King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have never been ones for half measures. When the Melbourne-based seven-piece gave themselves the very ambitious goal of releasing five albums in 2017, they not only succeeded in meeting their goal but they delivered five very different bodies of work, each underpinned by five fully-realised concepts. No two of their projects sound alike, so when they started teasing a thrash metal album with the release of single Planet B back in April people naturally got excited. And with good reason; Infest The Rat’s Nest is possibly the band’s tightest album to date, clocking in at 34 minutes of frantic riffs and ominous warnings about the impending doom humanity is bringing upon itself.
One of the most surprising things about this album isn’t that it’s from the same group who put out the pastoral folk-pop wonder Paper Mache Dream Balloon in 2015, but that it doesn’t feel like a significant musical detour from the band’s previous material. It still includes the classic Gizzard hallmarks; relentless drumming and constant shifting time signatures from Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore, frenetic use of high-pitched delay and keystone harmonica interludes from multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith. If anything, it feels like a truer expression of the band’s interests and influences, featuring possibly their sharpest songwriting since 2016’s standout Nonagon Infinity. Their capacity for heavy metal was already apparent from tracks off previous albums, such as Gumboot Soup’s Great Chain of Being or the closing section of Polygondwanaland’s 10 minute suite Crumbling Castle, but it doesn’t seem like an indulgence to have an entire album in this vein.
As ever the band’s musicianship and interplay is remarkable; being able to keep everything in sync in a loping 7/4 time signature is hard enough with two or three instruments, let alone seven. The song structure on Infest The Rat’s Nest is more focused than the wooly jams that characterised Gizzard’s other 2019 release, Fishing for Fishies, and the intensity of the music yields more of a sense of structure and flow than several of their other albums from the past three years. Frontman Stu Mackenzie sings in guttural barks that pay homage to Lemmy in his Motorhead days, and feels almost a world away from their previous material. Among the choicest songs on the album are Perihelion and Self-Immolate; the former comes close to juddering pirate rock and features a melodic hook which must be one of the best examples of the band’s songwriting to date. The riff on the latter continually shifts past stabbing drums, like a great serpent coiling around itself to evade capture. Superbug reads as classic Sabbath reborn 49 years down the line, with the same sense of impending doom transposed to a much more believable threat.
The environmentalist themes explored by King Gizzard on Infest The Rats Nest seem particularly prescient given Australia’s very underwhelming approach to a recent summit with Pacific island nations, with several members of the government seeking to open a new coal mine in 2019. This comes with the news that large swathes of Amazonian rainforest are on fire, something which has received upsettingly little coverage in the media. When Stu Mackenzie sings of an ‘earth [that] has been deformed’ on rock-heavy second track Mars For The Rich, he’s not talking in future tense. The molestation of the planet is, despite numerous and increasingly dire warnings from scientific bodies around the world, still very much ongoing and seemingly with governmental consent. For all its post-apocalyptic overtones, this is an album about a dystopian present, not a dystopian future.
There’s maybe less variety in the thematic content explored here compared to some of the band’s previous records (of which there are now 15 in total), but it’s tightly-constructed and never deviates from its central message of forthcoming ecological disaster. Even considering that King Gizzard are a seven-piece, the breadth of ideas they’ve displayed over the past four/five years is seriously impressive. Most of the album blitzes past so quickly that you fear the whole thing might shake itself apart if it moves any faster. And they’re clearly a band who make music for the merit of the act itself; from the first onslaught of drums in Planet B to the last moments of album closer Hell, Infest The Rat’s Nest is a galloping thrill ride. Who knew the end of the world would be this much fun?