King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Murder of the Universe - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Murder of the Universe

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-06-23

Watch out for those dinosaurs with this one.

This is a fully-blown concept record. Advance warning was given: This is a spoken word conceptual rock album. Oh no! That sent shivers and produced yet another non-drug related flashback: I recalled the sheer horror of listening to an 8-track car stereo blasting David Hemmings’ voice as he narrated his way through Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Center of the Earth on my way to, of all things, an ill-advised Three Dog Night concert back in 1974. At least the ordeal provided me with enough material to complete an overdue World Lit Dante’s Inferno assignment that required me to create my own level of punishment written, of course, in terza rima, that updated and made relevant the original medieval torture of the classic poem. I placed listening to Journey and Three Dog Night in the Eighth Circle. If I had known Rick Wakeman intended to use skaters on ice for his next epic about King Arthur, I would have dumped the whole thing down a notch to the very bottom Ninth Level where everything is frozen. 

But this one is a different story. Yes, there are spoken parts. The narration of King Gizzard’s Murder of the Universe is, thankfully, better integrated into the rock music. The original female voice is given bits and pieces here and there amid the actual singing. If there is a complaint, it’s with the male Cyborgian voice of Han-Tyumi (Humanity, perhaps?) because the sad narrator is given longer texts that sound somewhat divorced from the music. That’s a small gripe. But in all fairness, it’s important to mention this isn’t an album by Jon Anderson and Yes evoking a calm transcendence. No, this record is all about the “Murder of the Universe” and vomit.

There are three “Chapters” that may or may not be interchangeable. But the music, a conceptual “altered beast” in which prog, punk, rock, and just plain wonderful noise co-exist in the very same  record groove, may well be the musical equivalent of the multi-verse Superstring Theory that suggests different universes, in ten or more different dimensions, can exist in the same space. And, yes, Schrödinger’s cat, at least in a thought experiment, can be alive and dead at the same instant. Or something like that. This record boggles my brain.

Meanwhile, back in our vinyl galaxy, the music takes its cue from “Rattlesnake” on the last record, except it is amped up into the final Phoebe Ring on the outer reaches of Saturn’s grooves. The melodies are angular. Try to imagine Talking Heads or Devo in diabolical cahoots with Hawkwind. Let’s just say this one rocks with powerful guitar, bleating zurna, weird keyboard transmissions from somewhere in space, a clever funky bass, and a drummer who could propel any Saturn V booster rocket toward any moon in any solar system.

Like all good conceptual rock records, this one has characters and a (somewhat linear) plot.  Now, bear with me as I relate what I heard with one ear quite near to my Poke Audio speaker. The story starts, I think, after a nuclear catastrophe as the female narrator tells us “your memories have been blown up in a mushroom cloud.” The “Altered Beast” appears. Stuff happens. Then, I think, the “Altered Beast” dies. But the evil Balrog is born and has to fight “The Lord of Lightning.” Balrog loses. Then more stuff happens. Everything becomes “Black Digital.” I get the feeling that’s not a good thing. Somehow, Han-Tyumi, the Confused Cyborg, suddenly comes into the story. (Again, his name could be an anagram for humanity.) He spends quite a bit of time whining (the narration has switched to a pretty cool male processed voice) about not being able to die or vomit, but not necessarily in that order. More stuff happens, and then Han-Tyumi, the Confused Cyborg, creates a “Soy Protein Munt Machine” who, apparently can die and vomit, but once again, not necessarily in that order. But tragedy strikes as the “Soy Protein” boy refuses to honor the wishes of his father, Han-Tyumi. So what’s a dad to do? Of course, the answer is simple: Live vicariously through your kid. But H-T does one better: He inhabits his “Soy Boy,” and is able to live his fantasy of dying and vomiting all over the universe. You know, the poet Robert Frost talked about the world ending in “Fire or Ice.” Odd, he never mentioned vomit.

Now, being rather fond of all oddball conceptual rock, I love this album. I mean, think about the great moments of 70’s prog rock:

Nektar’s classic Remember the Future told the tale of Bluebird, who was some kind of alien, and had been rejected by humans because he looked like a bird. (Go figure!) He finds an Earth friend in a blind Boy (no name is given) who in turn receives mental contact from the bird. Then stuff happens. But the blind Boy accepts Bluebird for the bird that he is, and in turn, receives wisdom that answers just about every question in the universe. Sadly, that wisdom and those answers were not included in the original lyrics, nor were they included, as I hoped, in the bonus tracks of the most recent re-master. But you know, the album always fills me with the deep desire to go out and fill the bird feeder in my backyard.

Grobschnitt’s Rockpommel’s Land is another classic. Let’s see, this bird Maraboo, who likes beer, vegetables, and smoking a pipe, gives little Ernie a magic feather. Then Stuff happens. Our hero Ernie finds a place called “Severity Town” where kids are not allowed to laugh and play. Then more stuff happens. So Ernie has to travel to Rockpommel’s Land to use the magic feather in order to free Mr. Glee and bring joy to the world. (As if Three Dog Night didn’t already do that in spades at the before-mentioned ill-advised concert!) This one, too, makes me go and fill the bird feeder, except this time I spring for hops, veggies, and chew tobacco.

Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tells the tale of Rael, a punky guy, who goes underground into the bowels of New York City. He meets Carpet Crawlers, thirty-two doors, and his brother John. Then stuff happens. The Lamia (who nibble on his flesh!) appear just after he encounters Death in the guise of The Supernatural Anesthetist.  Rael meets The Slippermen, a Doktor who castrates our Rael, and his brother John, again; and in saving said brother, our hero ironically saves himself. Still more stuff happens. Then it all dissolves into something called It. This one has nothing to do with birds, but I think it all has a lot to do with Carl Jung.

My favorite concept record of all time, though, is The Kinks’ Misfits. It has a bevy of characters, all of whom have nothing in common—which is the unifying Misfit premise. It’s a concept album about not being a concept album. This record boggles my brain, too.   

I love King Gizzard, and this is a strange record that beams into our world and beckons from a universe of its own design. My math friend Sally Setter understands all this multi-universe stuff, and she believes there could be a parallel universe with a mirror Earth, co-existing with our own, which was never struck by a big asteroid and where dinosaurs roam with authority. These Gizzards make music that plays with universes.

Yeah, watch out for those dinosaurs with this one.

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