I’m having a hard time working up the gumption to give Murder of the Universe repeat listens. This record’s three parts, separated by the gender of the narrator and little else, are muscular, repetitive, exhausting pieces of psych-math riffs that hardly let up. They make me feel like I’m stuck on an endless dancefloor, forced to nod my head into eternity. I turn around to click with the drumbeats, and suddenly they’re adding in extra measures and embellishments. Lights flash all around. I’m trapped in the belly of a machine doing 200mph through Middle Earth.
Such are feelings that made King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s album Nonagon Infinity work so well. A marked turn away from 2015’s Paper Maché Dream Balloon, the album was packed to the 11s with swirling beats that literally go on forever, the album ending with the same riff that it began on. Leave it running for a few spins and you’ll get a head rush. It was a bold move, and one that translated extremely well to the stage. With their idiosyncratic use of two drummers and upwards of three guitarists, the band and album were hard to hate and easy to fall for.
So, how come these elements don’t translate to the equally daring Murder of the Universe? All the same ingredients are there. Well, for starters, Murder plays more heavily on lyrical themes, rather than musical ones like Nonagon did. Each of its nine tracks had a similar mazelike quality to them, but nonetheless offered diversity. Murder’s twenty-one songs are compiled into three sections, and each focuses on narration over composition. Upon first listen, you’ll assume the narrator, female and calm for the first two acts, will eventually stop and let the record play like a Sgt. Pepper. Sadly, this is not the case. In the third act, a Vincent Price-sounding man takes over duties, but the corniness is no longer fun. It gets tiring.
History has shown that overblown heavy metal ideas like this can work. It’s easy to compare Murder Of The Universe to any number of Iron Maiden or early Metallica kitsch that totally stuck their landings. ‘Digital Black’ in particular revels in the pathway those bands paved. Speaking of which, it’s nice to hear King Gizzard take their usual penchant for psychedelia and exchange it for full-octane stories of the Balrog battling the Lord of Lightning. There’s even a bona fide werewolf-style transformation at play in the first act, the aptly named ‘Altered Beast’. However, I can’t help but feel like the narrator is holding my hand through these tales instead of letting me absorb them for myself. It’s a difficult combination of rock and storytelling, and it’s possible that the album is the wrong medium for the expression.
This heavy reliance on theme is not a newcomer to King Gizzard’s records. That being said, the results of them hanging onto a concise idea are always simultaneously fun. This year’s Flying Microtonal Banana (Murder is slated to be the second of five King Gizzard albums out this year) played with the fact that they had a microtone-capable guitar at hand. It’s gimmicky, but it ended up working very well across its nine songs.
So, with everything else in place, it appears that the only thing I’m truly upset about (note: I adore this band) is the fact that there’s a distracting narrator way up in the mix on almost every song. It’s hard to please everyone when you’re putting out as much quality material as King Gizzard does, so I can easily forgive the detour in quality and chalk it up to a subjective matter. If I felt like reading a fantasy novel, I’d probably have an easy time revisiting Murder of the Universe.