Let me go ahead, before we get into the meat and potatoes of this review and say that I am an old school thrash fan, and being of a certain age, I was there from the beginning, so needless to say I’ve been a huge Slayer fan since I was about 15 years old. I had an old friend who was obsessed with them from the jump. He turned me onto Show No Mercy, and from there, many an hour was spent in my bedroom smoking shitty weed, playing air guitar and head-banging to Slayer.
I remember, pretty vividly despite the decades that have passed, buying Reign In Blood on vinyl when it dropped (I still have my OG Def Jam Records copy) and, like their original first wave thrash brethren, I’ve followed them ever since through the ups and downs, even as my tastes in heavy music has undergone many evolutions since my angst-ridden teen years.
So, with that background, I was super excited to hear about Slower, a project put together by Bob Balch of Fu Manchu, with the idea being doing Slayer songs but ‘slow and low’ doom metal style. I mean how can any fan of thrash, doom or stoner rock NOT be curious, if not excited by this idea? Joining Balch is Esben Willems, the man responsible for the pounding, marching drums of the mighty Monolord, Peder Bergstrand, bassist and graphic artist for Sweden’s first-wave stoner rock veterans Lowrider, legendary desert rock bassist Scott Reeder of Kyuss and The Obsessed, vocalist Laura Pleasants of much-missed, southern, psychedelic sludge-masters Kylesa and Amy Barrysmith vocalist of Seattle psych-doom duo Year Of The Cobra.
From the second I pressed ‘play’ I knew this was going to be a fun and unique sonic experience. Slower opens with War Ensemble and instantly the band’s mission statement is on vivid display. Balch’s guitar is completely heavy and fuzzed-out, and the thunder Willems and Bergstrand conjure can be felt through the speakers, while Barrysmith’s ghost-like ethereal vocals drift over the top of the rumble. The only way one would really know this is a Slayer cover is through the lyrics as the music is so heavy, so weighty, and the riffing slowed down to such a point from the original’s thrashing, the lyrics are the only thing connecting Slower’s version to the original.
The Antichrist follows and is just as fuzzed-out, rumbling and doomy as War Ensemble, again with only the lyrics giving the slightest of hints as to what the song is. Balch’s lead work during the middle breakdown is really cool and serves the song well, as does Willems familiar bashing. Any fan of Monolord will tell you Willems is one of the masters of the stomping, crash-and-bash style of doom metal drumming.
an awesome, heavy, crushing, fuzzed-out love letter to the legendary thrash icons…
Blood Red follows, and is a complete sonic beat down, slow-burn style, as one can practically feel the fuzz emanating from Balch’s guitar, to say nothing of the thunderous pummel from Willems along with the earth-shaking rumble of Bergstrand. Balch, not surprisingly, serves up some wicked lead work, but the real highlight are the vocals of Barrysmith as her voice is the perfect counterweight to her bandmate’s heft.
Slower then proceeds to pound the shit out of Dead Skin Mask, which one can discern the opening notes if they’re still completely doom heavy and fuzzed out. Balch’s main riff is heavy enough to demolish a brick wall, as is Willems bash and crash but again Barrysmith’s vocals are the perfect complement to the sonic mass proffered by the rest of the band.
The album closes with South Of Heaven, and again one can discern the notes through the wall of fuzz enough to know exactly what song they’re covering. Slower take Slayer’s all-time doom-thrash classic, and make it even heavier, something this reviewer wouldn’t have thought possible.
Part of that is due to Reeder’s appearance, as his familiar, south-paw rumble is running neck-and-neck with Balch’s fuzz. The two had previously worked together with their Sun And Sail Club project, so they obviously know how to complement each other’s sound. Pleasants takes her turn on the mic here, and her voice, as on the proceeding tracks with Barrysmith, serves as a perfect equalizer and compliment to the crushing weight of the music.
As I was absorbing Slower, I wound up making a playlist with the Slower versions followed immediately by Slayer’s originals to compare and contrast the sonics, and in that context, it really is jaw-dropping what Slower have achieved, because once again, who would’ve thought Slayer songs could be made even heavier, but here we are. There’s definite Monolord vibes throughout the album, not surprising with Willems in the fold, but more so than Fu Manchu or any of the other musicians’ main bands, but I suppose if we’re gonna do fuzzed-out doom takes of Slayer songs, Monolord is as good of a blueprint as any.
As well, Slower’s choice of songs were interesting, as three of the five tracks are from Season In The Abyss, with both Blood Red and Dead Skin Mask being ‘slower’ Slayer tracks in the first place. It would’ve been cool to hear them take on some of the face-rippers from Reign In Blood and slow those burners down to doom levels, but perhaps we’ll see some of that in the future as this project certainly warrants a return visit. Slower is an awesome, heavy, crushing, fuzzed-out love letter to the legendary thrash icons. Highly recommended.
Scribed by: Martin Williams