Fu Manchu have always been a band I’ve admired from afar. My introduction to them was, like a lot of 90s kids, through the inclusion of their song “Evil Eye” in the soundtrack for the game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on PlayStation. As I grew up, I explored their heavy rock sound and found that I liked their material that flirted with metal, but wasn’t ever fully captivated by them. With their new album, Clone of the Universe, they have retained everything that makes them them while adding an air of progression and widening the scope of their songs that sold me on their sound, allowing me to see the rest of their material in a new light.
The number one rule here is fuzz, fuzz, and more fuzz. If you’re familiar with how some modern doom and stoner bands like Weedpecker and Elder sound, and you like that, you’re ready to enjoy Clone of the Universe. The difference between those bands and Fu Manchu is that these guys have been doing this for well over twenty years and they have matured in subtle ways that don’t alienate their fans. They were one of the bands that helped develop this sound, and with this new album, assert that they are still at the top of their game.
Guitar riffs are meaty and thick like a deep dish pizza. I feel like at any given time, the sound is being sent through at least three carefully curated guitar pedals. Drums are always on point with quick fills and cymbal-intensive segments to flesh out choruses of songs and drive the rhythm and speed of the rest of the tracks. And there’s a lot of variation of rhythm and speed on here. “Intelligent Worship”, our opener, is a to-the-point mid-tempo song that does meander. There’s neat treats like some tambourine and, of course, a little cowbell to liven things up while the guitars vibrate and bass wails in the foreground. Scott Hill’s vocals are clear as day. His cadence hasn’t changed much since the early days of the band which, if nothing else, is a great indicator of stylistic consistency and the realization that his vocals are doing the job just fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
“Slower Than Light” is a smart name seeing as the intro has a slow, spaced-out feel. The guitars have a layer of reverb making them sound wavy. A similar vibe runs through the beginning of “Nowhere Left to Hide”. This particular brand of rock slows very well, much like doom metal – but where doom is perhaps more closely represented by a snail, this is more like a sloth: slow, sure, but chill as hell, not a care in the world. This laid-back mentality is present throughout most of the band’s music, but is front-and-center during their slower work.
The title track is a favorite of mine. The vocals trade off with a crunchy guitar lead during verses while they harmonize during the chorus and elsewhere. It’s got a nice groove throughout before the song slows down the main riff to less than half its speed for a lurching outro. For years, Fu Manchu‘s primary aesthetic has long been one in tune with space in mind, and this is an aesthetic that melds well with their sound, particularly here. It’s like they recorded this album on the International Space Station, or at least got high enough to become intimately familiar with the final frontier and bring it back into their sound. But what would an album like this be without a long song?
Now that I’ve talked about Fu Manchu‘s speed and aesthetic, it’s only fitting that I talk about the massive stoner rock opus that ends the album, “Il Mostro Atomico”, which must translate to ‘damn good song’. This 18-minute track has a great flow and progression to it. Tons of buzzing legato notes and some soloing from guitars provide the breadth of the track, the only vocals coming in the center of the track and they don’t stay long. There’s even some guitar work from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson here! In total, the song has about five large sections stitched together with strong riffing and multilayering to give it a cosmic quality. This was a large undertaking as it’s their longest song ever recorded to my knowledge, but it was a move well worth making. A great album closer.
This album is just a good time. The vibe is fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I can only hazard a guess at how much fun all of the guys in Fu Manchu have jamming, writing, and recording songs together. After decades of doing this, they at least better have fun doing this, right? More than ever, I think the band is embracing the massive, spacious element their sound has always flirted with and it’s a net positive for fans. With Clone of the Universe, the band has brought new life into their own work as well as the genre. Not bad for a band named after a moustache, named after a notorious villain. This album rocks. Your move, Clutch.
Notable Tracks: “Clone of the Universe”; “Intelligent Worship”; Il Mostro Atomico”
FFO: Clutch, Kyuss, Truckfighters