The Silver Cord is King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Sonic Apocalypse

Mirrors are fascinating objects, both in their literal use, but also in the endless metaphorical possibilities they bring. We’ve all used the concept of mirrors at least once in our lives to explain or present something, but probably not to the extent and with the attention to detail as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard do on synth-heavy new album The Silver Cord. Its seven tracks may seem like the polar opposite of predecessor PetroDragonic Apocalypse, but the attentive listener will notice that these two albums have a lot more in common than you might think. The Silver Cord is the yang to PetroDragonic Apocalypse’s yin, in more ways than one. 

The album has two versions – a short one clocking in at 28 minutes, and extended one exactly one hour longer. Neither version is the definitive one, with each version having their own strengths, weaknesses and WTF-moments. For the sake of this article, we’ll briefly look at the short version, before diving deeper into the sprawling extended cut. This version is the second shortest King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard studio album to date, beating 2013’s Eyes Like the Sky by a mere ten seconds. Opening trio Theia, The Silver Cord and Set marked the first glimpse of what to expect, coming out as a triple single earlier this month by means of a music video best watched on shrooms. There’s a distinct absence of ‘traditional’ instruments on the entire album, with the band opting solely for synthesised sounds (you name it, they definitely used it). The last time King Gizzard went for this approach was on the summery Butterfly 3000 in 2021, and even though Theia may bear reminiscence to that sun-kissed album, these comparisons don’t last much longer. Title track The Silver Cord is perhaps the most absurd the band have ever sounded, with warped vocals, haunting melodies and intense lyrics making for an unsettling experience. Its finale restores some sanity into proceedings by way of beautiful synth patterns and ethereal vocals, before Set throws all that out of the window in favour of some swaggering beats, rapping from Ambrose Kenny-Smith and a repeated chant of, “slay the mighty Set”. For those unaware, Set was the Egyptian god of war and chaos. War and chaos are also pretty good descriptors for this song, destroying the ethereal worlds tracks one and two created without hesitation.

The album’s opening trio painted a relatively positive picture sonically, but the sonic serenity pretty much ends with Set. Chang’e – the weakest of a strong bunch – is a sudden shift in tone, bridging the gap between Set’s playfulness and the intensity still to come. Just like its counterparts across the album, Chang’e has a knack for combining warm synth tones with unhinged melodic passages and ethereal vocals. For those curious, Chinese mythology refers to Chang’e as “the woman in the moon”. Interestingly, PetroDragonic Apocalypse track Witchcraft (also track four…) refers to a similar blood moon goddess. Coincidence? Not at all, but you’d have to keep reading to find out why. The Silver Cord’s strongest moments come during the final three songs, which fused together are an absolute monstrous experience. Gilgamesh sounds like a bad trip, with heavily altered vocals and another rapped verse from Kenny-Smith. The beats are raw, the synths are warped and the interplay between Mackenzie and Kenny-Smith is infectiously good. Swan Song enters much darker territory, both sonically and lyrically. If Gilgamesh was a bad trip, then Swan Song is the comedown from hell. There are even moments where Mackenzie veers into throat singing, hauntingly so. It all makes way for Extinction, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s most unhinged album closer to date, a culmination of two entire albums worth of experimentation, lore and hidden connections. Its ending pushes the band into new sonic territory: hardstyle, but not quite in the classic sense of the genre. It’s fast, it’s in your face and and beat-driven to the point of no return. The synths which snake around drummer Michael Cavanagh’s drums are relentless,ensuring The Silver Cord goes out on a (for some listeners, literal) high. Think of it as ending on a peak, or being on a trip which you never want to end. 

And now for the extended version. The writer of this piece has been putting off the second part of this article for more than a week now – there’s just so much to unpack thematically and sonically. For the sake of modern day attention spans, we’ll keep it as brief yet detailed as possible. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: constant references to previous album PetroDragonic Apocalypse. By way of callbacks on each song to its corresponding soundtrack counterpart on PDA, The Silver Cord serves the purpose of a mirror, reflecting back elements of a previous album yet in a warped fashion. Yin and yang, basically. Theia’s extended cut spawns twenty minutes, although they fly by pretty quickly by way of sprawling melodies, programmed beats and both a callback to the previous album as well as a callforward to the next song: we hear Mackenzie sing both “Motor Spirit” repeatedly, as well as recite the “I’m just a vessel” verse from title track The Silver Cord. This song’s own extended version centres on acid-laced synth passages (and an oh so subtle melodic callback to PDA’s Supercell), also presenting us with the first hints of drum and bass to grace the record. There’s a sense of fleeting urgency to The Silver Cord’s extended version, which the groove-based Set builds on in and amongst utterings of the word “converge” laced in a near-robotic level of vocoder. Instrumentally, it continues to play on that one quirky melody, with an extra rapped verse from Ambrose Kenny-Smith adding to the fun.

At first it’s jarring to hear just basic elements of the previous album pop up in the extended version of this one, but as the record progresses the references to both albums become more detailed and more apparent. Chang’e – which was the weakest track on the short version – is elevated to completely new heights as its extended version borrows both melodies and entire verses from PetroDragonic Apocalypse counterpart Witchcraft. This metal song’s solo is transposed to synths on Chang’e, flirting with upbeat percussion and layered melodies as Mackenzie sings of “red and deep burnt blues” and snakes, which slither “just out of sight”. Gilgamesh’s extended version takes the dark undertones of its short version and builds on them in such a way that they mark the perfect precursor for what Swan Song and Extinction will unleash later. As Gilgamesh’s extended version unpacks layer after layer of bubbling synths and obscure noises, we hear the band chant “Gila! Gila!” in what is by far the most obvious callback on the entire album. There’s even another callforward based on a callback (bear with us!): Mackenzie chanting “swaaaaan soooooong” in the same fashion that he chants “motor spirit” on PDA. It sets the scene perfectly for Swan Song, which takes no prisoners from the word go and manages to paint a morbid picture led by some of Mackenzie’s gnarliest and prettiest vocals on the record. Things kick up another notch just over halfway into the song, when a heavily roboticized voice makes a bold proclamation over some very subtle, pulsing synths: “The eye dilates, the air gyrates / A gate in the sky, a portal to die, A shriek from space, a mangled yell / Dragon descends, welcome to hell”. This makes way for an in your face instrumental passage, before this same verse returns amidst sonic hellfire. If you think it sounds like the end of the world, then that’s because it is. Swan Song is the album’s thematic and sonic breaking point, an apocalypse of sorts where the asteroids are Cavanaugh’s brute force drums, and the flames are synthesizers. In Kenny-Smith’s words, “this plane nosedives straight into hell”.

Extinction is the aftermath of this chaos, although that’s not to say the intensity lets up one bit. Mackenzie’s gnarliness on Swan Song has been replaced with ethereal vocal passages, including lyrical references to PDA’s Flamethrower (which will catch you by absolutely no surprise), as well as 2017’s Crumbling Castle (from Polygondwanaland). “Jesus left us all alone, castles crumbled” he sings, with Extinction centring on one key lyric throughout: “I can see everything, I can be in the music”. It’s an all encompassing line which King Gizzard fans will surely unpack in more ways than one. As the song prepares for its climax, you can sense that the intertwining synth tones and bubbling undergrowth of bass-y rhythms have one more punch yet to pack. And fuck me, they do. It’s hard to put into words just how hard the end of Extinction goes, so just imagine King Gizzard attempting to make classic European hardstyle within the foundations of The Silver Cord’s sonic universe. The last four minutes of the album slowly build up in intensity, climaxing on what almost feels like a second apocalypse, one spearheaded by warped synths, a hi-BPM tempo and the constant recurrence of the song’s focal melody. It’s one hell of an ending, to one hell of an album.