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The Tripped-Out, Magnetic Horror of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Aussie psych-rockers discuss their second record of 2017, Murder of the Universe.

Music Features King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
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The Tripped-Out, Magnetic Horror of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Melbourne-based King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard may look like hippies, but they aren’t seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. The prolific septet’s 10th album in the past six years, Murder of the Universe, is a three-chapter trek through a parallel dystopian universe, setting the bleak outlook of doom metal to an aggressive psychedelic swampiness that has been become something of a signature for King Gizzard. Murder has an ominous propulsion that leaves you feeling aghast and helpless, with two-minute sprints of charging drums and distortion that feel like a dilapidated truck carving through a bombed-out city with a cut brake line.

With its numberless allusions to a world gone off the rails and assured weaponization of technology, it would be easy to pigeonhole Murder of the Universe, which was released Friday, as an apocalyptic reaction to any recent political catastrophe—a category in which stacks of records that have come out since November have been dumped. But the fears that drive Stu Mackenzie, the group’s bandleader and primary architect, follow the longer trend of disregard for our impact on the Earth.

“You only have to be a rational person and look at the science of it to see that our chances of sticking around, on an evolutionary scale or any long period of time, are slim.”

“I don’t have that much faith in the future of humanity,” Mackenzie sighed in a recent interview. “At least, not at the moment. It definitely feels like we’re doomed. At some point or another, we may not last that much longer. You only have to be a rational person and look at the science of it to see that our chances of sticking around, on an evolutionary scale or any long period of time, are slim. It’s interesting: The a human lifetime seems pretty small in the scale of human history as well. I’m trying to fathom the relationship between existing as part of the human species and as part of a community.”

Mackenzie’s penchant for high fantasy and science fiction (his recent reads include Frank Herbert’s Dune and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) informs the sparking, frenzied storytelling at the heart of Murder of the Universe. On songs like “Altered Beast,” “The Floating Fire” and “Vomit Coffin,” its characters are cabalistically self-destructive, their minds abducted by heinous thoughts of annihilation. But these violent manifestations of existential human dread, once peeled back, are the compounded products of the subtle, often banal moments when we individually indulge in fatal behavior.

“Even if you feel safe within your lifetime, if you’re part of a family or you’re bringing other people into the world, you don’t feel too good about what human beings are putting the planet through,” Mackenzie said. “It’s easy to want to pretend that there is no problem. Part of this record is just trying to tell stories which seem so completely absurd, or that seem fantasy or that seem science-fiction, and to a large degree they definitely are. It is creating a world or creating a fantasy, but also trying to think about the fact that it’s not that far from reality, or it’s not so far-fetched in a sense.”

Read Paste’s review of Murder of the Universe here.

Murder of the Universe is the second in King Gizzard’s unprompted challenge to release five albums by the end of 2017. It sounds impossible, but when you consider their resume—for instance, releasing the mostly acoustic Paper Mache Dream Balloon and the jazzy Quarters in 2015—it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Their first of the year, Flying Microtonal Banana, came out in February and found the group—which also includes Ambrose Kenny-Smith (harmonica/vocals), Cook Craig (guitar/vocals), Eric Moore (drums), Joey Walker (guitar), Lucas Skinner (bass) and Michael Cavanagh (drums)—modifying their instrumental setup to play semitones—the notes between half-notes—not incorporated in traditional guitar frets. Next in line is Sketches of Brunswick East, a jazz-leaning collection recorded in collaboration with Alex Brettin, tourmate of Mac DeMarco and leader of the band Mild High Club. The conceptual path after that remains unclear, even to Mackenzie. But the five-album goal is less a declaration of the group’s boundless creativity than a cynical joke after the arduous work they put into their most identifiable work, the 2016’s endlessly looping Nonagon Infinity.

“Just after we made that record, we all sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘Let’s just take a breather for a second Maybe we should put out this record next year and then chill out. We’ll think about the next record when we think about the next record,’” Mackenzie said. “But by the time we actually got to that, we sat around twiddling our thumbs for so long that we just went, ‘Ah, maybe we should put out more than two records! We’ve got so many ideas! Ah shit, let’s just…’ I don’t know, maybe I blurted out that we put out five records. I somewhat regret saying that, but also, it’s kind of funny.”

It’s hard enough just keeping up with all the top-shelf music coming out of Australia these days. When pressed, Mackenzie was diplomatic about the Southern Hemisphere being the new fertile ground for psych rock. The discussion always begins with Perth-based Tame Impala, leaps to King Gizzard, and often includes mentions of Pond, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (from New Zealand), and even Courtney Barnett. The comparison is tenuous in terms of styles—you’d have to really stretch to connect the hellbound locomotive that is Murder of the Universe with Tame Impala’s gauzy last record, Currents, but Mackenzie copped somewhat to their shared heritage.

“It’s interesting that that has become ‘a thing’, that Australians make psychedelic rock music,” he said. “I guess it’s obvious that Tame Impala are taking over the world, and all power to them, and I’m not sure people would be saying that if it weren’t for them. But I think there’s definitely a lot of brilliant Australian bands. One downside of touring so much and being away from Melbourne, is kind of feeling disconnected from that, a little bit. There’s still so much going on. You can go to a lot of places in Melbourne and see a band play with 30 people, and it’s fucking amazing.”

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