King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Are at Their Freakiest Frequency on 'The Silver Cord'

BY Isabel Glasgow Published Oct 27, 2023

In January 2019, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard tricked us into believing they were releasing an electronic album. The music video for synthy "Cyboogie" — the band's first release since 2017's bounty of heavy prog and chill psych — found them dressed for The Man-Machine around cables and keys, frontman Stu Mackenzie plugged in and wide-eyed like an awestruck robot. Consider the wires crossed — it was the lead single of a boogie blues album. Yet, years later, King Gizzard have fully delivered on their techno-futurist promise at the freakiest frequency. Technically complex and rich in mysticism, The Silver Cord may as well be the musical thread connecting humans with aliens. 

Though Mackenzie describes King Gizzard's 25th album as "the rock band pretending to know how to use modular synthesizers," they're no amateurs in swapping frets for keys. Guitarist Joey Walker doubles as techno maven under IDM alias Bullant, which surely cued the whopping 24 synthesizer, sequencer and drum machine credits on The Silver Cord. From the drone beneath 2013's "Mystery Jack" to the proggy soundscapes of Polygondwanaland and, most notably, 2021's bubbly synth-pop Butterfly 3000, King Gizzard have slowly amplified the electric undercurrent present since their inception. On The Silver Cord, they narrow their focus and wander freely at once, in more ways than one; the album exists in a standard version distilling each song to its essence, and an extended mix for minds to meander with the music. The result is possibly the most polarizing King Gizzard album yet.

The beginning of both choose-your-own-adventure paths start on a memory of Butterfly 3000 with the warm, cosmic warble of "Theia," telling the story of its titular Greek moon goddess and planet thought to have collided with Earth to create the moon. The lilting, folky melody and euphoric chorus add a surreal pastoral-futurist quality as Mackenzie melds metaphysics with astrophysics and mythology. The unsettling title track that follows tackles spiritual rebirth, and feels like one in itself. Eerie, metallic chords atop a pulse like an anxious heartbeat dissolve into lush spaciness, as Walker's warped, alien vocals describe crying "tears that fall up to the sky / While wrathful gods chant your name." Its dissonance makes "The Silver Cord" challenging to listen to, but there's some beauty to be found in its discomfort. 

If the metaphysical concept of the silver cord depicts a link between the astral self and the physical body, The Silver Cord as an album tethers both musical and literal kosmische. The ebullient "Chang'e," named after the Chinese moon goddess, tells another tale of cosmic transcension with synths that scintillate like stardust as she floats from Earth to the moon. Its vast soundscape and poetic lyrics of a lyre with "strings made of lightning bolts / 2500 volts" add wonder and fantasy, intensity rising in the sweeping extended mix. At their most musically man-made, King Gizzard have delved their deepest into what lies beyond man's comprehension — a contrast as disparate as the music itself.

The cord bound to the heavenly portions of The Silver Cord stretches to the pits of hell on the other end, particularly on its dark, mythology-rich epics. Quite the contrast from the final twinkles of "Chang'e," the extended mix of "Gilgamesh" stutters in on rubbery synth bass fit for Dante's Inferno Room in Beetlejuice, then wilts in descending organ as Mackenzie stretches out the name of the Mesopotamian ruler like an incantation. Its gothy, industrial techno recalls D.A.F. and Skinny Puppy, a tasteful backdrop for spitfire hip-hop verses from Ambrose Kenny-Smith — unexpectedly, he has bars fit for Beastie Boys — traded with Mackenzie's metal growl. Tastefully melding metal and hip-hop vocals into techno is a challenge, yet King Gizzard succeed on "Gilgamesh" — unfortunately, not so much on the following "Swan Song," where both vocal modes atop an unmemorable techno pulse steers things dangerously close to juggalo territory.

Thankfully The Silver Cord's hits overpower its misses, and disco battle epic "Set" strikes with a punch, adding another track to the short yet mighty list of King Gizzard songs to play in the club. Eased in by microtonal flourishes over the dark techno breakbeat of "The Silver Cord" extended mix, "Set" is the ancient Egyptian, Giorgio Moroder-inspired cousin of 2020's Turkish acid house "Intrasport." Kenny-Smith's soulful backing vocals are the Donna Summer to Mackenzie's bloodshed account of "Osiris of Geb, of Nut and dead, dutifully did what he was beset / Slay the mighty Set," making for quite the compelling mythology lesson. After years of world-building, King Gizzard have flipped the switch and turned to existing mythology — just to tie it back to their own mythos.

Promised as the yin to the yang of June 2023's prog-metal PetroDragonic Apocalypse, The Silver Cord strikes a few comparisons if you already know to look for them. Though The Silver Cord doesn't flip the Slayer-to-synthesizers progression of its supposed sister album, its grit prevails in industrial synths and the occasional metal growl. In a change of perspective, the frenzied threat of destruction is seen as an opportunity for rebirth. Lyrical connections between albums on the extended mix are fun Easter eggs, yet King Gizzard have made more skillful callbacks across their discography. If anything, The Silver Cord is a yin-yang in itself, balancing euphoria with horror, pop simplicity with intricate experimentation. 

Though The Silver Cord may not be one of the strongest King Gizzard albums, it's the strongest example of the band's versatility and thrill-seeking nature. Krautrock closer "Extinction" honours Kraftwerk with its classical-inspired melody and Radio-Activity alarm-like warbles, but as it builds in carefree chaos, it sounds most like King Gizzard. It's an impressive feat for a rock band to retain their sound while plunging into the deep end of electronic music. Despite going a bit too far into space at times on The Silver Cord, it's safe to say that King Gizzard have earned their credentials in synthesizing. 

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