Stasis has never been in King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s playbook. Since their formation in 2010, the shapeshifting Aussie garage-psych collective have made a point of constantly testing the limits of their sound and pushing one another out of their respective comfort zones.
A look at their last 14 albums—five of which arrived in 2017 alone—proves the results have paid off. The band has expanded their sonic palate to include folk-pop, prog, worldbeat, jazz-fusion, metal—and most recently, with this year’s Fishing for Fishies, blues and boogie rock. They’ve crafted 40-minute psychedelic symphonies and played an entire album on microtonal instruments. And they’ve done it all with an inscrutable playfulness and sense of humor.
And so, after a decade of experimenting with scuzzy guitars and grimy, post-apocalyptic subject matter, the logical next step for King Giz is a full-force plunge into thrash metal. The band recorded most of their fifteenth opus, Infest the Rats’ Nest, with its membership whittled down from seven to a three-man core of singer/guitarist (and de facto leader) Stu Mackenzie, bassist Joey Walker, and drummer Michael Cavanaugh. Clocking in at 34 minutes, it’s among the leanest, meanest entries in the group’s catalog.
Infest remains fairly straightforward as far as thrash albums go, taking most of its cues from genre titans like Slayer, Kreator, and Overkill. Mackenzie sings in a guttural growl that recalls Kill’ Em All-era James Hetfield, or perhaps even Sleep’s Al Cisneros. There’s plenty of flashy shredding and sweep-picking, double-kick drums, and chugging riffs. Sure, the songs get a bit “same-y” after a while, but each one nonetheless serves as a solid showcase for the group’s top-notch musicianship.
What truly sets Infest apart, then, is its lyrics. It may well be King Gizzard’s most socially-conscious album yet, using today’s most pressing issues as a canvas on which to splatter the band’s nightmarish vision. Imagine if the giants of 80s thrash had turned their gaze towards the outer reaches of space instead of the depths of hell—and chosen weed and acid rather than speed and coke as their drogues du choix.
Opener “Planet B” muses on our slow but steady annihilation of the only home we’ve ever known (“Low on meals, browning fields…Patient seasons / Blacked out for ages…Snowflakes coating / Old deserts”). When the drums and wobbly riffs drop out and Mackenzie snarls that “There is no Planet B” over near-dead silence, it really drives the point home.
“Mars for the Rich” is a gnarly, Alice Cooper-like kiss-off to gazillionaire “entrepreneurs” like Elon Musk who spearhead movements to settle the Red Planet while millions across the polluted globe dwell in squalor and starvation. The wah-wah-infested “Organ Farmer,” meanwhile, paints humanity as sacks of meat ripe for the harvesting, stuffed with “blood minestrone” and “fatty rolls of brie”—all the while offering snide commentary on the meat and life prolongation industries. “Part of me wants to breathe eternally,” Mackenzie yowls. “Part of me wants to cut out my heart.”
Seven-minute centerpiece “Superbug” warns listeners of invincible viral infections that threaten to decimate entire populations. Alternating between a grim stoner-waltz and a menacing death-crawl, the track conjures vivid images of a bacterial behemoth that “never ever ever stops and never ever gives a fuck.” The beast slouches its way through your bloodstream, consuming everything in its path.
The group devotes the record’s back half to a proggy five-song suite about a rebel enclave leaving Earth for Venus. The trip inevitably fails, and the would-be settlers burst into flames and literally descend into Hell (because of course they do). The tale of restless colonization and its fallout bears poignant allusions to white colonization of both the band’s native Australia and North America. We are destroyed by what we want; our greed as a species will be our downfall.
Infest might not offer a particularly innovative take on heavy metal, but it does capture a band doing what it does best. It emulates the real deal without resorting to cheap pastiche; tongue-in-cheek without ever being completely ironic. It’s an odd flex from King Gizzard, to be sure—but man, does it ever rip.