Rush weren’t the first band to fill an entire album side with a single epic track, but grand, suite-like works such as 1976’s “2112” and 1978’s “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” helped make them legends of long-form prog. So it makes sense that after retro-minded SoCal hard rockers Fu Manchu recorded “Il Mostro Atomico” – an 18-minute song set for their new LP, Clone of the Universe – they invited Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson to appear on the track. The full song premieres here in advance of the album’s Friday release.
According to a Revolver interview with Fu Manchu guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill, the band’s manager was the one who brokered the collaboration. Rather than simply playing a guest solo, Lifeson recorded a wealth of material for the band to pick and choose from. “He sent us back a bunch of stuff and it all sounded insane,” Hill said.
Lifeson’s contributions can be heard in the first half of “Il Mostro Atomico.” The song (whose Italian title translates to “The Atomic Monster”) starts out with one of the band’s signature bottom-heavy, fuzzed-out grooves. At the 3:58 mark, Lifeson plays a loose, bluesy riff over a hypnotic pattern from Fu Manchu bassist Brad Davis and drummer Scott Reeder. Around 4:15, the Rush guitarist adds adds some tasteful effects, giving his part a spacey, echo-y sound. As the rhythm section drops out, the riff continues to mutate, leading into a trippy ambient swell around 5:10. The full band kicks in around 5:53, and Fu Manchu’s lead guitarist, Bob Balch, takes over with a fluid psychedelic solo. From there, the mostly instrumental song moves on through various sections, touching on boogie-friendly psych (listen for a Lifeson pick scrape at 7:04; a couple minutes later, Hill enters on vocals, howling “Light the throttle”); space rock bathed in synth-like guitars; and a dubby, percussion-accented breakdown.
“‘Il Mostro Atomico’ came out of many riffs that we were bringing to practice after we had 14 songs already written for our new record Clone of the Universe,” Hill tells Rolling Stone. “We usually like to have 10 songs for a full record. Instead of writing complete songs for all the newer riffs, we had we decided to keep the best riffs and put them together for one big song. I thought it would be cool to do one long song and have it be the entire Side 2 of our record. … We recorded the full song in one take.
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“Then we got word that Alex Lifeson agreed to play some guitar on the song: holy shit,” he continues. “We sent him the song and said to play whatever/wherever he wanted to. He sent back the song with awesome riffs, sci-fi effects and even some pick slides. He made the song 10,000,000 times cooler.”
“In the summer of 2017, I was approached by the band to add some guitar to the tracks they’d already recorded for ‘Il Mostro,'” Lifeson tells RS. “I’d known of Fu Manchu for many years and thought that it would be a fun project to work on, as I typically come from another guitar direction and welcomed the challenge to do something a little different. The track was already quite dense with a riffy guitar presence and it forced me to think in terms of rhythm, ambience and edge. I really had a lot of fun and my only regret is I had a few other conflicting projects that didn’t allow me the time to spend on filling in more space.”
Clone of the Universe, Fu Manchu’s 12th album, is out Friday. The band plays two California dates on Friday and Saturday before heading to Europe in March, and then back to the U.S. in May.
Rush played their last show to date in August of 2015. In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Lifeson implied that the band was winding down. “It’s been a little over two years since Rush last toured,” the guitarist said. “We have no plans to tour or record any more. We’re basically done. After 41 years, we felt it was enough.”