Fu Manchu
Clone of the Universe

I’ve been a fiend for the Fus since the 90s; pretty much a religious, “Every album rules, maaaan,” type of nut up to and including the streamlined, utter-ass kicking heard on King of the RoadIn Search Of… and The Action is Go are my personal pinnacles but as a riff-roarin’ machine they couldn’t do any wrong.  California Crossing was solid if not quite up to the boisterous, stoner-punk heights prior but it was the shaky Start the Machine that had widespread followers pretty much wondering, “Uh oh, which way are we going, George?”  It was a subpar, overly commercial effort with the weakest tones and tunes of the entire discography.  A city toppling live show and the raucous We Must Obey bandaged any minor cuts n’ sores that the unstoppable mega-monster was showing and it has been nothing but bigger, better,  planet-eating tones, riffs from the center of the sun and God slayin’ groove ever since.

Clone of the Universe is album number 12 from a solid and stable line-up that hasn’t had a change since drummer Scott Reeder’s entrance in 2001.  They’re definitely back to those louder than lord amplifiers and punk-leaned stoner anthems they had perfected with The Action is Go but man, when did these guys get so fuckin’ HEAVY?  This is the kind of stuff that you skateboard on a nuclear warhead through rush hour traffic to upon listening.  “Intelligent Worship” ain’t fuckin’ around with the damnation fuzz bomb riffs and wah-soaked lead uppercuts of guitar team Scott Hill and Bob Balch.  Riff, riff, riff man, you’re going to hear that a lot during this review because they are all over this fuckin’ thing and so damn huge it’s hard to justify the tone verbally and do it justice.  Reeder knocks the tar out of straight punk beats, Texas style shuffles and whirlwind fills that breeze across the kit and chop those snares to stuttering pieces.  Brad Davis’ hog lard bass lines follow the main grooves but also take cool little walk arounds that step out into their own light.  You’ll hear cowbell, sharp changes in speeds from midtempo to sunshine 70s swings to hard-charging near doom thunder (an increasing guest on the last two records) and very solid, shout along Hill melodies.  The alien phasing and raging Blue Cheer overdrive that ends this jam makes for one of the best and most hellish openers in the Fu Manchu arsenal to date.

A pissed to the gills sludgy riff duels with harmony licks and tornado leads during the intro of “(I’ve been) Hexed.”  Gang vocals take us back to the crusty, dirty punk days when these cats were known as Virulence but the smooth, effortless riffs and rhythms are solidified with the years of experience playing together and lend a refinement to this daggers n’ knives maelstrom that only comes with walking the walk.  This motherfucker is short, to the point and packed with more twists n’ turns than trying to drive a tractor trailer down an icy mountain in the dead of winter.  Rifling solos, doom/sludge’s crushing weight, noise-guitar white wash, hammering fills from the abyss, bloated bass and a landmark vocal hook ensure this as one of the very best tunes in their pantheon.  “Don’t Panic” is even more over the edge than its predecessor and is a road-rage jam that’s not safe to drive to.  Tire strip solos get you blastin’ into the guard rail while Reeder smashes the drums to a pulp with whacko snare fills, a piece of a blast beat in one fluctuation and a performance that’s piss, vinegar and vitriol defined.  There’s a Lemmy on overdrive nature to the 302-ed deserving madness and the song’s as blood-pumping punk rock as anything that makes the claim that it is in this day age (probably more so).  Hill’s all over this son of a bitch vocally and he’s far removed from the cool, deserted highway croon he normally prefers than he’s been in a long, long time or at least since the previous two records.  Every single member of the band is operating on an entirely higher level these days and it’s a fuckin’ pleasure being a fan in 2018.

Brad’s bass provides the girth-y lead amongst the fallen star psyche melodies in “Slower than Light’s” acid dropping lead-off.  Watery vocal FX soon turns to gutsy, bile spittin’, melodic fury as a sunbaked shout triggers a dominating hard rock riff that’s as heavy as anything in the new crop of hard-rock bands without question.  Just when you think you got the tail pinned onto this donkey it turns into a belligerent jackass with a buckin’ bronco speed-punk outburst you’ll never catch unless you fill your gas tank with cocaine.  Eerie muted sections are reduced to dust by the mudfuck riffage of “Nowhere to hide.”  I can say without a doubt in my mind that this is the heaviest thing they’ve ever done as the transitions from loud to quiet are jarring, startling and even frightening.  For my money there’s no better riff in their storage shed and the way the brooding psyche turns preface these violent sections are second to none.  Davis also goes balls to the wall nuts and decides to match the guitars and drums in volume while this murderous beast goes back to its lair to devour the meat of those foolish enough to stand in its way.  The title track is another Action is Go styled pummel-fest that makes all of the right moves with the grooves.  Jesus Christ long finale “Il Mostro Atomico” clocks in at 18 minutes going from phase-y, warped science fiction noise to hell-hot sludge/doom/blues to soul-beaming psyche.  Friggen Alex Lifeson from Rush stops by to provide leads, licks, phaser pick slides and all manners of strange noise; you couldn’t have made believe such a paring would happen in a million years (or that it would work) but it works and the song is a bomber that never manages to dullen or induce boredom with such a long running time.  There is always SOMETHING happening.

I’ve sat down with the entire Fu Manchu discography in preparation for this review and I’ve got to say Clone of the Universe is my favorite record by the band.  Everything great about their excellent past is here and the qualities that incited the entrance of this new heavier than thou era of their career is jacked up to 11.  The songwriting, the riffs, the rhythmic plunder, the vocals…I mean, fuck, the band simply can’t get any better.  This is the apex.  Where do they even go from here?  I can only wonder and ponder.  Clone of the Universe is a fuckin’ behemoth that any fans of Fu Manchu and bastard riffs in general should absolutely have in their collection.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
October 10th, 2018

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