Wednesday, October 05, 2022

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard jam out on ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’

Australian genre-defying six-piece King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are infamous for their prolific and varied output. 

With 20 albums released across a decade – five of which being released within the space of one year – spanning soundscapes from garage-rock to techno and spaghetti-western to metal, there’s no corner in the musical world that the ‘Gizzverse’ hasn’t inhabited in this relatively short space of time.  

Not inclined to rest on their well-deserved laurels, the band are set to make it another five-peat in 2022 with a trilogy of releases set for a single month, with the sprawling ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’ kicking off proceedings on October 7, 2022. On an effort more collaborative than ever, cut from hours of jamming with lyrics collectively written by all its members, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard explore this new creative territory as if they had walked through it a million times before. 

This new process began with multi-instrumentalist and main vocalist Stu Mackenzie bringing nothing but seven song titles to the studio, to which he attached a tempo and one of the seven Western modes of the major scale – which, in a typical instance of King Gizzard wordplay, the initials of the album title represent. Following agreements over vague subject matter, mode, BPM, and vibe, the band spent a week jamming a title a day before whittling it down to the final product. From the outset this was clearly a successful process, as the ebullient ‘Mycelium’ – connected to the Ionian mode – bounces along joyously, a track that wouldn’t feel out of place soundtracking a Super Mario game. A simple lyrical framework – often just repeating the song title – allows the musical prowess of the band to shine, with woodwinds and wah-wah guitar solos dubbed over staccato chords and a jovial bassline that completes the Mushroom Kingdom vibe. 

Taking a step up to the Dorian mode, lead single ‘Ice V’ is a bluesy number that feels like a perfect choice to introduce the world to this album. Alternating jam episodes with choppy and psychedelic lyrics about an ice-related apocalypse – “Earth born cities stripped away / As the ice queen hypnotically sways / Queen of ice, suffice to say / Engulfing all in crystal dismay” – this is a different end-of-world vibe to 2019’s thrash metal hellscape ‘Infest The Rats Nest’. Swapping head-banging riffs for languid chord changes and dovetailed funky solos, ‘Ice V’ sends the listener – and guitarist Joey Walker – into an eternal grooving and jiving instead of wailing and screaming. 

Fans of the aforementioned ‘Infest The Rats Nest’ won’t be left wanting for Hell-related material, with a triumvirate of fire and brimstone at the centrepiece of this album – albeit with more jam than metal. The Phrygian mode ‘Magma’ swings in with a sound reminiscent of 2017’s magnum opus ‘Polygondwanaland’, with high walking basslines from Lucas Harwood, sparse lead guitars from Cook Craig and Walker, and almost whispered vocals from Mackenzie. The jam feel is evident here, as the sound morphs into a more distorted, anxious section hinting at the aforementioned metal, before reigning itself back into a long arpeggiated section and finally returning to the original swinging sound. Rinsing and repeating this sequence, the band take the listener on an adventure through their creative process, and all nine minutes of it are brilliantly captivating. 

Following ‘Magma’ is the similarly titled ‘Lava’; however, the similarities end there. Opening the Lydian mode track with an expansive section akin to an orchestra tuning up, the track is immediately a more comforting listen than the bristling track that preceded it. Slow, driving drums are joined by trilled guitars accompanying Mackenzie’s gentle melody, with lyrical gems such as “Lava, sticky like peanut butter” – almost making the prospect of lying in an active volcano’s flow inviting. The track builds up to a trademark Mackenzie “Woo!” before a repeated refrain rounds it off. Although the shortest cut from the album, ‘Lava’ is sure to be the tune that sticks with listeners the most. 

However, another track challenges ‘Lava’ for the earworm title. ‘Hell’s Itch’ completes this infernal trilogy with a thirteen-minute track borne only from the subject of an infuriating skin irritation – “Flick the switch / Hell’s itch / Dermal glitch … Bewitched / Perpetual twitch”. Leaning into the naturally bluesy Mixolydian mode, the band add harmonica into the swirling maelstrom of guitars, drums, and winds – perfectly evoking the maddening feeling of having an itch you just can’t reach. 

The album finishes with tracks in the two darkest modes – ‘Iron Lung’ in Aeolian, and ‘Gliese 710’ in Locrian. Beginning and ending with Michael ‘Cavs’ Cavanagh’s drums and Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s wailed vocals lamenting being trapped in the titular device, ‘Iron Lung’ quickly evolves into its centrepiece breakneck distorted jam with occasional interludes for Led Zeppelin-esque vocal bridges. Finally, ‘Gliese 710’ wraps up King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s 21st album perfectly, with lyrics relating to each of the title’s ‘totems’ in turn, before the final Mackenzie “Woo!” sets the band off on their final jam of the record. The track ends with a mini-jam and an introductory drumbeat that is cut by the album’s conclusion – will this be another mystery in the ‘Gizzverse’ for fans to figure out?  

Exploring new creative territory after 20 albums is not an easy task, but King Gizzard do not put a foot wrong with ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’. Coming in at 64 minutes long, this record is not a second shorter or longer than it needs to be – the jams are allowed to breathe, the tracks still feel succinct and to-the-point despite their length, and most importantly, the band provide a fantastic listen from beginning to end. 

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s album ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’ is available from October 7, 2022. 

David Harrold 

Image: ‘Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava’ Official Album Cover

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