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Album Review: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Infest The Rats' Nest

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‘Planet B’, the first track from the Australian psych-rock phenomenon King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s fifteenth studio album, arrived just before this spring’s Fishing For Fishies was released to a mix of praise and perplexity.

It heralded the arrival of a second 2019 record alongside a new, all-out thrash metal sound. Infest The Rats’ Nest picks up on the environmental themes of the previous album but instead of human beings creating the conditions for parasites to thrive, it’s collective humanity who are vermin blight on every new world they touch.

Album Art 'Infest The Rats' Nest' (2019)

Whereas Fishing For Fishies dipped its toe in boogie rock and vacillated half-heartedly between other genres, Infest The Rats’ Nest’s purpose boils down to this: gizzify thrash metal, and it succeeds abundantly. Conceptually it weaves a complex but coherent narrative from start to finish.

We are thrust into King Gizzard’s lucid multiverse by the twin attack of dual drummers driving a riff to the slogan visible at many a climate protest – “There is no Planet B”, and here the couplet is completed with “Open your eyes and see”. ‘Planet B’ has had a do-over since its single iteration and the song’s elements are that bit more defined on the album mix. It’s notable for being the only track that addresses our present directly, referencing the race to commodify services (“monetisation”) and the global migration crisis (“population exodus”). This soon slides into apocalyptic decline with an Edwin Muir-like evocation of the abandonment of agriculture (“rusting tractors”) on an arid Earth – our “dry nurse”.

‘Mars For The Rich’ follows with Judas Priest-style swagger and Stu Mackenzie’s throaty low register vocals. It pays tribute to Iron Maiden’s melodrama and makes lyrical reference to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, denying the alternative-less pessimism of the opener with its business-class salvation – “Mars for the privileged/ Earth for the poor”.

With the earth poisoned and everyone respectable having emigrated to the red planet, the abandoned disreputable must scramble for survival and ‘Organ Farmer’ tells their story. This is the speediest song on the tracklisting, racing to its conclusion at two minutes and 39 seconds, and packs an impressive amount of lyrical and musical content into that brief window. It’s a track that seems to constantly egg itself on to excel itself in tempo and extremity, reflecting the protagonist’s increasingly manic quest for immortality – “part of me wants to breathe eternity”. The shortest track is then followed by the longest in ‘Superbug’ ,which ushers in the antibiotic-resistant apocalypse over a chugging triplet riff.

‘Venusian 1’ sounds like a mix of all the previous songs rolled into one and tells the tale of the plague survivors and those who outlasted environmental catastrophe’s attempt to escape the earth for “the second planet from the sun”. Unfortunately for them, the Roman goddess of fertility is yet more hostile to human life and although they “escaped parasites”, the “outside air will bring you death”. Ending the first act of the album and echoing the opening track, Mackenzie ominously bellows, “There is one planet V”.

This is the transition into Infest The Rats’ Nest’s operatic second movement, which begins with the riffage of ‘Perihelion’ and ends with the extrasolar expedition’s destination, ‘Venusian 2’. These two tracks are King Gizzard at their most grandiose both in terms of concept and instrumental flourish. The former refers to the point in orbit where a satellite is closest to the sun and here its gravity is being harnessed to kickstart a deep space voyage to find a new home for humanity because, in the band’s words, “space is a place for the human race”. It’s a pompous moment of optimism on a vividly dystopian record with its camp choral chant of “Peri-peri-helion!” ‘Venusian 2’ concludes this epic, existential leap of faith with touchdown on a new surface after a rapid descent through many of the motifs introduced in the album’s first half.

Polyrhythmic riffs proclaim a failure to escape the flux that has driven humanity to the stars as Mackenzie relays, “Venusian sickness dire/ I want to be set on fire”. Yelps of “hey!” punctuate the desire for immortalisation of an Empedoclean variety as the protagonist expresses his need to “be with molten lava”. Achieving this noble goal, we reach the album’s final destination, ‘Hell’ where we gallop towards the finish via a Microtonal-style riff, racing from celestial to diabolical.

King Gizzard successfully put their own spin on thrash metal. Infest The Rats’ Nest shows what can be done when the band fully commits to a compelling idea and take it to its widest extremes. Although it may be a little one-note for some listeners, that note is epic and thrillingly verbose. Best treated as mini-opera, the sum is definitely greater than its constituent parts.

Lead image credit: Album Art 'Infest The Rats' Nest' (2019)




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