King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s ‘Chunky Shrapnel’ is crazed psych-rock therapy

An ambitious live project and self-indulgent ego fest all at once

Shot from the Chunky Shrapnel european tour by Jamie Wdziekonski, 2020

Everyone's favourite seven member, Australian, psych-rock outfit with a ridiculous name is back, and they’ve got a new album and film: Chunky Shrapnel. For geeky Gizz’ fans bummed about the groups cancelled 2020 world tour, this project offers a glimpse into the thrilling energy the band brings to live performances.

Fans of this group are both deprived and depraved, pining over the next chance to see them live. So the sweaty, noisy lunatics have delivered a series of live performances for fans to enjoy while stuck at home during COVID-19 — it’s pure psych-rock catharsis. These performances also feel like therapy for the band members themselves, who look like they’re living out their rock and roll fantasies.

Chunky Shrapnel is a compilation of the best played tunes from their 2019 European tour. The companion film of the same name features footage of these performances as well as clips of the band hanging around backstage and being absolute nutcases while strolling the streets of Europe’s capitals.

‘Chunky Shrapnel’ album cover by groups artist Jason Galea

For King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, creating a live setlist must be a daunting task. The modern mystics of psychedelic rock have put out 15 albums since their debut in 2012. With such an extensive discography, what they might play at a show is anyone's guess. The band has explored many different genres and sounds from jazz-rock fusion to full on thrash metal. Though these forays sometimes feel more like aesthetic choices then deeply committed musical ones, no one can deny the band has a diverse and impressive output considering their still developing career. They’re all over the place.

But when King Gizzard plays live, the consistency of their sound becomes clearer. All their music is experimental, fuzzy, loud, and overall fun — especially for the band. Chunky Shrapnel is an attempt to capture all this and bring it to our miserable, socially hobbled, quarantined existences.

Still from the ‘Chunky Shrapnel’ movie trailer, 2020

During performances on Chunky Shrapnel, the group is at their best. They are obnoxious, excessive, and noisy with standout tracks like ‘Parking-Live in Brussels,’ and ‘A Brief History of Planet Earth- Live in London, Berlin, Utrecht and Barcelona’ demonstrating some of the bands improvisational skills.

The bands thrash metal performances are sandwiched by ominous, ambient musical interludes called ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Anamensis,’ which help bring more consistency to their sound and offer backtracks to the long shots of the band members just…well… hanging out.

Backstage shot from ‘Chunky Shrapnel,’ 2020

The fact that Chunky Shrapnel is shot on film and includes these backstage sequences seems like an attempt to force the band into legend status. When thinking about some of the most famous live concert movies, like The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense or any number of documented Grateful Dead concerts, grainy images of rock and roll icons come to mind. By shooting on film, King Gizzard is doing more than tipping their hats to the retro concert movie style, they are trying to replicate it.

Another (stranger) backstage shot from ‘Chunky Shrapnel,’ 2020

Chunky Shrapnel feels like a deliberate attempt to create an iconic moment in King Gizzards career, which brings up the question do they deserve it? These young musicians are clearly developing egos, given all the crowd surfing and on stage stripping they do in the movie.

But maybe it’s warranted, after all the band fills stadiums all around the world and their musical output is extensive. They are by all means a successful band. Maybe their success is in part due to this deliberate attempt to be an iconic rock band.

Still from ‘Chunky Shrapnel,’ 2020

Since grunge musics hayday in the 1990’s the world has not seen many ‘rock stars’ in that classic Mick Jagger type sense. A lot of rock fans these days tend to gravitate towards sloppier, garage music, like Car Seat Headrest, or King Gizzard’s earlier work. People like hearing great music that could be made by their buddies down the road.

It’s no accident that King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s experimentation with so many different musical genres is expressed so well on Chunky Shrapnel; they are playing the roles of rockstars. They are grimy garage rockers living out their dreams — one moment as thrash metal gods and the next as jam band legends.

The truth is, it’s not just therapeutic to hear the simple yet brutal melodies of King Gizzard performed with such high energy and enthusiasm as on Chunky Shrapnel, it’s also therapeutic to see these guys just having fun.

Still from ‘Chunky Shrapnel’ 2020

At his point, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a bunch of guys playing out their rock and roll fantasies. They play the kinds of music they want to play, they shoot their concert movies on film, and their egos swell. This all-over-the-place attitude might just be what’s so charming about King Gizzard. Their dedicated fan base makes these fantasies come true, and this give mutually beneficial musical relationship is exactly what great experimental rock music needs to survive.

Overall, the Chunky Shrapnel film and album is certainly an ego fueled experiment, but it’s one King Gizzard fans should get right behind.

Journalism student at the University of King's College, Halifax N.S Canada. Writer, music enthusiast, and cautious defender of the Oxford comma.