Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland
It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with progressive rock. My most negative posts on The Rockhaq Community have targeted prog rock, such as my review of Yes’ bloated 1973 double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. Despite this, some of my all-time favourite music is prog. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Yes’ Close to the Edge, for example, are both incredible progressive albums. However, most post-70s prog has been mediocre at best, with modern art rock and neo-psychedelia instead assuming the mantle of ‘progressing’ rock music. Still, little can beat that blissful combination of skilled musicianship and epic songwriting that the best prog albums achieved.
Enter everyone’s favourite Australian psychedelic septet King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Since 2016’s infinitely looping Nonagon Infinity, the band have been making steps towards a proggier sound. Their first album of this year Flying Microtonal Banana featured krautrock and world music influences. Murder of the Universe, their next release, was organised into three 15-minute suites with distinct narratives. Finally, their last album Sketches of Brunswick East proved they could handle unusual time signatures. By this point, I was certain a full-on prog album was on the way. Their latest album Polygondwanaland is exactly that
Polygondwanaland was released as a free download, along with the CD/vinyl masters and the band’s approval to burn/press to your heart’s content. As a result, there’s been an outpouring of creativity from the fans. Record labels have been founded, bonkers vinyl variants are being pressed and tons of unique artwork has been designed. This decision was genius, gifting the fans with an exciting opportunity to showcase their talents. Plus, the enthusiasm the community has responded with has been absolutely exhilarating. Of course, all this is great, but is the music itself any good?
“I’ve given glowing reviews to all of this year’s Gizz releases, but don’t let that undermine how special this album is. For the band, it represents their skills as musicians maturing into something immensely impressive. For music, it finally proves that pure progressive rock didn’t completely die out in the ‘70s and – if we’re really lucky – it might kickstart a return to form for the genre.”
In short, Polygondwanaland is the best progressive rock album in decades. The 10-minute epic Crumbling Castle opens Polygondwanaland majestically. The jazzy rhythms and basslines of SoBE are blended with the world influenced riffs of FMB, whilst frontman Stu Mackenzie mixes medieval warfare and existentialism as he sings “I don’t want to be a crumbling, crumbling, crumbling castle”. Numerous drum fills and time signatures later, the track transitions into a delicate flute solo, before disintegrating into a sinister synth arpeggio. A vintage Gizz garage rock freakout then appears to conclude the track, until the “crumbling castle” refrain returns for the ludicrously heavy and intensely distorted doom metal outro.
The rest of Polygondwanaland’s nine tracks are organised into three suites. The title suite recounts a journey to the prehistoric continent of Gondwana (“it’s full of dinosaurs!”) and features the return of Leah Senior’s reticent raconteur from MotU. Next, Horology chronicles gory revolutions and sadistic cult leaders whilst indulging in the album’s best melodies. Finally, Tetrachromacy is the most diverse suite, moving from progressive folk to eerie psychedelia, then concluding the album with another garage rock rampage. Most importantly, all the suites easily avoid the modern prog pitfalls. The production is raw and gritty, rather than lifelessly clean or tediously muddy. The melodies are enigmatic rather than cheesy and the songwriting is complex without lacking focus.
“…Polygondwanaland is a sensational addition to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s discography and I can’t see how they’re going to top it. Although, as the Lizard King himself Jim Morrison said: “You know that I would be a liar, if I was to say to you girl, we couldn’t get much higher!””
Polygondwanaland is also no mere ‘70s pastiche. The band maintain their distinctive elements, from Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s harmonica to the unbelievably tight interplay between the drums and bass. Which isn’t to say the album is without its influences, Gizz just aren’t aping the usual suspects. Instead, they recall prog rock’s biggest experimenters. The unusual percussion is reminiscent of King Crimson’s 1973 albums Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black. Similarly, the intricate polyphonic vocals on Searching… and The Fourth Colour are heavily inspired by cult favourites Gentle Giant. Still, the big bands aren’t completely ignored. Loyalty’s arpeggiated synth intro, for example, would fit right alongside Pink Floyd’s On the Run.
I’ve given glowing reviews to all of this year’s Gizz releases, but don’t let that undermine how special this album is. For the band, it represents their skills as musicians maturing into something immensely impressive. For music, it finally proves that pure progressive rock didn’t completely die out in the ‘70s and – if we’re really lucky – it might kickstart a return to form for the genre. Either way, Polygondwanaland is a sensational addition to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s discography and I can’t see how they’re going to top it. Although, as the Lizard King himself Jim Morrison said, “you know that I would be a liar, if I was to say to you girl, we couldn’t get much higher!”
The Breakdown | Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Polygondwanaland
Engagingly intricate, technically incredible, yet still immensely enjoyable, Polygondwanaland is an absolute triumph and the best progressive rock album in a long, long time.