Review: Fu Manchu ‘The Return Of Tomorrow’

Any discussion of the origins of the genre of rock and roll and heavy metal that’s come to be known as ‘stoner rock’ or ‘desert rock’ is incomplete without an entire chapter on San Clemente, California’s riff-wielding, fuzz-lords Fu Manchu. They, along with bands like Kyuss, Sleep, and Monster Magnet practically invented the genre in the early 1990s as these bands were running parallel with, and in many cases influenced by, the grunge scene that was predominantly emerging out of the Pacific Northwest.

Fu Manchu 'The Return Of Tomorrow' Artwork
Fu Manchu ‘The Return Of Tomorrow’ Artwork

In the roughly thirty years since, Fu Manchu have gone on to become an institution of the genre, with albums like 1996’s In Search Of…, and 1997’s The Action Is Go becoming stone-cold classics of the genre, while later, post-millennium albums like 2001’s California Crossing, 2014’s Gigantoid and 2018’s Clone Of The Universe were all worthy additions to the Fu’s mighty discography.

As founder/vocalist/guitarist Scott Hill, lead guitarist Bob Balch, bassist Brad Davis, and drummer Scott Reeder (not to be confused with Kyuss and The Obsessed southpaw bassist of the same name) continued to push the band forward, while staying true to the band’s iconic sound. Now, after a thirty-year anniversary celebration that was mostly interrupted by the Covid pandemic, Fu Manchu have released their long-awaited new album, The Return Of Tomorrow, on their own label, At The Dojo Records.

The Return of Tomorrow The album is Fu Manchu’s first double album and was described in the press, as one half being the heavy, fuzzed-out riffing we’ve all come to expect from the band, and the other being a ‘mellower’ side, which to me, was open to interpretation. Are we getting some sun-going-down-over-the-Pacific Ocean acoustic beach jams, or something closer to Fu Manchu’s chiller moments like The Bargain, off the aforementioned In Search Of…?  Well, they are not quite ready to go the acoustic route, nor does the new album necessarily play out as a half-and-half situation, as all the songs are sequenced together fluidly, despite any change in sound.

Right off the bat, we get three modern fuzzed-up bangers as opener Dehumanize is as heavy, fuzzy, and driving as anything in the band’s celebrated discography. And, like an old friend that we haven’t seen in a long time, Hills vocals, along with his and Balch’s guitars and the potent rhythm section of Davis and Reeder, are instantly both welcoming and familiar.

Loch Ness Wrecking Machine is an instant classic, recalling Over The Edge off King Of The Road. Hill’s insanely catchy chorus and delivery, coupled with the massive riffing and Balch’s laid back, yet powerful shredding, to say nothing of the chest-rumbling low-end, had me routinely hitting ‘repeat’ as I was absorbing the album. Frankly, I’d be shocked if Loch Ness Wrecking Machine isn’t a live staple for years to come.

First single, Hands Of The Zodiac is another totally addictive, massive-riff, pounder with an immediately memorable, earworm chorus, and all sorts of wicked shred throughout. What struck me three songs in, is just how heavy, and massive Fu Manchu sound here, and it’s not like this is some new phenomenon, as they always sound massive, but something about these tracks are just so crushing, and so urgent sounding.

The Return Of Tomorrow is a phenomenal record front to back, with not a mediocre track to be found, and the mellower songs fit seamlessly into the flow of the album…

Haze The Hides gets its start with some earth-shaking bass, before they collectively drop into a mid-tempo, heavy-as-fuck, crushing and crawling monster that flows out of your speakers like lava out of a volcano. Roads Of The Lonely begins as a straight-up, Fu-basher, but descends into a breakdown that is some of the heaviest, most crushing riffage in the band’s long career. (Time Is) Pulling You Under is a fuzzy, hardcore-tinged ripper, that features Balch unleashing some blazing, Scorpions-era, Uli Jon Roth style-shred, while Destroyin’ Light is an immense, mid-tempo Fu-slammer.

Lifetime Waiting could be seen as the first of the mellower tracks, as it’s a smooth, flowing number, with Hill’s So Cal drawl prominent, as is Balch’s tasteful, not-as-fuzzy shred throughout. Meanwhile, Solar Baptized begins with some killer bass rumbling from Davis, before the song builds, rising and falling, spacey effects swirling, as the inevitable catchy Fu-chorus burrows its way into the lister’s consciousness. It also recalls long-form spaced-out Fu Manchu epics like Saturn lll and The Falcon Has Landed. Of note are the guitar tones, as, while heavy, they are not nearly as fuzzy as we’ve come to expect from them, and thus it gives the song a killer, slightly different dynamic.

Next up, we have what has turned out to be my favorite track on the album, and what will undoubtedly go down as one of the band’s best, most unique songs – the spaced-out and somber What I Need. This track is unlike anything in their back catalog and is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. The dreamy, emotional breakdown at the end featuring all sorts of amazing, clean, lead work while Hill whispers ‘What I Need’ is such a killer outro, and it works so well in the context of the album, and who they are as a band.

As we hit the home stretch, we arrive at the title track, The Return Of Tomorrow, and, while I wouldn’t necessarily qualify this as ‘mellow’, the guitar tone and rollicking good time vibes certainly are in contrast with the first half of the album. The penultimate Liquify displays this vibe as well – a guitar thick, rolling, borderline funk jam, with an unstoppable 70’s-style main riff, has me calling back to the energy of Eatin’ Dust and California Crossing’s Mongoose. Closer, High Tide is where we get mellow. A killer, staring-at-the-sun-setting-over-the-Pacific Ocean instrumental, wherein all four musicians really shine, with Balch’s melodious, spaced-out, jazzy noodling recalling his guitar playing in both his Big Scenic Nowhere and Yawning Balch projects.

The Return Of Tomorrow is a phenomenal record front to back, with not a mediocre track to be found, and the mellower songs fit seamlessly into the flow of the album, the listener hardly notices as it’s sequenced so deftly. As well, not surprisingly, all four musicians sound fantastic. It goes without saying that Bob Balch is one of the best, most diverse guitarists in all of rock and roll, he and Hill flow so well together, one would be hard pressed to find a better duo.

Speaking of Hill, his riffs, along with his vocal delivery, cadence and lyrics, this time around adding a touch more anxiety on the passing of time, something most of us can relate to post-pandemic, are among some of the best of his career. Fu Manchu’s secret weapon has always been the monster rhythm section of Davis and Reeder, and man, do they both shine here. The Return of Tomorrow is not only going to be in serious consideration for the best album of the year, it sits nicely next to the all-time Fu classics like The Action Is Go. It is that good, and as a fan for over two decades, I for one am really happy Fu Manchu are back. Enthusiastically recommended.

Label: At The Dojo Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Martin Williams