Founded in 1985 – with their debut LP, No One Rides for Free, arriving about a decade later Fu Manchu are one of stoner rock’s most celebrated flagbearers.

Miraculously, they were able to keep their momentum and quality going strong up until their last release, 2018’s Clone of the Universe. For various reasons, it took until now for their full-length follow-up (the aptly titled The Return of Tomorrow) to arrive. Thankfully, though, it finds the legendary quartet in top form, as they dish out plenty of engrossing sundried rockers (and even some softer pieces) to reaffirm their genre hegemony.

Still comprised of bassist Brad Davis, vocalist/guitarist Scott Hill, guitarist Bob Balch, and drummer Scott Reeder, Fu Manchu pushed themselves to try something new on The Return of Tomorrow by making it their first double album. As Hill previously explained:

“When I listen to music, it’s either all heavy stuff with no mellow stuff mixed in or just softer stuff with no heavy stuff. I know a lot of bands like to mix it up and we have done that before, but I always tend to listen to all of one type of thing or the other. So, I figured we should do a double record with 7 heavy fuzzy songs on one record and the other record 6 mellow(er) songs, fully realizing that maybe I’m the only person that likes to listen to stuff that way. We kept both the records to around 25-30 minutes each as to make it a full-length release, but not have each record be too long. We don’t write a lot of mellow(er) stuff in Fu Manchu, but a lot of the riffs worked minus the fuzz.”

To his point, the split works incredibly well to give each side of the quartet’s artistry its own dedicated spotlight.

Given what the group’s primarily known for, it’s important that the album nails its “heavy fuzz songs,” and for the most part, it does. Despite evoking what’s likely their most famous track (“Evil Eye“) too closely, the hectic as hell riffs and rhythms of opener “Dehumanize” are undeniably catchy and fun. Likewise, “Loch Ness Wrecking Machine” is sparser yet also irresistibly anthemic, with an obviously killer guitar solo thrown in, whereas “(Time Is) Pulling You Under” is laudably complex and unpredictable. Even the rather straightforward and less interesting “Hands of the Zodiac” and “Roads of the Lowly” are still feisty enough to satisfy.

The relatively mellower second half of the LP is arguably more engaging due to its variety and freshness. Specifically, the timbres and effects on “Solar Baptized” are enticingly sludgy and psychedelic, and it flows at a calmingly leisurely pace. Later, “What I Need” features a gorgeously gentle instrumental detour halfway in, just as soothing closer “High Tide” is essentially a spacey (and somewhat jazzy) jam not unlike the ‘70s output of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, The Grateful Dead, and Camel.

The Return of Tomorrow would be a consistently thrilling and commendable record for any stoner rock ensemble, let alone one that’s been going for several decades. It’s certainly not revolutionary – and there are some lesser tracks thrown in, for sure – but it sees Fu Manchu doing what they do best about as well as they ever have. Dividing the sequence into two stylistic halves was a smart and effective move, too, even if there’s more overlap than Fu Manchu intended. Thus, it’s a very welcome return and a great indication of how much fuel Fu Manchu still have in their tank.

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