By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)
Where to begin with this one? Coming hot on the heels of their impressive exploration into microtonal tuning, Flying Microtonal Banana, Australia’s longest band name have only gone and released their most ambitious, totally insane record yet – if you’re familiar with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, you’ll know that that statement is not one to be taken lightly. Across the 10 albums of the bands ever-expanding discography, alongside the aforementioned micro-tonal experiment, you’ll find infinitely looping psych punk, blissed out jazz influenced projects, a narrated western themed album, surf rock, flute led folk, and even a song dedicated to Vegemite. Somehow not content with covering all this ground in little over 5 years, Murder of the Universe, Gizzard’s second 2017 release, sees them add 3 chapters and 21 tracks worth of apocalyptic doom psych to the mix. Colossal sounding, and more conceptual than ever before, the Aussies have concocted a truly unique addition to not just their own discography, but to the current music scene in general.
‘The Tale of the Altered Beast’ serves as our opening chapter, kicking the album off as it means to go on, with 20 minutes of frenetic fantasy punk. Some of the heaviest music the band have recorded to date curls around ominous narration from Melbourne singer-songwriter Leah Senior, working in tandem to tell the tale of the titular beast and his victims. The story is an unsettling one, weaving themes of temptation with outright sci-fi bombast to craft something truly menacing. Suitably, the instrumentation gives off a twisted vibe as well, lending the classic Gizzard freak-outs some added heft: synths sound chunkier, bass lines shimmer with pure electricity, and vocals from Stu Mackenzie stutter with arpeggiated intensity. The narration does occasionally get in the way of the music, but more often than not, this particular creative risk pays off handsomely.
Ramping up the fantasy a little, on chapter II the record takes a sharp and strange turn. Perhaps out doing the first chapter in terms of instrumental heft, the medieval chug of The Lord of Lightning provides MOTU with its undisputed centrepiece. A true ‘turn-the-speakers-up-to-11’ moment, the track is easily the most immediately arresting thing on the record, with usual Gizzard hallmarks wading through sonic swamps, slowing everything down occasionally to provide a truly devastating impact. The rest of the chapter is admittedly more of a slow burn though. Although not necessarily a criticism, the remainder of the tracks definitely require multiple listens, to really strip away the layers upon layers of sludge and appreciate the twisted fun of the narrative. Perhaps an extra track would not go amiss either, but the immersive darkness of the soundscapes created make for an enthralling listen regardless of faults. Plus there’s throat singing, and that’s just cool isn’t it?
By the time the third and final chapter rolls around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the peak of the weirdness is behind you. But ‘Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe’ has other ideas. Sounding like the robot from Radiohead’s Fitter Happier joined a metal band, the chapter is sheer madness from start to finish. The sludgy sci-fi punk of Digital Black and Vomit Coffin play like tectonic plate movements given melody, cracking around the synthesised tones of the titular confused cyborg. Han-Tyumi, (an anagram of humanity, make of that what you will), is a little bit lost in the world, bless him, and soon enough decides that vomiting is the only way to regain his humanity. The result is an oddly gripping experience, likely to alienate some listeners, but equally as likely to inspire declarations of genius from fans. It brings the album to a close in appropriately dramatic fashion, leaving quite the impression long after Han-Tyumi sputters out his final ‘life and death / murder of the universe’, as he’s slowly swallowed up by the cacophony of sound.
So far so good then for Gizzard’s audacious five albums in a year plan; two albums down, two downright triumphs. MOTU is far from problem free, but all in all the sheer madness of the project makes it impossible not to admire. Each listen reveals hidden treats buried in the lo-fi production, dragging you back in every time you think you’re done. That said, it is certainly not an album for everyone. Some will undoubtedly feel a little short-changed, due to a lack of ‘proper’ songs and some of the more ambitious musical choices, but you really do get the impression that the people who dig this record will dig it, a lot. It’s really not difficult to picture particularly dedicated fans shooting homemade movies based on The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, and holding listening parties all dressed in wizards robes.
One can only guess at what lies ahead in the apparently jazz influenced follow-up release, Sketches of Brunswick East, but if it’s as unique and self-assured as this, we’ll be in for another treat of an album.