FU MANCHU is synonymous with stoner rock. The group is rightfully revered as one of the genre's most significant bands. Following its inception as a hardcore punk act, the band slid into a groove, literally and figuratively, and has continued onward with energetic hard rock that's as potent as the residue at the bottom of a bong. The Californian unit has been plugging away for over a quarter of a century, and its 12th album, "Clone Of The Universe", suggests it's going to continue to hightail its way down the hazy highway.
Lineup instability was the norm during the first half of the band's career. Fuzz legends Brant Bjork (KYUSS/MONDO GENERATOR) and Eddie Glass (NEBULA) even served time with the group of heshers. But a consistent crew solidified itself around the new millennium's onset. Kingpin and sole original member Scott Hill (vocals/guitar) is joined by Bob Balch (guitar), Brad Davis (bass) and Scott Reeder (drums). The unit has been operating like a well-oiled machine ever since. That isn't to say that it wasn't prolific in the beginning, though. There is indeed something to be said of FU MANCHU's tenacity and endurance.
The quartet's upbeat, feel-good take on BLACK SABBATH bombast still resides at its foundation, but it has drifted toward sculpting surreal, mind-bending rockers in recent years with an increasing thematic focus upon outer space and science fiction. "Clone of the Universe" stays the course on all fronts. FU MANCHU immediately revs the engines up with the high-octane surge of "Intelligent Worship" as it embarks upon its latest journey into space. The unit lays off the thrusters once its pierced the stratosphere with the creeping, crawling and equally groovy follow-up track, " (I've Been) Hexed".
The ensemble is reliable, and listeners know, more or less, what to expect. But depending on who you ask, that isn't necessarily always a good thing. With that said, just when you think you know the end of the story, FU MANCHU throws a curveball with the absolutely epic, 18-minute finale: "Il Mostro Atomico". While the group wades through familiar waters on the first six tracks that represent the first half—or "side" of the album, as it were—the final track essentially represents "side two" with a distinctly out of character approach.
Moving at a zombie-marching, sludge-dripping pace, FU MANCHU colors the album's second half with prog sensibilities. Featuring RUSH's guitar legend, Alex Lifeson, the song is cut into four parts, and the marathon is interesting from beginning to end. The ambitious song is essentially an instrumental considering that Hill's vocals only drop in for less than a minute. The tried and true fuzz underpinnings remain throughout yet fade to the back as the song progresses through a psychedelic universe free from FU MANCHU's regular, self-imposed boundaries. "Il Mostro Atomico" stands out as one of the most unique expressions of FU MANCHU's career. It's a bold move proving that FU MANCHU isn't just a one trick pony, and that the group can keep you on your toes when you least expect it, just when you thought you had them figured out. Perhaps the band's next effort won't be so predictable after all.