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Infest The Rats’ Nest by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is an adrenaline-fueled concept album about a group of people forced to flee Earth due to climate collapse while the rich live it up on Mars. Released in August 2019 on Flightless (Australia) and ATO Records (North America), it is the Melbourne-based band’s fifteenth studio album and their second album of 2019, following Fishing for Fishies in April.
Infest The Rats’ Nest received critical acclaim following its release and was nominated for the 2019 ARIA Award for Best Hard Rock or Heavy Metal Album. The band’s lead vocalist, Stu Mackenzie, produced the album, with songs written by Stu Mackenzie, Joey Walker, and Michael Cavanagh.
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About the creator
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is an Australian psychedelic rock band based in Melbourne, Victoria. Since its formation in 2010, the band has released sixteen studio albums, with a seventeenth album due in 2021. Ten of the band’s albums have charted on the Top 20 in Australia, and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard has headlined festivals around the world. Known for their eclectic style, refusal to be bound to a specific genre, and proficiency, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is one of the most innovative and interesting rock bands in Australia, let alone planet Earth.
Official website: https://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com/
I’m Forrest Brown, and you’re listening to Stories for Earth.
[music: “Cold Descent” by Forrest Brown]
Welcome to Stories for Earth, a podcast about everything climate change in pop culture. Before I go any further, let’s all just take a deep breath. [exhales]
Doesn’t that feel good? I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think I’m actually feeling something that feels like a glimmer of hope. Do you feel that? If you’re listening at a later time, I finished recording this episode right after the inauguration. We actually have a president who says the words “climate crisis” now. At his inauguration speech, Biden actually said, “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.”
I don’t know, personally, Biden wasn’t even close to my first pick, but I’ve gotta say, I’ve been impressed so far by how progressive his climate plan is. I hope he follows through on it, and it’s up to us to hold him accountable. Anyway. This isn’t a political podcast, but everything is political, especially climate change, unfortunately, so it seemed appropriate to briefly express that it feels like I can actually breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in four years. And what a tumultuous four years it’s been.
I hope you’re feeling good too. It’s okay to let yourself feel good when good things happen while still knowing there’s a lot of work to do. It’s good to celebrate victories. But just to keep our egos in check, we’re talking about an album on the podcast today that might feel a little gloomy. This is not in any way a criticism of the album—it’s actually one of my favorite albums from the past couple of years—but it’s maybe just a heads up if you thought we were going to actually be happy on this podcast! [laughs]
I’m joking. Today, we’re talking about an album called Infest The Rats’ Nest by the Australian psychedelic rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. What an incredible name for a band.
If you want to support further production of the show, visit our Support Us page at storiesforearth.com/support-us/. You can get early access to new episodes in addition to other perks by becoming a member on Patreon, or you can make a one-time donation through PayPal or buy some of the books we talk about using the links on our website. Okay, I’ll shut up now and get to the episode. I hope you enjoy.
Humans tell stories in a million different ways.
Before we had a written language—or before many people were literate—we passed down stories verbally. Sometimes these were spoken words, but often they were songs. You can find examples of this all throughout history, and we still do it today, even though our literacy rates are much higher. There’s a reason music has stood the test of time as a storytelling medium—it’s concise, memorable, and emotionally compelling.
One of my favorite artists is Jason Isbell, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. Isbell got started playing music in the Drive-By Truckers with his buddy Patterson Hood, but he’s been doing his own thing for several years now, usually backed by his band, The 400 Unit. He’s an amazing guitarist and a great songwriter, but I think he’s also an incredible storyteller. Many artists from an Americana or country background are steeped heavily in storytelling, and Jason is a master.
Take, for example, Isbell’s song “Elephant” from his 2013 album Southeastern. Isbell sometimes writes from personal experience, but a lot of the stories in his songs are purely fictional. I don’t know which category “Elephant” falls into, but either way, it feels real. The song is about a man named Andy whose friend is dying of cancer.
Jason Isbell breaks your heart. The melody, the timbre of his voice, his restrained strumming, the imagery of his lyrics. Any element of this song alone would be good, but taken together, it’s a really moving story and a beautiful piece of music.
I love Jason Isbell, but this episode isn’t actually about him. My point in bringing him up is that music moves people, and we write songs about everything from getting blackout drunk partying on a Friday night to friends dying of cancer. So at a time when there is an extremely important message the world needs to hear, why not use music to spread the word? Why not write songs about climate change?
Meet King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Climate change is kind of having a moment in pop culture. While this may have seemed ludicrous only five years ago, it’s true. Ecofiction and works of cli-fi have soared in popularity. Documentaries from high-profile actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Portman are easily accessible from Netflix or Hulu. The British pop-rock band The 1975 included a spoken word track with Greta Thunberg on their 2020 release Notes on a Conditional Form. Teenage pop star Billie Eilish sings about uncontrolled wildfires ravaging Southern California in her song “all the good girls go to hell.” And maybe the very existence of this podcast says something about the current state of climate change alarm in the general public.
As the climate crisis intensifies and becomes a part of everyday life for more people, we will start to hear more climate-related music. Climate change is now part of the human experience in a very tangible way, and it will naturally permeate throughout our culture. One band from Australia is particularly conscious of this. The marvelously named King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard departed from their usual trippy psychedelic rock to release a thrash metal album in 2019 called Infest The Rats’ Nest. Reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Rammstein, and early Metallica, Infest The Rats’ Nest goes hard on the greatest threat facing humanity today: climate change.
This is a concept album about a future Earth that’s been wrecked by ecological destruction. The wealthy elites have left Earth to join the burgeoning colony on Mars, and the poor are left behind to farm and send dwindling resources to the Mars colony. Each track tells a new chapter of a story of climate collapse, covering topics ranging from class struggle to factory farming to the spread of infectious disease. And eerily enough, the major cause of conflict in this story is the emergence of a deadly super virus that escalates into a pandemic, causing a small band of survivors to flee the diseased Earth.
Infest the Rats’ Nest deals with heavy subject material, but King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard still manage to stay true to their psychedelic rock status. Spoiler alert, but the album ends with the virus survivors crash-landing on Venus, which turns out to be the portal to Hell. Dying a bitter and fiery death, the survivors return as demons, and Satan himself sends them on a special mission to attack the Mars colony—or, to “infest the rats’ nest,” as he puts it.
Environmental messaging aside, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a great album featuring gritty vocals, fuzzy guitars, and aggressive drums. As a fan of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, I actually listened through the album several times before realizing it was a story about environmental destruction and climate collapse. And if you’re wondering, my favorite song happens to be “Mars For The Rich.”
Infest the Rats’ Nest, track by track
In my humble opinion, the best way to experience Infest the Rats’ Nest is to blare it over your car speakers while hurtling down the highway at an unsafe speed. But since this is a family podcast and I would never endorse or encourage dangerous behavior, not only for legal reasons, an optimum listening experience for this album might also be blasting it over the biggest stereo system you can find and moshing solo in your living room.
No matter how you choose to indulge, may I suggest it be loud. Of course, this advice comes from someone who suffers from hearing damage and tinnitus caused by both playing in loud rock bands as a teenager and attending rock concerts. Please follow this advice at your own risk.
But if we’re to really get the most out of this album from an environmental messaging perspective, it might not be a bad idea to go through the album track by track, blending commentary with snippets of the songs.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard kick off the album with “Planet B,” a driving metal dirge complete with chugging guitars and double bass drums. It’s a bleak picture—the world has obviously failed to mitigate climate change in any meaningful way, as Stu Mackenzie sings about the browning fields, the lost seasons, and the Earth as a blank verse. The chorus makes it pretty clear what’s going on:
Only way through is colonization
There is no Planet B
Earth is ruined, and colonizing Mars is our only hope of survival as a species. The song ends with the repeated refrain, “There is no Planet B,” a statement made even more tragic by its irony. It’s so tragic, in fact, that the song ends on the line, “Baby Jesus sheds a tear,” bringing to mind John 11:35, which says, “Jesus wept.” Creation, so to speak, has been destroyed.
Mars for the Rich
For me, the second track is when things really start to get interesting. “Mars for the Rich” begins with a bluesy guitar riff before a snare drum fill cues in the rest of the band. This song might be my favorite on the album, featuring a killer bassline that I think gives the song what Stuart Berman describes in Pitchfork as a “…brontosaurus chug.” Take a listen and you’ll immediately hear what he’s talking about:
I’m just a poor boy
I see Mars on TV
I see people happy
I work fields with
I look starward
That world has no place for me
We get a few more visuals in the lyrics to describe Earth’s fallen state, but this song really says a lot about inequality and environmental injustice. And while the album never provides many details about the narrator—or even if there is a consistent narrator, for that matter—we can probably safely infer some commentary on environmental racism from “Mars for the Rich.”
The chorus talks about how the “tsars…live large” on Mars, which probably refers to billionaire industry captains like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who, of course, started his private space company SpaceX to build a “mega colony” on Mars. And in the second verse, Stu Mackenzie states pretty explicitly, “Mars for the privileged / Earth for the poor…That world has no place for me.”
So, while humans have ruined Earth and are seeking to escape to Mars, we learn pretty quickly that not everyone is worthy of living on a pristine planet. Just like our version of Earth today where local governments decide who’s worthy of living in a clean residential area and who’s worthy of living in an industrial area likely contaminated by toxic chemicals and polluted air, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard don’t foresee humans becoming any more…well, humane by the time Mars becomes a more attractive option for life.
The next track is titled “Organ Farmer,” a galloping screed against factory farming that also gets at the heart of the idea that nature is simply a resource at humanity’s disposal. Framing factory farms as organ farms makes for some grisly visuals that are probably more true to reality than what most people think of when they hear the word “farm” by itself.
Make the incision
New life christened
Fatty rolls of brie
The first verse begins with a gruesome visual of a modern slaughterhouse, but as the song goes on, you begin to realize Stu Mackenzie is singing about more than meat farms. In the bridge, he almost chants:
Kill the squid, cut the tree
Arrogant human being
Humans are basically playing God by thinking they can control nature and bend it to their will, and the narrator is clearly disgusted by it.
Now, my second-favorite song on the album is “Superbug.” This song has more of a bluesy swagger to it than some of the more in-your-face metal songs on the album, and its message feels eerily prescient at a time when the United States just recorded over 4,000 deaths from COVID-19 complications in a single day. As of now, we are trending toward 400,000 deaths from coronavirus—roughly the same number of Americans who died fighting in World War II.
Superbug coming up
H1N1 was a flop
Resistance is futile
Superbug is like a truck
Penicillin is a duck
That’s sitting on the road for luck
One thing that really caught my attention about this song was its reference to H1N1, which, if you recall, was the Swine Flu—another pandemic that happened in 2009 when a novel influenza strain emerged. While the superbug from Infest the Rats’ Nest varies greatly from COVID-19, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is correct in drawing attention to the increased risks we face from disease.
In August 2020, a paper published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature revealed disconcerting information about how deforestation increases the risk of spreading diseases like COVID-19. The paper, titled “Zoonotic host diversity increases in human-dominated ecosystems,” shared findings from a study of over 6,800 ecological communities on six different continents which revealed that there is a link between increasing human development, decreasing biodiversity, and new disease outbreaks.
Even now as far too many people continue pushing conspiracy theories claiming the Chinese government created COVID-19 as a biological weapon, or—perhaps even worse—that the virus doesn’t even exist, scientists are warning us that if we don’t learn to change our destructive relationship with the other living beings on this planet, we are on a fast track to commiting suicide as a species.
Our future Earthlings have finally had enough by the fifth track on the album, “Venusian 1,” an angsty, rebellious declaration of their intent to leave the broken Earth. The first verse reveals Earth is basically uninhabitable at this point:
Ocean wave amplify
Constant tornado sky
Black water, no supply
Interstellar our escape
Sulfur star liberates
Gotta beat the outbreak
So there’s a lot going on here. Deforestation has led to desertification around the world, it sounds like storms have gotten really intense, and we seem to be running out of drinking water. Right now these crises are visible on the horizon but not quite so bad as to necessitate leaving Earth.
According to Seeker, we’ve already lost about 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest, and we’re dangerously close to a tipping point that could turn the so-called lungs of the Earth into savannah. It goes without saying that that would be very bad. On top of this, we are running out of water. According to a 2015 study in Water Resources Research based on NASA satellite data, 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers—you know, the giant underground lakes where we get most of our drinking water from—have passed their sustainability tipping points. Basically, that means we’ve taken more out of these aquifers than nature has been able to replenish.
If we don’t manage to get our act together, we might find ourselves in a very similar situation to the poor rebels in Venusian 1.
“Perihelion” is like a science fiction re-telling of the ancient Greek myth of Icarus. Just like Icarus and his father escaping from the Labyrinth on Crete, the band of rebels seen on Infest the Rats’ Nest take to the skies to escape our dying planet. Unfortunately, they don’t learn from Icarus’ mistake, flying too close to the sun and falling to their deaths. Except the rebels don’t drown in the Mediterranean—instead, they get caught in the sun’s gravity and basically burn up in the star.
Giver of life and the giver of speed
Ever we take even her gravity
Her glowing beauty is something to see
Bigger and brighter, she cometh to me
It feels mean to charge the rebels with hubris or insubordination considering they were fleeing the dying Earth, not disobeying their father. Regardless, they meet the same fate, with Stu Mackenzie singing, “Grinning sun has sinners for dinner,” in the second verse.
A fast drum beat kicks off “Venusian 2,” the story of the second spaceship of rebels fleeing Earth for Venus. Judging from the lyrics, it sounds like both spaceships left around the same time, because the spaceship in “Venusian 2” seems to have watched the first spaceship explode in the sun, or as Stu Mackenzie puts it, “In the lap of the gods.”
Thankfully, the second spaceship manages to escape the sun’s gravitational pull, closing in on Venus as the rebels realize they’re actually going to make it. Mackenzie sings in the second verse:
Fingers getting warm
And eyes are turning gold
Evil twin is coming in
This is great imagery here—I love imagining the camera, so to speak, capturing a closeup of a rebel’s eye with the reflection of Venus, Earth’s “evil twin,” shining back at us.
You didn’t really think this was going to have a happy ending, did you? As the name implies, “Self-Immolate” is the account of the second group of rebels essentially setting themselves on fire. They’ve fled Earth to escape a heated world ravaged by plague only to find themselves on Venus, a fiery planet with an atmosphere of sulphur where a new sickness apparently awaits them.
I have gone insane-o
I lust for volcano
Be with molten lava
Give me my nirvana
Mackenzie goes on to sing in the chorus:
Venusian sickness dire
I want to be set on fire
Something happens after the rebels land on Venus, and they go insane, becoming sort of infatuated with fire and wanting to fling themselves into volcanos. In some ways, this kind of reminds me of the very first episode we ever did on Stories for Earth, which was about Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. In the book, there are these gangs who pillage towns to get money to fuel their addiction to a drug called Pyro, which makes the act of staring into fire intensely pleasurable. The draw to stare into flames is so intense that many of the people addicted to Pyro actually ended up falling into the fire themselves and dying.
Obviously the rebels aren’t doing Pyro, but the way they talk about wanting to self-immolate as a way to get an almost sexual sort of gratification bears close resemblance to the gangs in Parable of the Sower.
The rebels do end up being consumed by the fiery and hostile conditions on Venus. And, in maybe the most perfect way Infest the Rats’ Nest could end, they find themselves in hell, where the “Antichrist has tempted [them]” with a purpose: to infest the rats’ nest. In the chorus, the rebels sing to themselves:
Remember where to enter
Remember where to enter
The door to hell is amber
Would this really be a thrash metal album if Satan himself didn’t make an appearance? As it turns out, Venus is the door to hell, and now that the rebels have opened it, Satan has tasked them with taking revenge on the people who got them into this whole mess: the frivolous upper echelons of human society who treated the Earth as a bottomless treasure chest for the plundering. It’s here that we finally learn the meaning of the album’s title. Satan wants the rebels to infest, or attack, the rats’ nest, which is the colony on Mars for rich people.
At first, this may seem like nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek ending for an album that you could argue is kind of funny in a very dark way, more as an homage to heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper than an attempt to make light of the climate crisis. But I think there’s a little bit more to the last song on the album.
In real life, some of the world’s wealthiest countries have been the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. And especially if you recognize colonialism as the root cause of the climate crisis like I do, Western European countries and the United States are mostly to blame for the predicament we find ourselves in. On average, Americans, Canadians, and people from European countries like the UK, Germany, France, and Sweden—just to call out a few countries—consume far more resources than people in developing countries do.
As an American, I have an enormous responsibility to push for serious climate action—not because I should be afraid that people from the Global South might one day want to take revenge on my country, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you are also from a country that’s had an extremely disproportionate harmful impact on the planet, I would encourage you to also reflect on the responsibility you have to do the same. Although, if you’re listening to a podcast like this one, it might be safe to assume you already do this.
Regardless, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are right in concluding that if we don’t change as soon as possible, we will create a living hell for everyone.
At a time when climate change fiction is becoming increasingly popular in books and in movies, it’s really cool to see a musical project like Infest the Rats’ Nest take a good, hard look at global warming. This album isn’t the only musical project that grapples with climate change, but it might be the biggest musical project I’ve come across that does so. I hope that as time goes on, more artists will take a page from the book of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and create their own musical projects to advocate for humans being better stewards of our planet.
Indeed, there is no planet B. We might one day be able to colonize Mars or inhabit other more hospitable planets, but now, Earth is all we’ve got, and we have to take care of it, both for ourselves and the millions of other species of life that share this precious planet with us.
I was so very excited to make this episode, and I was really, really hoping I would be able to use the actual music from the album to bring the episode to life. Thankfully, my wish was granted, and for that I’d like to thank everyone from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, especially Stu Mackenzie, Joey Walker, and Michael Cavanagh. I also want to thank Michelle from Panache Booking and Tyler from Kobalt Songs Music Publishing for helping with the legal stuff.
Stories for Earth is written and produced by me, Forrest Brown. The intro and outro music is also by me. If you want to support further production of the show, be sure to become a member on our Patreon page or buy some of the books we talk about using the affiliate links on our site.
Video: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Full Performance (Live on KEXP)
Interview: Stu and Cavs on Triple J
Video Game: Rat Game from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard