Fu Manchu Break Their Mold and Through the Stratosphere on ‘Clone of the Universe’ – Album Review
Fu Manchu aren't one of those bands who sell millions of records or release chart topping albums and singles. But to stoner rock fans, they are one of the genre's touchstones. Plying their trade for more than a quarter century, the California band has won over legions of fans with their powerful live shows and consistently good albums.
After quite a bit of turnover in the early years (with alumni such as Kyuss/Mondo Generator's Brant Bjork and Nebula's Eddie Glass), Fu Manchu's current lineup of Scott Hill (vocals/guitar), Bob Balch (guitar), Brad Davis (bass) and Scott Reeder (drums) has been together for 17 years. Their latest release is Clone of the Universe.
The album consists of two distinctive halves — the first six of seven total songs being the first half. They're the type of Fu Manchu songs you'd expect. “Intelligent Worship” kicks off the proceedings with fuzzed out riffs, an urgent tempo and Hill's singsong vocals. It's heavy and sludgy, with multiple guitar solos. They follow that tried and true formula pretty closely across this portion of the record, featuring riffs galore and a streamlined length.
They slow the tempo down at the start of the psychedelic “Slower Than Light,” with a mellow beginning leading to a trippy middle section and then cranking up the speed at the end. The record's first half wraps up with the catchy title track, it's main riff burrowing its way into the listener's cortex.
It's a solid, enjoyable half dozen tracks that don't venture outside Fu Manchu's established musical box, but are extremely well delivered. Where they do poke their head outside that box is on the 18-plus minute closing track.
While they've had lengthy songs on past albums (“Saturn III” from 1997's The Action Is Go and “The Last Questions” from 2014's Gigantoid come to mind), they've never released a song as epic and ambitious as “Il Mostro Atomico.”
The track features a guest appearance from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. Hill says, “We think it’s some the strongest music we’ve ever done. We really love the overall sound of the album and having Alex play on it is just incredible. It gives it that special validation for the idea that we had to try something like a side long song.”
Divided into four sections, “Il Mostro Atomico” opens with an extended instrumental break that goes from fuzzy stoner to a more experimental, psychedelic vibe before fully kicking in. Repetitive but catchy riffs propel the song along, with fills and solos adding color and shape. Lifeson makes his mark on the first half of the song.
There are about 30 seconds worth of vocals halfway through the track, with the duration being all instrumental. Maintaining interest for such a lengthy period of time with so little vocal work can be challenging for some listeners, but Fu Manchu know their loyal crowd will stick with them. They finish the monumental song strong, with interesting fills, some spiffy bass parts and creative drumming from Reeder. The last couple of minutes are nothing but guitar, quietly fading to black.
Clone of the Universe has the meat and potatoes stoner/hard/psychedelic rock Fu Manchu are known for, but they also stretch themselves musically with some experimental and unexpected moments. It's an appealing combination that will satisfy longtime fans and is a good introduction to those not familiar with their storied history.
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