King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard : Petrodragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation

King Gizzard Petrodragonic Apocalypse review

What a difference four years makes. That’s how long it’s been, for those keeping count, between King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s new record, Petrodgraonic Apocalypse, which we’ll call Apocalypse for short, and Infest the Rats’ Nest, their first heavy metal record. That record was notable for two important things: first, being a hybrid of stoner metal and very early thrash to maybe late ’70s heavy metal by way of King Crimson and second, for really pissing off a certain type of overly-uptight hesher who balks at anyone playing with their toys. As much as I’m a lifelong diehard of heavy metal, these types are worth pissing off wherever you find them, and so with a decent record behind them it was easy to be a cheerleader for Rats. That said, it definitely often felt more like a psych band dabbling the heavier realm rather than a full-on metal record itself, a promising experiment but still not necessarily the full thing.

Given King Gizzard’s track record, this wasn’t necessarily a shock. The band started, if we’re to be honest, at beyond humble beginnings; I revisited those early records again recently with friends who I’d turned on to the band, expecting to finally connect with them but, alas, no, those first few are bad. But one of the benefits of this group’s two greatest attributes, that being their broad-ranging genre experiments that they occupy themselves with for full disc-lengths as well as their utterly insane output, often putting out two or more studio records a year every year but twice now putting out five in a single year, made them assemble a quite deep set of capacities in shockingly short time. Like a lot of people in my circle, I hopped on with Nonagon Infinity, one of their first stabs at progressive rock and, after scraping myself off the floor, immediately began to frantically write to friends that that annoying hip band is very good now. They’ve since dropped records experimenting with everything from jazz to dream pop to microtonal music to album length compositions to Hawkwind-esque space rock and more. In fact, they’ve dropped a record of each of those styles in 2022 alone. So, in retrospect, their rapid improvement both as a band in specific as well as in specific styles they engage in isn’t all that much of a shock. They put in the time and do the reps the old fashioned way. Improvement comes.

Which is a way of saying that if Rats Nest was a promising first stab at their heavy metal bona fides, then Apocalypse is the promise fulfilled. The riffs here are harder, more aggressive; they’ve cleared paid a closer attention to the specifics of engineering and production and mixing in the heavy metal world, because these tones hit like a fucking sledgehammer and the distortion has the right amount of primal crackle, neither being overly controlled and compressed nor totally unbounded in a more drone-oriented direction. They’ve always been massive prog/psych fans and, if pressed, that’s still how I’d define the band after everything if forced to give a one-word genre for them. But it turns out those affectations are a massive boon when making heavy metal, given its origins as a form of heavy psych and prog in the late ’60s and early ’70s, often sharing the stage and even members with bands of those scenes. King Gizzard have managed to do with their Metallica influence what shockingly few properly metal bands seem to, which is reverse engineer why the prog influence crept into Metallica’s sound (ignoring the obvious historical reason of Cliff’s massive influence). The jagged time signatures of those early Metallica masterpieces aren’t a casual affect but a fundamental and necessary component of their songcraft, one of the reasons why other bands are thrash bands and Metallica is Metallica. They exist to do exactly what King Crimson before them used them for; establish a groove then yank it out from under your feet, dropping beats to give a brutal and aggressive snap or extending a bar by a few beats to disorient you. Metal is affective; it is, in part, about overstimulation, being overwhelmed and beaten, and these rhythmic games keep the necessary cortisol high.

But this isn’t the only trick Gizzard has deployed on this souped-up outing in the genre. They’ve also clearly grown emboldened by their other experiments. For one thing, Apocalypse is an album-length composition cut into tracks, much like earlier records like the Made In Timeland/Laminated Denim diptych or Polygondwanaland before it. Likewise, they allow themselves the intermittent shock of electronica, exotica and straight up psych grooves, appending material from their Ice record as well as adopting the jam-a-day compositional method their last few albums have taken. Their comfort with coloring outside of the lines in these ways, that confidence in the value of their voice, paradoxically makes this record feel substantially more genuinely a heavy metal record. It’s not hard to explain why. We often see waves of derivative work in genres, material that feels superfluous at best and utterly lacking the spirit at worst. This often comes when artist’s direct attempt to emulate the object of their affection, producing by definition a derivation of that thing; meanwhile the artists that they admired often were doing a different process, assembling a mass of often barely related material to emulate, who’s derived summation assembles into the thing we admire. King Gizzard traced the river back, whether intentionally or not, grabbing hold of the feral and free-ranging spirit of heavy metal composition while retaining the heavy as fuck mentality of its performance and, in doing, made one of the best and most thrilling metal records I’ve heard all year.

Because the very last and most special characteristic of this record, beyond the songs that barrel on and morph under your feet, the riffs which snap your fucking neck before mutating before your eyes only to recapitulate in melted form somewhere down the line, is that the band sounds like they don’t give a fuck. For a punk or metal record, this is perhaps the most important thing of all. There is a glorious agnosticism to how a work will be received, that something is a pure transmission blast out of the chest or vomited from the mouth. Some genres are behooved by a greater sense of attention paid to the audience; pop, for example, has an often inverted sense of the contradiction of the universal and personal when achieving itself to something like heavy metal, where pop casts universal so that we might all feel it burning in our personal lives while metal often attempts to call to the purely individual in a way that creates a broader social bond. Apocalypse proves King Gizzard clearly doesn’t give a shit if heshers approve of it or accept it, and that sense of carefree self-acceptance allows it that final killing thrust. So many metal records now lack that thing, that child-like desire to seize up my guitar or press my pedal to the fucking floor, that sense of feral immortality and holy bloodlust. Apocalypse doesn’t. It kicks ass. We need that.

Label: KGLW

Year: 2023

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King Gizzard Petrodragonic Apocalypse review

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard : PetroDragonic Apocalypse

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