Pioneering fuzz enthusiasts Fu Manchu, one of the pillars of the stoner rock and desert rock genres are back once more with album number 12; “Clone Of The Universe”. The long awaited and highly anticipated follow up to 2014’s ‘Gigantoid’ is a new chapter for the band – it features them mixing up their usual approach of riff heavy rock and roll with some interesting time signature shuffles, adding a touch of complexity to the band who have helped define and consistently push and develop the boundaries of the “Fuzz and Wah” approach to music. With a guest appearance from Alex Lifeson (guitarist/songwriter of Rush fame), it’s a bold statement from a long standing and hugely influential band. So let’s do some science things with this Californian quartet.

Straight off the bat, “Intelligent Worship” kicks in with that trademark Fu Manchu sound which heavily revolves around fuzz, wah and punchy rhythmic groove. The typically hazy, memorable and seemingly evergreen vocal delivery of founding member Scott Hill catches your attention with its subtle attitude and helps keep your interest whilst the rest of the band does what they do best-hammer away with a well refined tone and display of rhythmic prowess. It’s a great way to open the album and a sure-fire way to keep you hooked! Shifting on, “(I’ve Been) Hexed” takes the sound into slightly darker territories with a strange pseudo-Sabbathian edge to the guitars, something which consistently rears its head throughout the album, and the heavier edge which is present works really well – adding touches of moodiness to the atmosphere of the tracks and making things that little bit more captivating.

“Don’t Panic” rolls back the years to the late 90’s/early 2000’s Fu Manchu sound with its high octane pace, biting tone and ass-kicking bite to the rhythmic undercurrent which brings back memories of their approach on ‘The Action Is Go’ and ‘California Crossing’ albums. Slick lead guitar lines are delivered with ease and at times you’d be forgiven for confusing this song for something that Truckfighters may have come up with! “Slower Than Light” is a complete 180 in comparison- the slow and murky approach comes back again and the dynamics which develop from the clever use of effects like phaser, flanger and wah work great under these conditions. The vocal delivery shifting from hazy and tame to attitude laden and attention grabbing, along with the rather weighty guitar and bass tone in the chorus and the wild paced section prior to the finish of the track make this a rather captivating track and the following number “Nowhere Left To Hide” continues on in a similar manner, making for an effective duo of tracks, especially in how the Sabbathian edge to the tracks continues, demanding more headbanging than you may have previously done so far whilst listening to this release.

Title track “Clone Of The Universe” plays well with the progressive elements the band have slipped in. The tight rhythmic control from the drums as they effortlessly slip through time signature changes is a joy to listen to and the hazy vocals when combined with this display of drumming make for a very hypnotic feeling track, paving the way for the centrepiece and closing track of the album; “Il Mostro Atomico”. Translated from Italian, this track, titled “The Atomic Monster” is exactly that – a nuclear explosion of monstrous proportions which has a blast yield which can only be measured in gratuitous riffery and fuzzy goodness and a fallout which you’ll be feeling for a full 18 minutes. With Rush legend Alex Lifeson lending his talents to this track, it’s an ambitious effort as it pretty much makes up half the album’s total duration and the way it comes off like a jam, but at the same time carries that underlying feel of total control, premeditation and organisation makes it superb to listen to. The superb riffs, excellent tone and expression musically, intricate and captivating rhythmic displays and the fact that this predominantly instrumental monster of a track manages to hold your attention for the full duration, a feat many bands have difficulty in achieving.

For me, this is easily the best album that Fu Manchu have put out since 2001’s ‘California Crossing’. It’s got the familiar and recognisable elements to the Fu Manchu sound which we have all grown accustomed to over the years and it also has enough variety and expression in it to show how it feels totally fresh whilst feeling so familiar. It’s a solid release and a great way to start off what looks to be an interesting year in stoner rock.

(9/10 Fraggle)