Following hot on the heels of February’s excellent Flying Microtonal Banana, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s second album of the year might just be their most ambitious release yet. Murder Of The Universe takes King Gizzard in a more narrative-focused direction, featuring spoken word passages which tell the story of the end of the world, while the band also go heavier musically than they ever have before.
Basically, on paper, the album sounds like an absolute dream – but in reality, it underwhelmed me quite a bit. And it pains me to say that. Over the past few years, King Gizzard have proven themselves to be one of the most consistently great bands around, dabbling with a new style on each album and mastering it incredibly well; the dreamy prog rock of Quarters, the low-key acoustic driven sound of Paper Mache Dream Balloon, the ear-meltingly heaviness of Nonagon Infinity… For me at least, Murder Of The Universe feels like a break in this hot streak. (Though to be honest, when a band is putting out music at the pace these guys are, I think they’re allowed to have a miss every now and then.)
The album is split into three equally heavy sections – each telling a different part of the story of the end of the world. The first of these sections, The Tale of the Altered Beast, is the one I have the most issue with. Though the section is split up into parts, it is really just one long 20 minute song. That isn’t a problem in itself, but the song hardly seems to progress at all over those 20 minutes – continuously circling back to the same lyrics and riffs. What starts as a fantastic track quickly begins to wear thin, and things just get a little be monotonous by the time you reach ‘Altered Beast III’. One of the fantastic things about Nonagon Infinity was that, despite all the tracks blending in together perfectly, each one had its own unique feel to it. There are so truly fantastic heavy moments in The Tale of the Altered Beast, but it just goes on too long.
The second and third sections fare better, with the second easily being the album highlight. The Lord of Lightning Vs. Balrog centres around two tracks, both of which are great. ‘The Lord of Lightning’ is particularly an album highlight, featuring a fantastic wall of sound. It also has strong lyrics – with a few call-backs to their earlier albums thrown in. The spoken word segments on this track hinder it slightly, getting in the way in a few places (in fact, it would be nice to have a complete version of the album free of narrators.) ‘The Balrog’ is a little bit repetitious, but the song is a lot of fun and has a great sound to it.
The final section is likely to be the most divisive one – leaning most heavily on narration. It definitely feels like Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe tells the most complete story; an android that craves to die (and, uh, vomit, as we see on ‘Vomit Coffin’) but ends up causing the death of the universe. It’s the band at their most ridiculous, and while it was nothing spectacular, I did enjoy the band’s goofiness of this section. There are also a couple of fantastic stand-out tracks here – mainly ‘Digital Black’, which is perhaps the heaviest the band has ever gone.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t underwhelmed with this album, but perhaps I just had my expectations too high. It’s not bad – far from it – but it just doesn’t come close to reaching the band’s previous highs. And with King Gizzard & Lizard Wizard having promised at least two more albums this year, I don’t think I can really complain.
Best Tracks: ‘The Lord of Lightning’, ‘The Balrog’, ‘Digital Black’.