In addition to being an integral part of direct transportation, America’s highways are an overflowing source of adventure and good times. On its seventh full-length album, Southern California’s Fu Manchu explores related themes of the road with fuzz-in-your-face, hard-hitting rock and roll. Driven by thick guitar riffs weighted with distortion, chords resonating seemingly through infinity, pounding rhythms, and passionate vocals ranging from spoken to screamed, Fu Manchu’s sound is as innovative as that of Nirvana on 1989’s Bleach.
The record gets off to an asphalt-blazing start with “Hell On Wheels,” an up-tempo rocker fueled with reverb-soaked guitar. Captivating vocals bring to mind (fittingly) Drive Like Jehu as speedy, high-pitched guitar notes accentuate the joy of the ride. Setting the stage for the journey, frontman Scott Hill authoritatively barks, We know of the master plan, so put the keys in my hand.
On much of the record, listeners will hear ’70s metal influences. Offering a nonchalant recognition of the cool comfort that oozes from the band’s preferred mode of transport, “Boogie Van” features guitars filled with swampy character once heard from ZZ Top circa 1973. In the context of the song, the instruments very nearly simulate the smooth purr of a well-tuned engine. Celebrating the individuality of a particularly freakish rambler, “Weird Beard” features that ’70s-style guitar wail, elaborating on descriptions of this traveler with odd facial hair — another ZZ Top homage?
Echoes of more contemporary rockers also shine through Fu Manchu’s metal haze. In “Blue Tile Fever,” light riffs suddenly build into the chorus’ full combination of bulky guitar and vocals, creating an intensity that brings to mind Sonic Youth. Though not at all industrial, the staccato forcefulness in the hook of the up-tempo rocker “Drive” is reminiscent of Ministry’s “Thieves.”
Fans of heavy music with a taste for highway adventure will likely take King of the Road for multiple spins. Rocking rhythms are laid out like smooth stretches of freeway under zooming melodies, appealing lyrics, and syncopated screams to offer listeners a pleasurable escape from remaining idle.