There’s that scene in Batman Begins, where Liam Neeson tells Bruce Wayne, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely.” “Which is?”, Wayne queries. “Legend, Mr. Wayne.” It’s a thought impossible to repress when thinking of the legend that is King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Frontman Stu Mackenzie might insist the ideal they devote themselves to is that they “just wanna make music all the time”, but they’ve transcended beyond mere band into something else entirely. To call them “prolific” would be a little like calling Einstein “pretty smart”, 15 albums in seven years – including the (in)famous five albums in 2017 alone – tells its own story. Add to this the ‘Gizzverse’ theories, true freeness of Polygondwanaland and now the development of their own video game.
But where the “quality over quantity” truism could have easily been leveled as criticism, and indeed has at times, the Melbourne based septet have displayed a remarkable ability to reinvent themselves with each release. Largely touted as part of Australia’s psychedelic revolution, the truth is a little more complex. They’ve careened through styles with seeming abandon, from garage rock origins to explorations of 70s era progressive rock, baglama inspired world music and the smooth jazz textures of Sketches of Brunswick East. The latter was a style they took to this year’s earlier release Fishing for Fishies, a sort of attempt at boogie blues, but one they take a sharp left turn from here with Infest the Rat’s Nest. The metal influences that have left their imprint on their discography are given centre stage, as King Gizz produce an homage to their heavy metal influences, from Metallica and Slayer to Kreator and Sodom.
Having had these bands “kick his ass” as a kid, Mackenzie says, “when I picked up a guitar I realized that shit was too hard to play, so I got into rock ‘n’ roll and garage”. It’s not something you notice listening to Infest the Rat’s Nest. Blast Beats hit you hard from the outset, a rapid-fire double kick launching sludgy opener ‘Planet B’. Throbbing basslines run through the likes of ‘Mars For The Rich’ while their triple-guitar attack launches fat riffs throughout the record, ‘Superbug’ harking back to Metallica heavily while the latter half shreds and bludgeons like the best of the glory days of thrash metal. Where it truly stands up is how sincerely the band treat it as a genuine metal album. Homage can so easily descend into pastiche, an inferior tribute act that can play out as a poor impression. But King Gizzard have crafted nine metal tracks here that stand up on their own; played with verve and skill, brimming with energy with even Mackenzie’s growled vocals not sounding forced.
What’s more impressive, however, is that while a foray into experimental waters musically can seem a hell of a lot of fun on the surface, Infest the Rat’s Nest has a deathly serious side. Concept albums dealing with imagined dystopias and otherworldly fables are not new to King Gizz, but here they deal with the impending ecological disaster facing Earth. Told through tales of a future where rich ‘czars” inhabit terraformed Mars while “Earth has been deformed” and imagined groups of rebels escape to live on Venus, all against the placard warning of the opening track that “there is no Planet B”. In the world of the rat’s nest, Earth is scorched, its natural resources dry and population reaching points of interstellar colonization. It’s prospective sci-fi playing on genuine fears of the current world, and when pitched against the visceral metal elements they do so well here, it comes through as truly terrifying. “I think what’s important to me is that we keep ourselves interested,” is Mackenzie’s simple description of the band. Fortunately for them, their consistently unpredictable high standards keep the rest of us interested as well, and have turned them into something pretty special. Legend, Mr. Wayne.