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The King Giz Khans of contemporary rock

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are an incredibly versatile band from Australia. The seven-member band plays genres that range from rock and soul to psychedelia, jazz, and, wait for it, heavy metal

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard performing at The Scala in London in 2015.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard performing at The Scala in London in 2015. (Photo: Getty Images)

Last year, the Melbourne-based Australian rockers who call themselves King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard released two albums. In April, they came out with Fishing For Fishies; in August, they dropped Infest The Rats’ Nest. I will be honest. If someone had done a blind test of the two albums on me—that is, played them without telling me who they were—I swear I wouldn’t ever have thought it was the same band.

Infest The Rats’ Nest is an uncompromising metal album. A no-holds-barred heavy album with dystopian lyrics and sludgy, gloomy bass and guitars that evoke memories of early classic metal. But Fishing For Fishies is blues-inspired rock. The album sounds like a wholly different band playing: delicate pianos, laid-back, blues-inspired harmonica and sweet melodies. Quite a contrast from metal.

King Giz, as fans call them, are a crowd on stage. They are a seven-member outfit that first hit the scene in 2012 with their debut, 12 Bar Bruise, which was also an experiment in studio recording, using four iPhones to record the music and videos. On stage, King Giz gigs are high-adrenaline affairs that fill arenas as well as medium-sized venues. Their trademark sound is characterized by their microtonal guitars, which use intervals smaller than conventional half tones. That makes their riffs sound different and unique but their music is so mercurially metamorphic and the band so versatile that it’s difficult to pin them down to a genre. Psych-rock is how critics tend to club their music but they are much more than just that trippy brand of music.

They are prolific too. In the past eight years, King Giz have released 15 studio albums, four live albums and two EPs. In 2017, for instance, they released four full-length albums, each totally different. One of them, Flying Microtonal Banana, was experimental and used home-made instruments; another, Murder Of The Universe, was synth-heavy prog-rock; a third, Sketches Of Brunswick East, was closer to jazz than rock; and the fourth, Gumboot Soup, was a collection of genre-hopping songs—from mellow and loose tunes to tight and heavy ones, as if showcasing the phenomenal talent of the band.

King Giz’s seven members are led by Stu Mackenzie, who sings and plays guitars, bass, keyboards and flute. Many of his bandmates are similarly multi-instrumental. And the band has a work ethic that is singular: They are able to produce and release records at a frenetic pace without compromising on quality and yet keep up with a gruelling touring itinerary. Then there is their astonishing ability to play any genre, from cinematic-sounding expansive compositions to psychedelic rock that could make stoners instant devotees of the band, to rock, folk, jazz, soul and heavy metal. I mean how many bands can you think of that can do all this with aplomb?

With their diverse and extensive discography, getting into King Giz’s music can be daunting. Where does one start? That is where streaming services such as Spotify can be of help. Shuffle up King Giz’s discography and you could get a random playlist. For instance, it could begin with the thrash-metallic Organ Farmer from Infest The Rats’ Nests, followed by the boogie-woogie of Plastic Boogie from Fishing For Fishies, followed thereafter by the experimental psych-rock of Open Water from Flying Microtonal Banana, or the garage-pop-meets-punk of I’m Not A Man Unless I Have A Woman from Float Along—Fill Your Lungs.

King Giz’s idiosyncrasies (like their penchant for genre-hopping) are demonstrated by their vast repertoire of studio albums but to capture the energy and atmosphere of their live shows, you either have to be there or check out their live albums. Last month, King Giz released Chunky Shrapnel, an album of 16 tracks from live recordings at gigs in different European venues during 2019. The collection is not homogeneous. Songs aren’t sequenced to lead smoothly from one to the other: The thrash metal Planet B played in London is followed by the predominantly percussive Parking; and the album ends with an epic, nearly 20-minute version of A Brief History Of Planet Earth, which was recorded at four venues in four cities and then mixed.

That is why Chunky Shrapnel could be a good way to start exploring King Giz’s music. It has the vibe of their live gigs—highly charged and exuberant—and it is also a sort of sampling menu of the diverse kinds of music that the band can make, apparently quite effortlessly. Recently, the band made a film with the same title as their new live album and streamed it free for just 24 hours. King Giz’s projects have also included their own video game, Mars For The Rich, a twist on the hyper-violent 1990s game DOOM.

Many bands try traversing different genres, mixing them up and producing records that attempt to recreate their styles. But few are as successful as King Giz are consistently. Whether they are playing meticulously composed and multilayered jazz-influenced music or embracing the deep and dark realms of heavy metal or taking psychedelic trips into the unknown, King Giz are a band that is always challenging itself by pushing the boundaries. Restless, experimental and brilliant. In contemporary rock, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are a unique phenomenon.

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


Five tracks by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard to bookend your week

1. ‘A Brief History Of Planet Earth’ from ‘Chunky Shrapnel’

2. ‘Planet B’ from ‘Infest The Rats’ Nest’

3. ‘Rattlesnake’ from ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’

4. ‘I’m In Your Mind’ from ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’

5. ‘Robot Stop’ from ‘Nonagon Infinity’

Twitter - @sanjoynarayan

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