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Reptilian Antics: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s New Album is Metal (and Trippy) As All Hell

infest the rats nest

For those who know this band by name, there will be some trepidation. The group is most well known for being an adventurous garage punk band a la Thee Oh Sees, not exactly the type that you’d imagine would grace metal publications, let alone any that skew toward metal’s more extreme edges. And while King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is a bit more full-thoughted than their more monosyllabic parallel in Thee Oh Sees, they still have an air of modern indie and garage rock to them. So when they announced that they were making a thrash-inspired record, it inspired as much interest as it did disdain; after all, while the metal community has more or less settled questions of selling out or the even more obnoxious “is it even metal?” of certain big bands, it feels more immediately like a wholly different thing when a group that defines itself on pilfering sonic ideas from other places comes in to drop a metal record for quick cred.

Or, it would feel easy, if the album were any less good. Because that’s the thing: Infest The Rats’ Nest is a very good record. It errs more on the proto-metal end of things, like the early days of Uriah Heap or Deep Purple, mixing a chugging boogie swing of the hips with freaked out psych/prog flairs and an insistent enough downpicked chunk to the overdriven guitars to qualify as metal. This actually, it turns out, fits the groups modus operandi to a T, not so much in specific sound but in terms of the overall loving fidelity they take when approaching a new genre. Infest The Rats’ Nest shows all the signs of previous heady psych/prog records Infinity and Murder of the Universe when tackling a relatively new genre, and display as well that their historical read of the genre is up to snuff. The weird primitivist prog of early metal groups like Black Sabbath and Uriah Heap (both groups that clearly listened to a lot of King Crimson but couldn’t quite get it under their fingers) is on display here, with shifting time signature aplenty happening subtly enough in the background that you wouldn’t catch the odd shifting numbers unless you were actively counting along.

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It’s hard to imagine any metalhead worth their salt resisting the meaty chug of “Organ Farmer,” a song that plays out with the same punky thrash of the hardcore groups that would eventually inspired Metallica to give a hasty backbeat to Judas Priest-style NWOBHM. Likewise the absolutely enormous doomy trudge of “Superbug” feels almost more like a lost Electric Wizard track from one of their rockier records or perhaps like an Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats song with huskier vocals. “Self-Immolate” near the album’s end has an absolutely killer opening riff before a brief nod to “Painkiller”‘s iconic drum intro; this segues into a tough and mean thrash riff that is delivered with more sincerity than most of the more party-oriented end of thrash bands in the past ten or 15 years, sounding like Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica with all the odd metrical articulations of Master of Puppets or …And Justice For All.

The drums across Infest the Rats’ Nest are a bit too earthy and warm, resounding with the combo of lo-fi grain, gentle distance, and sense of spaciousness that betrays the group’s intent to make a metal record. This tone is fine for a rock record, great even, feeling close to the classic Bonham/Moon drum tone or perhaps a 1960s psych group, but lacking the upfront percussive pummel necessary for truly cracking heavy metal. Likewise the group at times allows the guitars to swirl away more into a garage punk or psych-punk territory rather than a more strictly metal one, even the already more rock-oriented proto-metal. But these are small issues, ones that more reflect that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are still themselves as they make this album.

It’s clear that this album is not an act of pastiche to the group; it’s sincere, coming from a place of love for the darker and heavier end of music from the era that they clearly have drawn most of their sonic ideas. And, frankly, metal needs this kind of fresh blood and fresh perspective, not just now but all the time. These types of albums, loving and sincere tributes made by otherwise outsiders, help refresh and remind us of what precisely it is about this genre in the big umbrella sense that we love. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard nail the essentials: killer guitar tone, music made to thrash your ass off, and a distinctly nihilistic bent (the album being a concept record about the ecological death of the Earth).

The group slips in portions of this album and while there are moments of some deeply compelling heavy metal they on occasion seem to forget that metal was the aim of the record. These issues are ultimately small in relation to the relative success of the record. The songs are more often compelling than not and momentum is never lost for long. It’s easy to imagine where the group devotes one or two more albums to the style and deepens their craft; a front-to-back powerful metal record is within the group’s grasp. But given their history of polymorphic musical identity, this seems unlikely. Judging it as a brief and tantalizing image of this group as a proto-metal band, Infest The Rats’ Nest is solid, worthy of a listen, and a reminder of the primal mind-melting post-psychedelic death void of heavy metal. Actually, then, it winds up being one of the most refreshing metal records of the year.

Infest The Rats’ Nest released August 16th via Flightless Records. The band is on a North American tour now.

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