Review Summary: "A future reshape, time in reverse"
There’s no band like Fu Manchu in the stoner rock genre. Many acts tried to copy these seasoned musicians, however, none had such impact or longevity. Active since 1985, these veterans have been just as influential as Kyuss or Monster Magnet in shaping this sonic field, keeping their own trajectory throughout the decades. There’s so much groove and coolness in their catalog, no other act can be as proud of this fact as them. They can turn any dull listener into a rad, California surfer dude with chicks passing beers to him as they ride along the PCH. As the sonic blueprints remained the same over the years, the albums varied in catchiness rather than quality. Previous affair, Gigantoid
benefited from a tighter string of tracks, signaling a comeback after a decade of less essential output. I hoped Clone of the Universe
could maintain that momentum and luckily, it does.
Initially announced in 2015, but repeatedly postponed, Clone of the Universe
brings to the table another batch of headbangers and a big surprise for fans as the second half. The classic Fu Manchu set is augmented by a more dynamic approach to tempo shifts, leaving the straightforward, punk mindset in the background. ‘(I’ve Been) Hexed’ and ‘Slower Than Light’ are main examples, since the former alternates between laid back verses and soaring choruses, complete with wild solos. The latter grows from a wandering beat where bouncy bass lines guide the way to a pounding number. Guitars gently embellish them until inevitably, the guys amplify the riffs for the main hook. Towards the last minute, the mid-tempo ditty is turned into a fun, frenetic rocker. These aren’t drastic changes in sound, however, kudos to them for not giving up on diversifying structures. Meanwhile, the title track and ‘Nowhere Left to Hide’ do their best to maintain this direction. Some of the heaviest grooves are featured on ‘Nowhere Left to Hide’ and Scott’s punctuating vocals are at their most effective here. Also, opener ‘Intelligent Worship’ is that strong, familiar, cosmic-natured tune that rocks at any moment you turn it on. I am amazed how easy they can craft such sharp chord progressions all the time without getting dull.
In a successful attempt to spice things up, Fu Manchu created an 18-minute long closer, 'Il Mostro Atomico' on which Rush’s Alex Lifeson makes an appearance. The unexpected collaboration gave life to a multi-faceted beast, focusing on the instrumental instead of lyrics. The first part is a scorcher that very smoothly morphs into a moody segment during which tom-heavy drum patterns pave the way for several transitions leading us to the song’s core. This is where some trademark moments burst in with a heavier emphasis on guitar solos, plus Scott does a brief vocal appearance as well. By this moment, you realize there are enough riffs on ‘Il Mostro Atomico’ to expand for an entire record. The barn burning coda is a perfect end to Clone of the Universe
and also leaves us wondering whether the band will make an effort to add some more progressive influences to their output in the future. Then again, I do not want them to suddenly change things around (I am sure they won’t, plus, another California Crossing
is long overdue), because tight rockers are their strength (take for example the short, but excellent ‘Don’t Panic’). Nevertheless, the attempts here are rewarding and keep the engine running just as fast as ever.