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King Giz: the shapeshifters from Down Under

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have delivered an epic masterpiece in their new album, moving from genre to genre

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.

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Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe Australia’s strangely named band, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. In 10 years, they have released 20 studio albums, a couple of live albums, two compilations, and a flurry of singles. They have just come out with a double album.

That is not what makes them unique, though. King Giz (as they are referred to by fans) are so versatile and comfortable in disparate genres that quite often, listening to any two of their albums can make you feel you are listening to different bands.

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Two years ago, this column had mentioned two albums—Fishing For Fishies and Infest The Rats’ Nest—released in 2019. They couldn’t be more different from each other: The first was a blues-inspired rock album and the second, a heavy metal head banger.

But that’s what King Giz are all about. They started as a septet but are now a sextet, and, depending on which album you are listening to, you can categorise them under any genre, from psychedelic rock to heavy metal, with blues, progressive rock, pop, boogie-woogie and jazz-influenced acid rock thrown in for good measure.

Every album seems to belong in a different genre. If Infest The Rats’ Nest seemed like an uncompromising thrash metal banger, 2017’s Sketches Of Brunswick East is a mellow psychedelic jazz album, melodic, and, at times, even meditative. There are few bands with the chameleon-like ability to be able to change the way they create music. So, in the same year that they released Sketches Of Brunswick East, the band released a trippy psychedelic album, Polygondwanaland, which was a public domain album, released free, available for anyone to record, press into vinyl, and sell.

Such gimmicks apart, King Giz are a band beyond description. Formed in 2010 in Melbourne, and led by frontman Stu Mackenzie, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (he plays guitars, bass, keyboards, flute and the sitar), the band began as an ensemble that included two drummers, one of whom has since left the band. The remaining six continue to surprise listeners with their singular approach towards melding, blending and straddling different genres.

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This year, King Giz have dropped their 20th studio recording, Omnium Gatherum, a double album. The title, roughly translated from Latin, means a miscellaneous gathering of things—and that sums up what the album is all about. In the past, King Giz’s albums have focused on a theme or genre—each album seemed to explore a category, be it psych-rock, blues rock, boogie-woogie or metal. Omnium Gatherum, on the other hand, is a set of 16 songs clocking in at 80 minutes, with each song exploring a different genre. It is, in a sense, a retrospective of the band’s remarkable career. Jumping from genre to genre, King Giz have delivered an epic masterpiece in Omnium Gatherum.

The Dripping Tap, which opens the album, is the standout track. Nearly 20 minutes long, it’s a high-powered psychedelic exploration which has the band weaving together styles and genres, ranging from experimental krautrock to pop and jamband-like psychedelia. Twenty minutes is a long time for a rock song to keep a listener hooked but The Dripping Tap is never boring. The band is turbocharged, with guitars, drums, bass and harmonica in full flow.

It sets the tone for the rest of the album. The second track, Magenta Mountain, is a dreamy song, with synthesiser riffs and a tuneful melody that urges you to put it on repeat, perhaps several times. Segue to the track Sadie Sorceress, and it’s an uplifting rap song with fun lyrics (Who’s this Sadie Sorceress?/ Let me tell you ’bout this ’80s lady named Sadie/ She’s wild like a witch/ She’s more than quidditch/ Smoking winnies and drinking tinnies and Glenfiddich…). The bass-driven Kepler-22b, which gets its name from the extrasolar planet orbiting around the sun-like star Kepler-22, and considered to be in the habitable zone of the universe, is about how it could be a place to be in.

In Gaia, a heavy metal song, the lyrics are like a first-person account from the Greek goddess of Earth herself (Gaia lives while others die/ I, I am the two/ I am you, too/ I am the stream/ I am wind/ I am rain/ I am photon/ I am wave/ I am Gaia, Gaia). Elsewhere, The Garden Goblin is a catchy, infectious tune full of quirky humour.

Omnium Gatherum may have come 10 years after King Giz’s first album, 2012’s 12-Bar Bruise, a delectable rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza, but it is like a perspective view of all that this multi-talented band has created in a relatively short time. The only criticism one might harbour is that unlike their earlier albums, this one lacks the common thread or generic theme that marked most of them. But perhaps that’s a good thing.

For anyone who has never really heard King Giz, Omnium Gatherum is a perfect way to start listening to them and appreciating their versatility—and the ease with which they delve into different styles of music.

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First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.


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