Written by Lewis Dale
First of all, let’s be clear. If arguably any other band released this album, (with the exception of perhaps ‘pre-dark-side’ Pink Floyd) it would be regarded as possibly their most ambitious work to date. However, given that this is the second album of a possible four or five set to be released this year: the first of which, Flying Microtonal Banana, dealt exclusively with microtones – or in Lehman’s terms, the notes in between notes as recognised by the western musical canon – and the third of which being rumoured to be a full length LP of Psych/Jazz improvisation; Murder of the Universe might not even be King Gizzard’s most ambitious album this year.
However, one must approach ambition always with an air of caution – analysis must validate what it is striving towards; why have the Australian psychedelic band created this album? The short answer is “because they can”, and Gizzard has never really shied away from this absurd micro-philosophy. If you crave further proof of such a claim I’d direct you towards the music video for their 2016 single People Vultures, whereupon you’ll be greeted by a giant cardboard and papier-mache vulture, roaming the countryside with the band fused to its body, destroying power ranger-esque rivals by shooting laser beams at them. The bird also has six legs and feet because you know, it can. This sense of “fuck-it-why-not” could be touted as a source of the bands success, for you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who was sick of their playfulness by now. However their musical prowess and conceptual basis casts a shade of early Bob Dylan – genius shines through the music despite the refrain “Everybody must get stoned!” in Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, for example.
The album is split into three narratives, 1) The Tale of the Altered Beast, 2) The Lord of Lightning Vs. Balrog, and 3) Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe. This in itself is not especially unique; concept albums have told narratives for decades now, for instance Clipping’s incredible industrial rap space opera Splendour and Misery (2016), but three seperate narratives is frankly not the norm. It’s to the reviewer’s scorn that he must constantly bring up other pieces of music as a yard stick in which to compare this album to, but it’s probably the most user friendly way in which to access the release. It’s even further to the reviewer’s scorn that he must rip extracts directly from Wikipedia just to make his point but I’d challenge anyone to relay the story of Han – Tyumi without it sounding anything like:
“Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg who gains consciousness and decides that he is obsessed with vomiting and dying, but cannot. He decides to create a creature dubbed the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” who’s only purpose is to vomit. As the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which spirals the machine out of control. This machine then explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe.”
It isn’t especially beautifully written and it isn’t crafted with the flair and dynamism of, for example, Joyce or Woolf or Pynchon, but it hits the nail on the head. It is in fact about a cyborg who gains consciousness whose only purpose is to puke, so on and so forth. It’s a far cry from the conceptual genius of Aqualung now, but we must proceed. Each narrative deals with the idea of transformation – the altered beast, the Balrog being born from a corpse after the lord of lightning fires lightning at it (shocker, we don’t even have time to discuss psych/prog’s obsession with the Lord of the Rings a la Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush, Floyd. Sorry, but let’s keep going. You’re doing great, reader) or the cyborg gaining consciousness, before exploding to “infinitely expel vomit”, and this is dealt with through the medium of a narrator, sat upon the top of the music and lyrics in the mix. Interestingly the band opts to change the narrator for the third song, from the soothing and compelling readings of Leah Senior, to that of a text-to-speech narrator, further expanding upon this concept of transformation, and taking the idea of cyborg alteration into another dimension outside of the stories themselves. There is no warning that this will happen. The familiar disappears and is replaced by your computer telling you of the plight of the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine”.
The album leaves the reviewer in a state of discontentment, it must be confessed. If one would humour my dreams of self-flagellation, I don’t necessarily believe it possible for a band to flesh out three incredible stories, or “the concept album to end all concepts” as the band themselves put it (perhaps in the same way that the First World War was the war to end all wars), in fifteen minute bursts. This is not an album you can really just dip into for a couple of tracks. The LP leans more heavily upon the “prog” element of their repertoire as opposed to the psychedelic, and as anyone who has ever delved into the world of progressive rock, with their eccentric father, sat in the front seat of his bourgie Mercedes C class company car on a long journey to Hull during rush hour can tell you – fifteen minutes isn’t considered a lengthy duration for one track, let alone an entire story. Considering the evident creative rollercoaster the Aus outfit are embarking upon this year, I feel no regret in desiring each story had its own album, or was perhaps released as a three record pack. But can one really ask so much from a band dedicated to releasing more studio albums in a year than their critically acclaimed Australian electronic counterparts, The Avalanches, have released since their inception in 1997, for example? My response:
Yes, because I can.
Check out the video to The Lord Of Lightning Vs Balrog here: