King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard Are Unforgiving and Sonically Violent on PetroDragonic Apocalypse

Back in 2019, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard made a debut foray into thrash metal on the ferocious Infest the Rats’ Nest. In the four years since, ….Rats’ Nest has cemented itself as an ultimate fan favourite as well as a critically acclaimed modern take on one of rock music’s most gatekeeper-heavy genres. There have been flourishes of this monstrous sound since then, however largely reserved to the odd song or live jam. Now, eight months after they released three records in one month, Gizzard have taken the plunge back into the realms of thrash metal. Their latest exploration almost puts Infest the Rats Nest to shame, and it carries one hell of a title: PetroDragonic Apocalypse; or, Dawn of Eternal Night: An Annihilation of Planet Earth and the Beginning of Merciless Damnation

Just like its title, King Gizzard’s 24th album is a tough one to digest if you haven’t got the right amount of focus or interest in its attention to detail. For all of thrash metal’s bare bones simplicity, PetroDragonic Apocalypse is laced with tiny intricacies, recurring motifs and callbacks that don’t tend to make part of your bog standard thrash album. But then again, this is no bog standard band. PetroDragonic Apocalypse is so unforgiving that it makes Infest the Rats’ Nest seem like child’s play. This much is evident on opener Motor Spirit, which centres on a gritty riff and machinelike percussion courtesy of the album’s star: drummer Michael Cavanaugh. He steals the show on multiple occasions, providing a satisfying backbone to the sonic violence his band mates provide across PetroDragonic’s eight songs. On the frenzied Supercell his drumming elevates the song to an even higher level, which is matched by the rest of the band through chugged riffs, hair metal-esque backing vocals and a relentless tempo which will likely result in plenty of speeding fines. Supercell makes you want to speed down the motorway at peak speed before punching a wall. Frontman Stu Mackenzie’s vocals are snappy and gnarly, something which previous thrash album Infest the Rats’ Nest lacked in places. Third track Converge originally appeared online under the name Uncolonise, as part of the band’s Bandcamp demo compilations. The evolved version is a tempo-shifting slice of thrash which leans into pirate metal ever so slightly, never giving up its relentless tempo and instead upping the ante at every given moment. Upping the ante is something which PetroDragonic Apocalypse’s isn’t afraid of doing, 

One of the album’s clear highlights is Witchcraft, a song which takes the best thrash elements on PetroDragonic Apocalypse and fuses them with hints of 2017 album Polygondwanaland. You could suggest that Witchcraft is (Poly… opener) Crumbling Castle’s bastard cousin, operating on similar tempo shifting wavelengths and utilising comparable progressions. It even climaxes in a similar fashion: orgasmic and cataclysmic. There’s definitely a case to be made for Witchcraft being one of King Gizzard’s top 5 songs of all time. Lead single Gila Monster follows in all its pirate-y glory, and it’s by far the most accessible song on the album. It’s also the slowest, tempo-wise, which says a lot given its galloping rhythmic pulse. Second single Dragon follows in quick succession, clocking in at ten minutes and (alongside Witchcraft) marking the album’s best moment. It’s a behemoth of a song, even going so far as to incorporate Latin vocals (courtesy of Joey Walker) which nearly cross over into throat singing territory. 

Live in Brussels. (c) Jack Parker

The intro to Flamethrower is up there with some of the most unforgivingly brutal music this band ever created, with Cavanaugh sending his double bass pedal into absolute overdrive like the apocalypse was near. While he and his bandmates commit sonic violence, Mackenzie sings of hell, malice, the dark arts and “those foolish, lazy fucks” in the same menacing tone which he has managed to finally make his own on this album. There were moments on Infest the Rats’ Nest where you weren’t sure if Mackenzie could pull the thrash vocals off, but there isn’t a second of doubt this time round. About five minutes in, Flamethrower veers off into prog territory, and it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tool record thanks to diverse percussion and mystery-drenched synth passages. The song eventually reignites, marking the end of the album as far as digital listeners are concerned…

Those who have PetroDragonic Apocalypse are lucky enough to be treated to the most unique song King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have made to date: the 14-minute long Dawn of Eternal Night, a moody and conceptually rich monologue helmed by Leah Senior (who also narrated parts of 2017’s Murder of the Universe). There isn’t much in the way of actual music here, with Senior’s storytelling backed up by pure ambience. At times you can’t even sense it’s there, with Leah Senior’s calm voice drawing you in. It makes total sense that this song is a vinyl exclusive, as it’s so far removed from the neck snapping sounds of the rest of the album. Canonically, there is plenty to pick apart for those keen on analysing how this song (and album) ties into the Gizzverse. As the album meets its end, Senior leaves us with a poignant closing statement: “My flame is the only sun. One by one, all of the living creatures of planet earth will make their journey to the land of the dead. Until I am the last one standing.” 

You’d be forgiven for wondering if King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have hit their peak on PetroDragonic Apocalypse. In reality, though, it feels as though the six-piece are far from peaking. They’re currently on a run of six incredibly solid albums in the space of fourteen months, with PetroDragonic’s companion album (said to be synth-based) due later this year. This is the heaviest the band have ever sounded, and not once does it feel like they’re trying too hard. It’s surprising that they haven’t become a crossover sensation in the gatekeeper-heavy metal universe, but maybe that’s a good thing. Songs like Dragon, Witchcraft and Supercell are up there with some of the best heavy songs in recent years, bias aside. There’s never a dull moment on PetroDragonic Apocalypse, a record which will go down as one of the strongest heavy releases of 2023. PetroDragonic Apocalypse releases on Friday 16 June.