King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Deal in Black Magic and Black Comedy on 'PetroDragonic Apocalypse'

BY Isabel Glasgow Published Jun 13, 2023

Finally — King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have made an album about lizards and wizards. With a title impossibly more tongue-twisting than the band's name, and one which seems to beg for a sepia-toned fantasy map in the vinyl gatefold to fully understand its lore, PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation finds King Gizzard opening the medieval spellbook on their most blackened, ominous album to date.

Four years and eight albums since 2019's apocalyptic thrash metal Infest the Rats' Nest — seemingly a century in King Gizzard time — the Melbourne band have at last delivered another much-anticipated "heavy as fuck" metal album. But this is no Rats Nest: the Sequel; it would go against the King Gizzard ethos to retread familiar territory without reframing it as something excitingly indistinguishable. Though primarily written by the same metalhead powertrio — vocalist/guitarist Stu Mackenzie, guitarist Joey Walker, and drummer Michael Cavanagh — the band adopted a similar songwriting approach to 2022's Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, where all members convened to jam out a song a day with little preparation, save for an abstract outline from Mackenzie. While this deconstructed songwriting approach seems destined to be as sturdy as a house of cards, King Gizzard's proficient musicianship combined with a strong creative vision results in an album of rich musical complexity.

While Rats' Nest panicked over seemingly prophetic anxieties about invincible microorganisms, the Martian space race and the planet literally in flames, PetroDragonic Apocalypse is pure fantasy fun. Its complex storyline begins on Earth with "Motor Spirit," where Mackenzie growls with Hetfield-esque flair about humanity's deification and lust for oil, which has transformed the planet into a burning wasteland shrouded in diesel smoke — not so far from our impending reality. Metal warps and crunches both sonically and lyrically, where thirst for gasoline as "sweet juice on my lips" leaves the song feeling like a heavy metal "Warm Leatherette." 

About halfway through this high-octane ride comes a foreboding proggy breakdown, where Cavanagh's rototoms that debuted on the extensive live drum solo of "Gaia" at last make their way onto a studio recording, becoming both a staple and highlight of the album. If there's one musician in King Gizzard whose technical skill shines the brightest on PetroDragonic Apocalypse, it's undeniably Cavanagh. Whether it's the lightning fast fill that opens "Converge," the blistering cymbal crashes of "Witchcraft," or one of many epic solos that appear on nearly every song, his intricate drumming feels effortless — it wouldn't be a stretch to crown him one of the best rock drummers of today.

From here, "Supercell" and "Converge" sweep us off the highway in a whirlwind tornado and send things straight to space, quite literally. Where "Motor Spirit" set the album's brutal tone and hinted at later parts of its storyline, what follows runs high and wild off its huffed ethanol. Guitars chug with merciless immediacy on "Supercell" as tornadoes ravage the earth, "murdering everybody, careless of theology." Biblical references appear consistently throughout the album, ironically adding a Satanic undertone as it becomes clear that "God's dead on barren corn fields," unable to save humanity from Old Testament-type destruction.

"Converge" sees the chaos from space where tornadoes appear as "hungry crawling fat grey rat snakes," foreshadowing the impending reptilian apocalypse. The song itself bends and slithers through endless hooks, as firing squad-fast guitars slow into nasty riffs before mirroring a Black Sabbath-esque vocal line, then pick up again as Mackenzie and multi-instrumentalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith trade verses at rapid speed. What's better than a metal song with a deadly breakdown? You can practically see the wall of death mosh pit close in as Mackenzie shouts "conveeeeerge!"

Abandoned by God, and with "a Bible burned with aerosol," Earth's occultists turn toward "Witchcraft" in a desperate attempt to save humanity on King Gizzard's most medieval-sounding song yet. Mackenzie, Walker and Cook Craig's guitars swirl in technical complexity around Lucas Harwood's rumbly bass as moon cycles shift and a black cat named Beowulf disrupts the spell, turning the witches' pet "Gila Monster" into a bloodthirsty, "Biblical beast of ancient lore." Between Walker's lightning-conjuring solos, gang vocal chants of "gila! gila!" and Kenny-Smith as the reptile in a hilariously menacing growl, "Gila Monster" is as blissfully fun as it is brutally heavy, a prime example of a band taking everything but themselves seriously. 

After satiating his bloodlust on the witches, the gila monster has grown into a "Dragon" wreaking havoc on Earth and launching the apocalypse, a kaleidoscopic '90s nu-metal riff leading into the first mention of the album's main title. What ensues feels as dark, sludgy and gut-churning as tar. Its initial thrash becomes increasingly minimal as Mackenzie's subdued vocals eventually rise to proclaim "dragon descends, welcome to hell," before some truly terrifying Latin incantations from Walker. "Flamethrower" continues its heavy prog, seamlessly shifting into liquidy synth and drum machine just as heavy as what preceded. Throwing some Hawkwind into the Mötörhead seems to link with the next already-teased album, a yin to its yang, heavier on electronics. 

If the satanic psychobabble has been a bit inscrutable until here, "Dawn Of Eternal Night" provides an epilogue narrated by folk singer — and former Murder of the Universe collaborator — Leah Senior in her soft, majestic voice, adding context to the storyline rather than rehashing it. Paired with a minimal electronic soundscape closest to audio recordings of space, it feels like a children's story for Rosemary's baby. However, it's more than a whimsical fantasy tale on the surface. The dragon is characterized as "intoxicated with sheer power… the embodiment of the humans' reckless tendencies" and the witches faith in cosmic intervention as "blind adherence, collective insanity," bringing fantasy a little unsettlingly close to reality. 

PetroDragonic Apocalypse is a King Gizzard album that's black in all aspects: its metal, its atmosphere, its magic, and its comedy. Where Rats' Nest pummelled forward with direct immediacy, PetroDragonic Apocalypse finds the band leaning toward proggier elements of metal with endless unpredictable detours. As with all successful concept albums, its individual songs work as well independently as they do as a whole. It's depth shrouded in mischief, and it's proof that King Gizzard have mastered creating music that's as heavy conceptually as it is sonically.

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