Sound — 5
Few bands have proven to be as ruthlessly prolific and concept-driven as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Whether getting creative with the recording methods (like in their debut album, "12 Bar Bruise"), or setting symmetrical limits on runtime (like in their sixth album, "Quarters!"), it wasn't until just a year ago when the Australian natives finally made their worldwide debut with their eighth album, "Nonagon Infinity," where its dabbling with micro-tuning and using an "infinite" nine-song runtime earned critical acclaim and won the ARIA award for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album of 2016.
With more eyes focused on them now, King Gizzard have outlined 2017 to be one of their most prolific years yet, planning to release five studio albums. With the first album of this year, "Flying Microtonal Banana," fully committing to songwriting with micro-tuned instruments, the second album of theirs for 2017 and their tenth overall studio album, "Murder of the Universe," wields a concept that's much more narrative-driven, offering a trilogy of kitschy, retro sci-fi stories using narration atop the music, similar to what the band did in the Western story concept of their second album, "Eyes Like the Sky." As a result, the songwriting of the album takes form in three parts, essentially being three songs seamlessly divided into numerous tracks, connected by a handful of recurring riffs and vocal hooks, making it similar to the interconnected "Nonagon Infinity."
At face value, this is King Gizzard continuing to harness the aspirations of prog rock without the pretension, letting its humble but nifty psychedelic/garage rock instrumentation do the heavy lifting, like the spiraling guitar riffs in "Altered Beast IV," or the perky drumming in "The Balrog." But similarly to the underlying problems in "Nonagon Infinity," the motif-based composition of "Murder of the Universe" wears itself out, heard most prevalently in the "The Tale of the Altered Beast" section of the album, as well as the echoes of previous riffs in "The Floating Fire."
The sense of redundancy goes further than the recurring riffs, though. The overall flow of "Murder of the Universe" bears a carousel-esque tediousness, where Stu Mackenzie's vocal sections lead into crests of shrieking guitars and synths, then settle down for the narration sections, and so on. And the band's preference for odd time signatures arguably reaches a point of saturation - as distinct as 7/4 and 15/8 riffs may be in the grand scheme of things, the liberal usage of them in the album takes away its inherent uniqueness.
Lyrics — 8
In its three stories, "Murder of the Universe" lavishes itself in a kitschy, retro sci-fi/horror aesthetic to tell allegories of the human condition. The first story, "The Tale of the Altered Beast," is of a man who encounters a destructive monstrosity, and later succumbs to his desire to become a monstrosity just like it ("My other life I will not miss / An altered beast until I die / And I will not give up on this" in "Altered Beast IV"), being a parable for the uncanny susceptibility humans have to their darkest inhibitions.
The second story, "The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog," is of a man, originally punished by the Lord of Lightning, reborn as a demonic creature who fights the Lord of Lightning in vengeance, but ultimately fails ("And thus, revenge was fruitless for the one who had turned / And we are reminded who lords over this altered world" in “The Floating Fire”), acting as a cautionary tale of defying divine beings.
And the final story, "Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe," proves to be the most grotesque by being about a cyborg who longs for the human ability to vomit (no, seriously), and builds an invention to help him do so, but ends up overloading and drowning the entire universe in puke (no, seriously). But though the repulsive prose reads like that of a teenager's creative writing assignment, it actually holds up as metaphor for the belief that the increasing dependence on technology will be its undoing.
Overall Impression — 5
As prolific as King Gizzard's 2017 is aiming to be, the idea that every second of recorded music released in that schedule is going to be top notch is a foolhardy presumption, and with three more albums still to go, "Murder of the Universe" already seems like the weaker one of the bunch. Being a noticeable drop from the more fleshed out songwriting in the previous "Flying Microtonal Banana," and being a less impressive iteration of motif-centric songwriting that "Nonagon Infinity" showcased, "Murder of the Universe" may read like another ambitious concept on paper, but its execution leaves much to be desired.