An Ambitious Concept That Grows Stale Over Time
King Gizzard’s Murder of the Universe is the second of the band’s five-album extravaganza that they announced towards the beginning of 2017. With this album, King Gizzard goes back to a more familiar sound, such as Nonagon Infinity from 2016, with it’s very repetitive grooves and cryptic lyrics. Stu Mackenzie and the band return with a more conceptual album this time around, and break the flow up into three separate chapters. A bulk of this album has a linear song structure, with several tracks reaching just below the one minute mark.
Through most of the album, the narration tells stories of dystopian and horror-themed doom. These chapters can be described as cartoonish, as the album narrates stories of human body alteration, battles between gods in a village and a cyborg that goes rogue and yearns to only die and vomit. Lovely.
The album starts off with a spoken word passage by Leah Senior, who’s shown up on other King Gizzard releases. With these narrations, the band plays off the plot points, providing a change of mood or aggression with each passage. After a while, these narrations aren’t as rewarding. It almost has a quality of copying and pasting, showing up as the band is about to reach a climax, souring the flow of the album, especially in the third leg. The tracks “Vomit Coffin” and “Altered Beast I” are clunky from the constant spoken word, even when the band is doing a change up in rhythm.
That’s not to say there are some exciting moments on the record. “The Balrog” and “The Lord of Lightning” have some ambitious compositions with their fusion of prog and psych rock guitars and shouts. These two are on the second third of the album, where the more stand alone tracks appear. These stand alone tracks bring back the sound of Nonagon Infinity, but add more keyboard flourishes into the mix. “Altered Beast II” and “Altered Beast IV” have some very hypnotic guitar parts, making it seem like the listener is trapped in an never-ending cycle of doom. Tracks like “Life/Death” and “Welcome to an Altered Universe” help transition between chapters intensively with ominous synths and walls of guitar from the band’s numerous members. The song with the most aggressive hook might be “Digital Black” in the final third of the record, which is complimented by some very nice keyboard arpeggios.
King Gizzard made a very ambitious album with an already ambitious schedule they’ve crafted for themselves this year, while making each album from 2017 drastically different from one another sonically. Although the narration might be overly heavy at the endpoints of the album, there were a lot of surprises that pulled through; from mesmerizing guitar licks and unrelenting drumming by both the band’s drummers to the really odd sci-fi tinged synths. Each track can be appreciated by its own weirdness, even if some aren’t as satisfying as others.
Murder of the Universe might have fallen short from albums like Nonagon Infinity and Mind Fuzz, but takes the best ideas from these two and add their own strange audio experience. It might have a striving concept, but it takes away room for the band to breathe and string-out longer jams. If you enjoy your Australian prog-psych-garage rock to have its very own storyline, you’re in luck.