a visit down thrash-metal lane, where Stu Mackenzie put his voice to probably some of its most extreme lengths, other than maybe some of the more creative mic work when the band play live, in which he frequently plunges his microphone down his throat. This technique might need some rethinking in the wake of a global pandemic. Pleura also makes great use of the microtonal bass, jumping between sections with licks that enable the band to exhibit their confidence with instruments.
By the fourth track, the disappointment of the opener is thrown completely to the wind. Supreme Ascendancy opens with a sublime harp-sounding lick, underpinned by the band’s microtonal guitar playing an alternate rhythm. The whole track bubbles with creativity and mythical spirit, with a monotonal, almost Julian Casablancas-style laissez-faire delivery of words to tie it together. Fans of King Gizzard’s double drum kit set up were disappointed to see them only use one at once in recording this album, but Supreme Ascendancy showcases some of the best of drummer Michael Cavanagh’s talent exemplified with a slick and sharp snare and toms’ solo at around the two-minute point.
This album features huge amounts of theme variations. This culminates in the final track, where the album’s prog-rock influences bloom and flourish, and the microtonal motif, introduced in K.G, preludes the track in a stripped-back, guitar, and gentle hi-hat section. The listener is left at a pause, wherein the previous album, this track finished. However, the band concludes this “exploration into microtonal tuning” with a slowed-down, droning prog riff of the previous motif, backed yet again by Stu Mackenzie’s now menacing vocals, repeating “K.G.L.W” to the tune of the motif. The track explores the use of simple guitar licks and call and response soloing masterfully, pushing the listener through a mythical landscape of the band’s own invention via gracious helpings of distortion.
‘The track pushes the listener through a mythical landscape of the band’s own invention via gracious helpings of distortion.’
The band seems to reflect on their recent explorations in genre, specifically, the lessons learned through releasing a thrash metal album, as many of the guitar licks reminisce the violence and weight of Infest the Rat’s Nest’s Self-Immolate or Planet B. Despite being an extremely unpredictable band in terms of what genre they will work with next, the end of K.G. L.W suggests further heavy influences for the future. This track sums up everything they have created with the two most recent albums; a celebration of the experimental sound of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, a showcase of their best instrumental work to date, and a gripping conclusion to what has been two self-reflective and extremely enjoyable albums.
A notable maturity to this album comes through the tracks’ starts and ends. Whether it is drawn out and laid back, like the start of O.N.E, or eerie and mysterious, as heard at the beginning of Static Electricity, King Gizzard have shown that despite their continuous stream of music production, they are always taking the time to sit back and refine their sound. Each track, rather than catapulting the listener headfirst into an energetic and experimental rock-fest, introduces itself subtly and builds up to a magnificent climax each time.
L.W, whilst intended to be paired with the former K.G, is an incredible stand-alone album with a mystical, soundtrack feel to some of the songs that would make for a delightfully dark science fiction film. The tracks are not overstretched, with the impeccable timings and rhythm changes that help create an incredibly visual album. The band have concluded their self-titled experiment with complex conviction and have given themselves plenty of space to grow for the future. The use of microtones is an extremely complex musical feat to tackle, and King Gizzard have clearly put plenty of dedication to perfecting that musical style to their own in L.W. Whilst this seems to be the end of the self-titled projects, we can hope to see more of the microtonal sound as the band develops onward.
Written by: Rebecca Hyde
Edited by: Alex Duke