We were on a beach holiday last summer, and my wife had wandered off for an ice cream, and came back to find me, headphones on, lying on my sunbed with my limbs jerking spasmodically like I was in the grip of a seizure of some kind. Thankfully it was nothing of the kind: it was simply the King Gizzard effect. I had made the mistake of listening to Nonagon Infinity, the most thrilling rock & roll album since Rocket From the Crypt’s 1996 belter Scream Dracula Scream, in public, and made a bit of a twat of myself. Which, whilst it’s not as frequent as it used to be, is still a far from rare occurrence.
King Gizzard are ridiculously prolific – Murder of the Universe is their tenth album since 2012, and the second of five albums to be released in 2017 alone – and to listen to them is to enjoy the rare sensation of hearing a band whose creative brain is working at hyperspeed, mashing up psych, garage rock, jazz, prog, krautrock and metal, playing with mind-warping time signatures, and throwing bones to loyal fans by constantly referencing their own back catalogue. Like Happy Mondays long before them, they sound like a bunch of wasters all playing their own very different song, with everything miraculously coming together to form an utterly brilliant whole.
Following February’s rather more mellow Flying Microtonal Banana, Murder of the Universe cranks everything back up to 11 and picks up where Nonagon Infinity left off (not that it does leave off, being a permanent loop, but you know what I mean). At least, the first part does. Because Murder… is a sci-fi concept album in three parts, narrated throughout by fellow Australian Leah Senior, and whether you enjoy it or not rather depends on your tolerance levels for sci-fi concept albums featuring characters called Balrog.
My tolerance of such things is fairly low and as such I find Murder… less satisfying than The Gizz’s previous work. Much of Chapter 1, Altered Beast, is fucking brilliant, the kind of high octane missed-a-beat garage rock that made Nonagon Infinity so bloody ace, but where Nonagon… worked so well because the thrills were non-stop, Altered Beast’s impact is somewhat diluted by narrative interludes.
As is Chapter 2, Lord of Lightning vs Balrog, 9 minutes of garage-psych freakout weakened by several more minutes of narrative which only serves as an annoyance rather than an exposition. And Chapter 3, Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe, which tells the story of a vomit-obsessed cyborg, devotes far too much time to its robot narrator than it does to the wonderfully dumb sludge-rock groove of ‘Vomit Coffin‘. Seriously, if you have a song with a title like Vomit Coffin, you should be shouting it from the rooftops, not drowning it in comic-con cobblers.
But hey, I guess you can’t put out 13 albums in 5 years without the occasional misstep and despite the distractions and interruptions there is still a killer garage rock album lurking sonewhere in here. It’s just a shame that you have to wade through a lot of Tolkienesque guff to get to it.