Boy, are the melodic/progressive death metal band of the same name going to be grumpy about this record. There are two ways this album must be covered: first, for those who are new to the band and second, for those who are familiar with this roughly decade-old band’s staggering twenty LPs, not counting EPs and one-off singles and the like. The reason for this split will be obvious in the midst of discussing this record in specific, an album which throws a lot of kinks into what prior to this album the standard process of discussing this band’s work was.
King Gizzard is, if you had to pick a single description, a prog band. It is not the specificity of this term, the grandiloquent and neatly crenelated coral castles of the virtuosic sonic vistas created by groupes like Yes, Gentle Giant and Genesis, but instead its vastness, the openness of concept that allowed groups like Radiohead, Mastodon, the Beach Boys ’70s material and the arthouse world of contemporary ambient music to all live together with IDM DJs and avant-orchestral composers. King Gizzard has slightly more restraint than this definition implies, sticking entirely to work that can be made with rock instrumentation rather than diving into orchestral, electronic or found-sound type avant-gardeisms. But aside from this one narrowing, they are a group that is willing to go almost anywhere. Previous records from the band have been odd-time soaked album-length song suites while others have been microtonal explorations; some have featured dual drummers in Grateful Dead configuration while others felt more ’90s King Crimson; certain one-offs have explored thrash, heavy and sludge metal while others explored psychedelic pop. The band started their lives as a run-of-the-mill garage rock band, just another group in the wave the late 2000s and early 2010s spawned of a million indie rock revival groups gesturing to 90s ramshackle rock, but the life of the group since has been single-LP focused explorations of, by now, a truly staggering breadth of sounds and ideas, all of which are cut to tape with sincerity rather than ironic distance. These are a collection of musicians who not only have wide ears but also open hearts, wanting to catalogue in one group the breadth of all possible music they love.
Omnium Gatherum is, at long last, over a decade into the lifespan of the group, the first time the genre specialization of LPs has been broken. This is billed as their first double record but long-time listeners will know this is a slight fib; certain records, like Nonagon Infinity and Polygondwanaland, read as clear sequels, each building gainfully on the work of the other, while the duo of KG and LW, conjoining to make the initials of the band and being released one right after the other, are clearly the group’s iteration of the now-standard staggered double-album strategy of releasing a single disc at a time. However, regardless of the slight inaccuracy of this being their first double album, it is at the very least the first time they have, as it says on the tin, gathered all their children in one place. By my count, the first time you can establish a fairly clear repeat of a previous genre explored on this set is either track seven or eight, depending on how tight you want to define things like psych rock or soul pop. There is a span early on in the album where, in a dizzying array, they move from sludge metal on “Gaia” to tropicália on “Ambergris” to Beastie Boys-style punk hip-hop on “Sadie Sorceress.” The album opens with their longest and jammiest track yet to be put to tape and closes with one of their shortest, operating as a riff on Spanish music.
It is worth noting, admittedly, that this vastness does not mean these are the greatest examples of each of these styles from the band’s lengthy body of work. The two metal tracks found here, for instance, would be comfortable on their previous metal LP Infest the Rats’ Nest but would likely not be the best tracks on that record; likewise the lengthy opening jam piece is, while good, noticeably a cut under both the collaborative jam piece “Satanic Slumber Party” the recently released as well as the two lengthy cuts that makes up Made In Timeland. This applies roughly for all of the tracks found here. This is far from a subpar collection of material from the group, but it is also definitively not their finest examples of all they can do. In a way, this serves to clarify the intent of this record, however, rather than muddying it. Omnium Gatherum becomes, almost because of this slight qualitative dip rather than in spite of it, the ideal starting point for someone interested in this group’s vast body of work, allowing tracks of interest to guide you to full-length and higher quality explorations of the same sonic spaces.
While this seems ideal for newcomers to the band, it also serves a function to longer-term fans of the group, both by being a compendium that makes us confront just how wide-ranging this group’s sonic ambitions are as well as being acknowledged by the group as a kind of era-closing record. The group’s stated intention is to explore more jammy and longform work, functionally making Omnium a temporary send-off of modes and methods of the past; compared to a record like Led Zeppelin’s Coda which served similar function, it certainly stands a cut above the pack. This is a group that likely you have heard bandied about and maybe just as likely have written off; admittedly, most fans of this group will already have checked this out without much prodding, and acceptance of the wavering quality of the bands work is one their fanbase is quite literate in, acknowledging the group as interesting by range and journey first and superlative work second. Before, it was difficult to impress the interest of this group onto people. I myself was an outsider to their work, writing them off as another hipster psych band with little in the way of either grasp of its tradition or ambition and vision for its future, until a diligent Canadian friend send me track after track, each their own microuniverse, only to reveal they all were the same band. This process is typically an elaborate ruse, complex in shape and complicated to execute and, with a single pitfall, easily undone as an annoying jape by a friend rather than an attempt to display a promising group. Omnium fixes that. These songs are, despite my previous statements about their below-average status, still quite good; the most baffling and endearing element of King Gizzard is, despite their immense range, they never seem to make anything close to bad and still embed tasty riffs into even what might be considered their worst work (which, thankfully, is also not found here).
While the highest heights of this group’s body of work, such as the previously mentioned Nonagon Infinity and others, may be found outside this record’s scope, Omnium serves as a perfect jumping on point for new listeners in a way that simply didn’t exist before. The 80 minute runtime floats by like a breeze, a standard trait of their material, and the tracklist feels like a compilation of a decade of material despite being all from one group in a constrained amount of time. Other records from the group serve to display how high the mountain goes; Omnium Gatherum is a map of the range.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.