Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch creates a War Ensemble of musicians with doom / Slayer supergroup Slower.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | Heavy Psych Sounds Records | Bandcamp | Instagram | Spotify

At the risk of having my metal-head card pulled, I have to admit from the top of this review that I’m not a Slayer fan.

Now, before you carve their logo into my forehead like you’re Aldo Raine, allow me to elaborate. I absolutely understand their appeal, totally respect their journey, and moreover am grateful for the contributions to the broader music scene that I love so much that they made throughout their 38-year career. Hell, I’ve seen them live twice, once in 2001, and then again eighteen years later on one of their last shows in Australia. Along with much of the global extended metal family, I mourned the loss of Jeff Hanneman in 2013, and poured one out when the band announced that they were throwing their final pair of horns back in 2019. But, at the end of the day…they’re just not quite my tempo. Metallica is as close as I get to liking the ‘big four’ of thrash, as they were my metal gateway drug, and while I will always have a soft spot for their first five albums, I’ve long since moved on to slower pastures.

Which brings us to, well, Slower.

While teaching one of his guitar students “South of Heaven”, Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch slowed the track down for the beginner, and thought it sounded cool. He tuned it down further to B standard and added some drums, and over the following four years reached out to Esben Willems of Monolord, before the pair began to recruit additional members. Truly the pedigree in this supergroup-of-sorts is staggering; the project also consists of vocalists Amy Barrysmith of Year Of The Cobra and Laura Pleasants of Kylesa, and bassists Peder Bergstrand of Lowrider and Scott Reeder of Kyuss (not to be confused with Scott Reeder of Fu Manchu). All tracks presented here feature Balch, Barrysmith, Bergstrand, and Willems, with the exception of “South Of Heaven”, which swaps in Pleasents and Reeder in place of Barrysmith and Bergstrand respectively. Three of the tracks come from Seasons In The Abyss, and one a piece come from Show No Mercy and the aforementioned South Of Heaven.

Now, the question you’re probably skimming this review to have answered is, ‘how does this rate as a Slayer covers album?’, and as mentioned above, I can’t answer that as a fan. I don’t have history with these songs, I’m not familiar with every note and every beat on a muscle-memory level. From the time I spent with the album as well as the original versions of the songs, yes, they are covers in the traditional sense, not like the other slowed-down thrash cover I’m familiar with, in SUNN O)))‘s version of “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. So, the question I will instead be answering is ‘how does this rate as a doom supergroup album that just so happens to be playing Slayer songs?‘ Short answer is, it’s fucking good.

Before referring back to the original version of “War Ensemble”, you can feel that the opening track here would work played at a million miles per hour; even a non-Slayer fan like me can hear and feel them in the bones of the song. But, as opposed to being pulled along at breakneck speed as in the original, slowing down the song has an interesting effect; in tandem with Barrysmith’s beguiling vocals, it gives the song an almost hypnotic quality. Fear not, thrash fans, as the solos are still present and accounted for, and pleasingly, work well to pull the listener from reverie for a moment, before the spell resumes.

Already I’m on board for this album. Not only the appeal of the concept itself, and the love and respect it represents, not only the talent involved in its creation, but the end result is almost clinically developed to appeal to me. In a brief aside, there were a few moments when I first listened to the album that I was reminded of one of my favourite local acts, DAWN. Sadly now defunct, the quartet were similarly a female-fronted hypnotic doom band with a massive, heavy sound.

When listening to the originals, “The Antichrist” stands out, being recorded almost a decade prior to the majority of the songs on the mother album from which the bulk of Slower‘s content originates. It sounds so quintessentially 80’s thrash, that slowing it down gives the beginning of the track a sense of being on industrial-grade horse tranquilizers – and no, this is not a bad thing. Here, the cover dovetails perfectly with the other four tracks, much as I imagine Slayer playing it live would have it feel no different to the rest of their more modern catalogue.

“Dead Skin Mask” and “South Of Heaven” are probably the slowest songs out of the originals (though admittedly, that’s like saying “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” is one of SUNN O)))‘s fastest songs), but again, Slower craft their versions to give the album a sense of cohesion; even the latter track, which features Pleasents on vocals. The change in singers on this song doesn’t make it stick out, but the change is distinct enough to make the closing track unique without breaking any sense of continuity. The breakneck opening of “Blood Red” becomes a swampy dirge, similarly the main riff surrounds the listener like a fog.

After reviewing AGLO‘s Build Fear last month, it made me smile to hear some cowbell in my sludge / doom again in “Dead Skin Mask”. And at the tail end of “South Of Heaven”, if I’m not mistaken, I heard some cheeky drums not present in the original version, that sound as if they’re about to lead into “Raining Blood”. What a tease!

So, how does this rate as a doom supergroup album that just so happens to be playing Slayer songs? Hypnotic, heavy, low, slow, and thoroughly enjoyable. There is more than enough here to cater to both fans of Slayer, as well as purveyors of stoner, sludge, and doom, or even those enamoured with the idea of transposing one of the biggest metal bands in a specific genre into another one. All in all, Slower is a lovingly doomy tribute to Slayer and a testament to the mark they continue to make on metalheads around the globe, crafted by some of stoner, doom, and sludge’s finest musicians working today. The only question left is, will a follow-up album happen, and if so, will it be more Slayer, or one of the other ‘big four’?

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