Album Review: Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

One problem that I have with the music industry is how commercialized it has become. Concert prices are going up and band tees are 50 bucks a pop. Meanwhile, record companies are making billions and artists are losing creative control.

Some bands, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, are combatting this epidemic. The Australian psychedelic rock band released their 12th studio album and 4th this year, Polygondwanaland, on November 17, 2017. The marvel of this record is it is 100 percent free.  On the band’s website, they say this album is “free to download and if you wish, free to make copies.” They have put up a link to the mp3 files and the CD and vinyl masters. King Gizzard says, “we do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.”

Polygondwanaland is a made-up word referencing multiple different things. Gondwana was 1 of 2 supercontinents that formed Pangea. It consisted of Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Polygon might reference their album Nonagon Infinity which pictures a polygon with 9 sides. Many of their albums exist inside the same interconnected universe and reference each other. Polygondwanaland uses polyrhythms, uncommon time signatures, and takes you on a journey to a mysterious land.

“Crumbling Castle” is the 10-minute opener. Several of their other albums, including I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014) and Murder of the Universe (2017), depict castles in the artwork. Descending guitar and vocals alternate between playing in unison and stagnated with complex polyrhythms. Guitar and flute solos take you up and away as they begin to enter the new world of Polygondwanaland. The lyrics are dark and gloomy. Stu Mackenzie sings, “we wait for our death… our extinction.” This is a heavy epic opening that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Polygondwanaland” begins with groovy drums and bass. They talk about climate change and how it will create a new world. They sing, “Snow melts… it will get hot.” Perhaps polygondwanaland is the new world that will be formed after the climate settles down. Mackenzie hopefully sings, “we’re gonna get there.”

Each song transitions seamlessly between one another. They tell a single story and build off each other. Spoken words by Leah Senior narrate the story and propel the album forward. Synth interludes give the impression of time traveling. Relentless drums drive us into “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where we learn that polygondwanaland is full of dinosaurs.

A theme of this album is gods and devils and the battle between good and evil. “Loyalty” is about a god whose people revolt against him. He chooses to make an example and show his wrath until he gets his loyalty. “Horology” takes you “to the ninth circle of hell”. They sing about a demon creature the walks across the land with death.

The last 3 songs touch on the theme of tetrachromacy, which is having 4 distinct cone cells in the eye. This condition is seen in many birds, fish, and other animals. Humans only have 3, which is why we see 3 primary colors. Millennia ago, all mammals were tetrachromats but it has been genetically phased out over time.

“Tetrachromacy” introduces this idea of a fourth color that humans have ever seen. They become curious about this color and “lust to see the invisible”. “Searching…” is the mysterious transition. Mackenzie sings, “Doctor please… I want to see the world differently.” The surgery is successful. They can now see “The Fourth Color” and it has granted them god-like powers. They can “see through walls… your terror… [and] the future.”

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard has delivered another stellar album with Polygondwanaland. The use of strange rhythms and time signatures creates a unique sound and music that is anything but boring. The albums complexity and connectedness transports you into a new world as all good psychedelic albums should. Free music is a futuristic idea and one that I can get behind. King Gizzard has promised another album this year, so all we can do is eagerly await as they explore new musical ideas.

The Possibilities of Music

Some bands simply love playing music and don’t care about anything else. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is one of those bands. These Aussies are straight-up music-holics. Since their formation in 2010, they have released 11 full-length studio albums that span a variety of genres. Their music is described as psychedelic or progressive rock but is influenced by folk, jazz, and heavy-metal to name a few. Songs incorporate themes and ideas from these extremely different styles pushing the boundaries of music.

I saw them at Metro Music Hall accompanied by Ice Balloons and Tropical Fuck Storm. Ice Balloons did not impress me. They sounded muffled and messy. However, they did leave a lasting impression for one particular reason, their lead singer wore a fly’s head mask. Uniqueness aside, I was not a fan of their music.  Tropical Fuck Storm was less memorable but seemed more put together as a band.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard consists of a herd of members and more instruments than I could count. Their distinct sound is attributed to multiple guitars, synthesizers, harmonicas, a flute, driving bass lines, and two dueling drums. Drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanaugh are smack-dab in the middle of the stage battling the entire night. They are the heart and soul of the band whose songs constantly change tempo.

Mixing music genres is not the only way King Gizzard revolutionizes music. For their album, Flying Microtonal Banana, guitarist Stu Mackenzie, Cook Craig, and Joey Walker “modded” guitars adding additional frets.This allowed them to access microtones, semitones, and additional notes impossible on a traditional western guitar. Lead singer Mackenzie had the idea after messing around on a Turkish stringed instrument called a baglama. The result is an easter sounding electric guitar. Creating their own instruments adds to their odd unique sound.

The Melbourne musicians put everything into their performance. They are incredibly energetic and the crowd matches their energy. In all my years going to concerts, I have never seen a wilder crowd. My shoes were completely destroyed in the madness. During the slower parts of songs, concertgoers sway and headbang. When the music gets faster and heavier, mosh pits form in the blink of an eye. The crowd is tightly packed, but the proximity doesn’t stop people from dancing.

King Gizzard’s albums have related songs that blend together and are often broken into multiple parts. Their setlist is programmed in the same manner. They play multiple songs in order or slightly jumbled so that they playing music for 20 or 30 minutes with no breaks. The reoccurrence of melodies and specific lyrics makes you question whether you are still listening to the same song as half an hour ago.

By the time Mackenzie announces their last song, the audience and musicians are beat. They summon enough energy to play a 15-minute version of “Am I In Heaven?”. The crowd cheers for 10 minutes but they don’t get an encore today. After almost 2 hours of constant music, there is nothing left in the tank.

Music truly is limitless. There are innumerable possibilities to be explored and as a society, we have only scratched the surface. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a band that is pushing the limits of traditional music both in the studio and on the stage.