The Debate Rages: Fu Manchu’s King of the Road vs. Nebula’s To the Center

Not to overstate it, but these are two of the best stoner rock records ever.

Both released in 1999, they’re of an era where those who played it were still cool with being called “stoner rock bands.” The genre hadn’t yet exhausted its commercial reach, and though Kyuss had already been finished a few years, Monster Magnet had hit it big with “Space Lord” only the year before, so mainstream success was still regarded as a possibility for that which was fuzzed and riffy.

Nebula and Fu Manchu. You couldn’t have one without the other — literally. Guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano split from Fu Manchu after the release of 1996’s In Search Of… and would go on to form Nebula with bassist Mark Abshire (also formerly of the Fu), releasing their first EP, Let it Burn, in 1998. Just a year later, their first full-length, To the Center, became one of the most blissed-out desert rock albums ever, striking a landmark balance between trippy indulgences and memorable hooks. In many ways, it has never been matched.

Meanwhile, Fu Manchu guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill and bassist Brad Davis joined forces with guitarist Bob Balch and drummer Brant Bjork (ex-Kyuss) to issue The Action is Go in 1997. A work of absolute stoner/surfer glory, it set a bar for tone so high that bands today still try to capture the same magic (and usually don’t). The subsequent studio outing from the same lineup was 1999’s King of the Road, on which Fu Manchu further refined their process to a perfect balance of heaviness and pop appeal, inciting many landmark choruses on tracks like “Boogie Van” and “Hell on Wheels.”

Of all the “The Debate Rages” posts so far, I’m most interested to find out how people feel about this one, as it really doesn’t feel that cut and dry to me. Whatever either of these bands has done since (both discographies have their ups and downs), there’s no denying both these records are masterpieces that have helped define what we think of as stoner rock today.

But that said, the point is to have fun with it, so please, leave a comment and let’s have some fun. Thanks in advance.

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26 Responses to “The Debate Rages: Fu Manchu’s King of the Road vs. Nebula’s To the Center

  1. Skillit says:

    King of the Road!

  2. FatsoForgotso says:

    King of the Road.

  3. C. says:

    King of the Road is one the most thematically perfect and consistent records ever made.

  4. Joe Wood says:

    I say King Of The Road… And only because To The Center has 2 dead spots: ‘I Need Somebody’ and ‘So Low’ . I’ll sometimes find myself hitting the button for the next track.
    King Of The Road, no dead spots… This cd gets blasted throughout, even the Devo cover!

  5. Vivek says:

    King of the road. Because, and I’m biased it’s true, as much as I love stoner, this band came way before for me and I’ve always considered them more of a warped punk band, so much more hi octane than most of the rest, and on this album by god did they get it right. The build up to king of the road, again to grasschopper, and the balls out blast of hotdoggin, it’s the absolute perfection of pop, seventies riffage, California sun and punk, and nothing sounds quite as good blasting out of a speeding car.

  6. vivek says:

    not to get off track, but god love daredevil, and the action is go still reigns supreme.

  7. Sean says:

    To The Center is a trippy masterwork of rock, but King of the Road has the edge for me. First Fu I ever bought and I never looked back.

  8. Andy Samford says:

    In Search Of is better than either of them, but I’ll pick To The Center. For me, Fu Manchu peaked with In Search of and The Action Is Go and King Of The Road was actually a disappointment to me and was the last Fu album I bought. (i’ve listened to everything they’ve done since, but nothing has connected with me…)

    it probably didn’t help that I met Eddie & Ruben many times and they were always beyond super cool and when I met the Fu Manchu guys (while they were promoting King Of The Road) they were unfriendly and stand-off ish. Maybe the whole band was having a bad day. Scott seems like a cool dude on his facebook page, so what do I know… but they were all dicks the day I met them. :-)

    so, yeah… To The Center… I have it on vinyl… probably Nebula’s best album, though I’m a big fan of the one Chris Goss produced as well, Atomic Ritual, so it’s probably a toss-up.

    but I’m weird.

  9. Dragonaut says:

    To The Center, not my favorite but a good record. King Of The Road kind of sucks

    For me Fu Manchu is Action Is Go and In Search Of…

  10. Matty says:

    To The Centre for me. As much as I love the Fu, King of the Road was a tep doen from the previous two and To the Centre hit the spot at the time.

  11. Bill Goodman says:

    King of the Road by a slight margin. The intro on “Hell on Wheels” is the clincher.

  12. Aris says:

    I say To the center, but just because was the first “stoner rock” album i’ve ever listened. King of the road is the highest pick of the new Fu reincarnation. But…what happened to this band? I guess is because of the transparent Hill’s guitar since California crossing, pretty low band in the last three albums, i miss the ’90 sound of those daredevils…

  13. Kennedy Space Centre says:

    I love Eddie Glass’s guitar work. It’s much more cerebral and indulgent than the Fu’s Bob Balch and Scot Hill. I think that the Fu’s are heavier, and they don’t get much heavier than King of the Road. That track is a MONSTER! King of the Road, the album, is the winner for me, but they are both KILLER albums…

  14. Sourgrain says:

    To the Center…. psychedelic heavy blues …. not one bad song in my opinion…. even dig the Stooges cover.

  15. Woody says:

    First Cactus tape.

  16. Dr Space says:

    I really like both records but I have to go with the more psychedelic To the Center. This one really blew me away when I heard it, while the FuManchu was a disappointment at first but I like it much more now..

  17. Reefer says:


  18. Paulg says:

    Fu Manchu any day.

  19. romilar says:

    King of the road for the rest of this and next life!

  20. dafe says:

    To The Center!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  21. bossman says:

    king of the road says you’re moving to slow!

  22. Ryno says:

    “King of the Road” is only highly praised by people who got into the Fu later in the game. Kinda like the “Black Album” thing. No offense, JJ. It’s arguable that it’s one of the Fu’s most popular albums. But there is no way it even holds a candle to “In Search Of” or “Action is Go”. And it’s definitely not one of the best stoner rock records ever. I know you said that to have a good conversation going on here, but when you make a statement with any of the words: “best”, “stoner”, “rock”, or “ever”, there is a list that is miles longer than the road that the aforementioned King traveled along.

    “To the Center” was Eddie and Ruben’s first “major” statement. And it was a good one. There is swing and soul and psychedelic goodness throughout. It might be Eddie’s worst vocal performance, but the fucking guitars, drums, and huge basslines are undeniable. I’m a HUGE fan of the first two Neb EP’s and “Let it Burn”, which was like a couple of more first EP’s, but “To the Center” was, and is, a gem. “Atomic Ritual” is the only other album I regarded as highly and was my album of the year the year it was released.

    I miss those guys.

    Also, I think the last 3 Fu albums “Start the Machine”, “We must Obey” and “Signs of Infinite Power” are all killer records. Just not in the same dirty, fuzzed-out league as their 90’s output.

  23. Milk K. Harvey says:

    To the center truly fills my cup-

  24. sman says:

    I was a hard core Fu fan. I love everything they did up to Californication. Then they lost me. I don’t know what the hell they are puting out now, this new super aggro HC punk thing does nothing for me. But to each is his own! They are still great live.
    If you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said King of the Road, hands down.
    But lately I have developed a renewed love for Nebula. To the Center is a Masterpiece… Fine song writing and brilliant guitar work, front to back.
    No offense meant to Bob (he is a great guy, and a great player), but Eddie has much more soul to his playing.
    It is a shame that Nebula fell apart… everything went to shit when Ruben left. Hopefully Eddie can pull the band back together. It would be nice if they could do a 15 year anniversary tour of “To the Center” in a few years (like Fu Manchu is doing now).

  25. Friek says:

    For me it’s easily “King of the road” as the Nebs are too sloppy and were never able to get it down like the Fu.machine. “Hotdoggin'” alone burns the whole “center”.

    Fu Manchu FuReva!

  26. ArdenGalaxe says:

    A late afterburner…

    Listen to Cyclone Launch loud and then tell me what you think of King of the road. Ask any stoner that was in the game from the start and he will tell you the slick sound of King of the road is for pussies. When I first heard it, I never bought an album of FM again. Just like Monster Magnet after Dopes to infinity, their music got weak, it became mainstream.. Luckily Kyuss quit at the right moment.

    To the centre is a killer track, album…so so…

    Maybe the real question should be: Spine of God vs Welcome to Skyvalley?

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