The Lowdown: Aussie psych rock act King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard released five albums in 2017 with each one managing to be in a completely different genre and style. The feat further cemented their reputation for being restlessly prolific and experimental. For a band also known for acting like clockwork when it comes to releasing new records, last year’s lack of an album sticks out as an anomaly. In fairness, they did spend part of 2018 on a relentless world tour that featured a headlining set at Desert Daze and three sold-out nights at Brooklyn Steel, the largest venue they’ve played in the States so far, so it’s hard to cite them for slacking.
Not only have King Gizzard sped up the pace again in 2019, but they’ve just doubled down with their second album of the year and 15th album overall, Infest the Rats’ Nest. It features an extremely pared down lineup: the band’s creative mastermind Stu McKenzie (vocals, guitar, bass), Joey Walker (guitar, bass), and Michael Cavanaugh (drums). Interestingly, the reduced lineup, which can sometimes include seven members, allowed the act to focus on crafting much tighter arrangements with a pummeling and feral velocity inspired by McKenzie’s long-held love of thrash metal — in particular, Metallica, Slayer, Black Sabbath, and Rammstein. Sonically and thematically, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a radical and unexpected departure from its immediate predecessor, April’s Fishing for Fishies. Arguably one of the band’s darkest and bleakest efforts, the material on Rats’ Nest seethes with disgust and contempt over a myopic, stupid, and greedy human race blindly marching lockstep to its own annihilation.
The Good: Long known for crafting mind-bending and sprawling songs centered around blistering riffs, Rats’ Nest finds the band writing some of their most direct, concise, and forceful material in some time. It’s mostly killer and little filler that’s heavily indebted to Ride the Lightning and Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica, early Black Sabbath, and Reign of Blood-era Slayer. And if the album doesn’t make you want to play it at eardrum shattering volumes or jump into a mosh pit with other sweaty humans, there’s something deeply wrong with you. “Organ Farmer” and “Self-Immolate” both sound like loving homages to Slayer, with McKenzie delivering each song’s vocals in similar style, as the band plays with a pummeling intensity. “Superbug”, the album’s longest track, and “Perihelion” are the most Black Sabbath-like songs King Gizzard have ever written and recorded. “Venusian 1” features some of the most dexterous and blistering guitar work of the year.
Thematically, the album ranks among the bleakest of their career. And considering the alarming developments we’ve all seen and heard about over the past year on the state of the environment, the album’s material evokes the dire state of our world with an urgency and despair that’s unsettling and visceral. This one ain’t for the weak of heart or stomach. Things really are bleak — and they’re only going to get bleaker.
The Bad: Rats’ Nest may feature some of the most ferocious, riff-heavy material King Gizzard have released in some time, but the album feels more like a loving homage than some of the wildly inventive, genre-defying freak-outs of their rapidly growing catalog. While the band have managed to put together nine, carefully crafted, Headbangers Ball-worthy rippers, the songs hew way too closely to the material that influenced it. For the listener who never grew up listening to Slayer or Black Sabbath, the album may seem like a revelation — and maybe it’ll force them to seek out Reign in Blood or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath But for those, who are familiar with the source material that influenced it, the material hits the marks they’ve heard many times before.
The Verdict: Infest the Rats’ Nest finds King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard making a radical and unexpected sonic departure. And while the album may be directly compared to 2017’s Murder of the Universe, it’s arguably the most straightforward material they’ve written in some time. And while it feels like a minor misstep in comparison to much of their catalog, it finds the band crafting forceful and ferocious, mosh pit-friendly rippers that are politically and socially relevant.
Essential Tracks: “Planet B”, “Venusian 1″, and “Self-Immolate”