Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe
Label: At The Dojo
Release Date: February 9th, 2018
Where does the ability to capture a sound of a certain geographical region come from? I grew up on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but the band that nails that cold, soggy Seattle-sound to me is Alice In Chains. Take your pick from the plethora of excellent Swedish bands that make you feel like you’re listening to a snow drift being formed over your head. Sepultura brings the Latin American feel to metal as well as anyone. So Cal/desert rock has some hefty contributions as well, including one of my all-time faves, Kyuss. But there is little doubt that Fu Manchu absolutely nails the sound of the OC, and they do it again on their new release Clone of the Universe.
I’ve listened to previous Fu albums and they follow the same basic script. Scott Hill (founder, lead guitarist and vocalist) provides a common lyrical style over some groove-based riffs that are usually on the more up-beat side. Phaser and wah pedals are frequently rolling around your headphones. Scott Reeder bangs away on the skins and even on a cowbell here and there. Brad Davis and Bob Balch fill out the rhythm section, and we cruise along the coastal highway, soaking up the sun as we head to the beach. Simple and to the point, and it works. “Bright” might even be one of the better descriptors of their work up to this point. It’s fun, slight head-bobbing music.
Long-time fans of the crew (who have had few lineup changes for a band that has been around for nearly 30 years) will feel right at home with intro track “Intelligent Worship”. I will readily admit that the repetitive vocal stylings of Hill have limited my ability to listen to a great deal of Fu Manchu in the past, but this time around it fits within the music much better. It hasn’t changed, per se, but is infused with the overall structure of each song very well. “(I’ve Been) Hexed” is a rip right off of the Stoner Metal bong with some excellent guitar fills. This continues into “Don’t Panic”, a fast-paced rip through the wormhole. Everything is on par with most Fu Manchu material up to this point, but there’s a cloudy undertone that starts to shift the tectonic plates of the album.
Beginning with “Slower Than Light”, Clone of the Universe takes a darker turn. I haven’t heard everything from Fu Manchu, but this certainly seems like a significant change, and they pull it off perfectly. The power of stoner rock comes through in the low-end sound and the ability to lay down some solos over a catchy baseline. Much harder than most of their other material, the last four tracks of the album deliver with a heavy bite. “Nowhere Left To Hide” slows it down and lets the music do its work. It sounds straight out of an early Clutch album being played from outer space. “Clone of the Universe” has the classic Fu sound tuned down. Finally, “Il Mostro Atomico” brings home the album with an 18-minute barrage of guitar pedals, percussion gadgets, and excellent rock.
I took a stab at this record because I thought it would be a fun record to hear. Many times we can get bogged down with the heaviness of life, and sometimes we have to lighten it up. Fu Manchu still allows the room to do that, but has added a very welcome shadowy aspect to their latest effort. It certainly appealed to me more than their previous records and is a departure that I still think many long-time fans will enjoy.