King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are back with their second studio album release of the calendar year. Prolific and creatively unrestrained, the Australian group delivers an impressive addition to their massive catalog with Infest the Rats’ Nest.
The band’s fifteenth full-length LP in just seven years is a foray into thrash metal, interweaving the band’s heavier, riff-based tendencies with thrash, stoner, psychedelic and proto-metal. It’s a concept album about the inevitable destruction of planet Earth, and the desperate attempts of humanity to relocate elsewhere in our solar system.
Filled with allegory, fantasy, and a very transparent theme, the album is yet another narrative-driven project, whose formalist elements are equally conceptual as its narrative ones. This record showcases a completely different side to Stu Mackenzie and company than their previous album Fishing for Fishies, trading in their fully acoustic to fully electronic endeavor for what could be their sharpest exercise in pastiche.
This is a metal record. Yes, Murder of the Universe (2017), Nonagon Infinity (2016) and maybe even I’m In Your Mind Fuzz (2014) rock hard, and there are many reasons why those three albums can be paired together as their most hard rock releases, but none of them are metal. Single songs from the band’s catalog may flirt heavily with metal; “Greenhouse Heat Death” and “The Great Chain of Being” from 2017’s Gumboot Soup could be considered stoner metal tracks, but in Rats’ Nest, we hear metal elements that haven’t been explored before by the band who has released albums that could be categorized under jazz fusion, folk-rock, progressive rock, blues, garage rock and psychedelic rock.
The biggest standout element in this record from the previous fourteen is drummer Michael Cavanough playing a double bass drum for the first time, making an appearance on most of the record. Stu Mackenzie, the band’s primary composer, lyricist and vocalist, puts on a performance that could impress James Hetfield, delivering his throatiest and roughest vocals to date. The album is riff-based, it is fast, it is loud and features a “guitarmy” (guitar army) laid down by Cook Craig (The Murlocs and Pipe-Eye) and Stu, full of traditional metal solos, heavy stoner riffs and multiple incredibly satisfying breakdowns.
That said, Infest the Rats’ Nest still feels like a King Gizzard album. For the moshpit-hungry fans of Murder of the Universe and Nonagon Infinity, we have yet another collection of incredibly well-crafted songs that lead into and compliment each other, following a clear and concise theme, and sprinting with it as far into the depths of hell as Lucifer will allow. The songs are comprised of complex time signatures, rapid tempo changes, irregular structures and incredibly well-layered percussion, with bass duties handed to Joey Walker this time around, who plays a surprisingly complex and melodic performance that’s familiar in the band’s sound.
“Planet B,” the lead single from the record alongside “Mars for the Rich,” “Venusian 1” and “Hell,” feature explosive solos with sonic elements that have been employed in releases as far back as 2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz, but tracks like “Organ Farmer,” “Perihelion” and “Venusian 2” feature classic metal elements that are totally new to the band. Though most of the songs are credited to Stu, Joey and Cavs (arguably the heart and soul of this metal machine), members Ambrose Kenny Smith, Cook Craig and Eric Moore also appear on the record.
Ranging from sounding like Sleep (“Superbug”) to Slayer (“Perihelion”) and Sodom (“Hell),” the band manages to explore various facets of thrash and stoner metal on this record while dressing it with psychedelic flare. The record’s finale, “Hell” features an outro with a riff that could have fit perfectly elsewhere in the bands’ discography (Flying Microtonal Banana and Float Along - Fill Your Lungs, specifically), which then gets taken over by an avalanche of double kick pedal madness and a heavy riff that brings the record to its climax, a mere twenty seconds before the whole thing comes to an abrupt stop.
“Superbug”, the longest track on the record, is one of the band’s finest pieces of pastiche; a perfect homage to Black Sabbath, Sleep and Electric Wizard. “Mars for the Rich,” the last single released from the record, alongside a computer video game made by the band in which the player must defeat all of the rats in hell as the song plays, is perhaps the most accessible track on the record, yet still feels as infectious and dynamic as the most classic early Metallica and proto-metal anthems of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The album fits nicely within the narrative universe that the Stu Mackenzie has created through the band’s discography. The world in which fans call “The Gizzverse” is fantastical and complex; dystopian and folkloric. Here, urbanization, scarification and overpopulation have caused Earth’s old deserts to be blanketed in snowflakes, the rich to flee to Mars, and the poor left to be killed by a superbug that makes H1N1 look like a runny nose. What are the poor to do? Build a spaceship made of junk, of course, name it Venusian 1 and try to crash land it in the second planet from the sun (Venus). Unfortunately, everyone immediately combusts and wakes up in Hell. Apparently, “Hell’s where they wanna be.”
If you were to take Infest the Rats’ Nest and put it side by side with over half of the band’s records, you will find that the narrative concept isn’t that strange and truly, it feels like this record is yet another issue in an absurd science fiction series of graphic novels made by someone who grew up watching a few too many pulpy sci-fi cartoons and listening to Soulfly and Exodus.
Fishing for Fishies is similar in having a conceptual narrative, symbiotic to the formalist elements of the music, telling the story of Han-Tyumi (a character previously featured on Murder of the Universe) slowly transforming from humanoid to fully automated artificially intelligent robot, all the while pondering upon the ethics and morality of fishing for sport. Both narratives are outrageous, but fit within the lore the band has created for themselves and their fans, which truly affects the context of the record depending on how deep into the fandom you are, yet does not detract from the experience of listening to the records on their own, or with less-Gizz-informed ears and mind.
That said, the musical difference between Infest the Rats Nest and Fishing for Fishies is astonishing. Each a notable conceptual feat, both releases share nothing in common except a nuanced, genuinely impressive execution. Fishies boogies as hard as Rats Nest head-bangs, and if anything, they both maintain King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard as one of the most efficient, innovative and creatively malleable contemporary rock bands.
The band has an international cult-like following that seems to only be growing with time, and it is evident that Stu and company indulge in that fact, constantly delivering unpredictability yet dependability, a feat that I cannot compare with any other working band today. It is impressive how high the quality of the band’s massive output is, and how they seem to always provide for their fans, who seem to be turning into modern-day Dead-heads (Gizz-heads, perhaps?).
Rat’s Nest is no different, and their commitment to creating a sci-fi metal album is both commendable and evident that no matter the concept, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will deliver.
Adrian Vega Albela Osorio is a 23-year-old multimedia artist from Mexico based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on documenting the contemporary underground psychedelic music scene in Los Angeles. Follow Adrian on Instagram @stripedbeatle.