Slower. As the name implies, this band is all about the doom. However, this is doom with a twist. Bringing together members of Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Kylesa, Year of The Cobra and others, the performers are famous in their own right, but nowhere near as famous as Slower’s choice of material. This debut album features five Slayer classics, each one drastically reimagined as a timeless doom/sludge piece; five numbers that end up invariably sounding like more like Acid King than Kerry King. It seems inconceivable that speed driven bangers that sound tracked a generation’s metallic apocalypse could take on the stance of Electric Wizard and Witch Mountain, but behind their comical name, Slower have made such things a striking reality.
The best of their five chosen numbers, ‘War Ensemble’ is used as a very effective kick off, since the original track’s sharp as hell intro remains sharp, but in a very different way. Its brutal assault now sounds like a natural part of the Kyuss/Electric Wizard world, whilst the verse’s main riff adopts a pure sludge that really brings out the ultimate in heaviness. Tempered by a lead guitar sound that trades in the shredding for a Sabbath-esque warmth, Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch appears to be in his element, and by adding a strange, almost deep psych tone to a couple of the featured solos, his playing takes Jeff Hanneman’s power into a very different place, becoming very enjoyable in a totally different way. It’s great how the band have chosen to balance the brutal doom with a very melodic vocal, where shared harmonies between Kylesa’s Laura Pleasants and Year of The Cobra’s Amy Barrysmith add a haunting aspect. This sounds especially cool when drenched in light, phased effects giving an almost spacey echo that takes the once familiar thrasher even further into a world that’s distinctly of Slower’s own, twisted imagination. Dragged mercilessly over ten minutes, this is the ultimate intro to an all star band who very clearly do not feel that Slayer should be considered one of metal’s sacred cows. This, in short, is brilliant. It’s doom/sludge played with such an effect that the arrangement would still stand on its own, without any connection to the past.
‘Blood Red’ takes even more of a distinctive route by opening with a combination of crashing drums and devastatingly sludgy guitars. Moving into the main riff, the twin lead melody sounds superb when approached as if it were a tribute to the doomier elements of Black Sabbath. That might be enough to win over various fans, but the vocals on this number are the real jewel in the crown. Presenting a mix of dual vocals exploring a gothic melody and a cleaner, lighter solo voice soaring over the chorus gives the slow workout some necessary variety, but a wordless harmony creating a blanket of sound elevates something quite familiar into the realms of other-worldly. With the inclusion of strange and sometimes atonal lead guitar work supplying a superb solo, the slower ‘Blood Red’ is a dark and ominous treat.
Dipping even further back into Slayer’s past, ‘The Antichrist’ now resembles the ultimate in funeral doom. Its opening descending riff is perfect for the sludgy approach; the mid to slow tempo really brings out the ominous qualities within its dark melody, and the swampy groove through the verse (more of Slower’s own hand) is a great fit for another round of echoed harmonies and thunderous toms courtesy of a very solid drum arrangement. Again, the doomy and gothic wasn’t always obvious in Slayer’s hands, but in twisting this into something that sounds like an extension of the Kabbalah universe, it sounds like a perfectly pitched genre classic. There’s a further twist when the sludge gives way to a very slow blues, showing how these musicians often value strong melodies too, and Balch’s lead work has a real fiery quality that offsets the slow riffs in the most perfect way.
Already being one of Slayer’s slower workouts, ‘Dead Skin Mask’ works perfectly as a sludge metal tour de force, and the oppressive tempo really brings out the best in both an absolutely devastating guitar sound and haunting vocals. The voice on the verse croaks ominously against a wall of muted bass drums; the main vocal refrain delivers echoing scariness with a blackened folk undercurrent, and between them, they create a whole canvas of darkness, whilst the guitar riffs continue to crush everything in their path. The bass is so distorted it actually makes the recording sound faulty, which actually becomes another brilliant facet in Slower’s arsenal of funereal sludge. If you’re still entertained by Slower at this point, this will become a favourite recording.‘South of Heaven’, by contrast, works far less well. The distinctive doom riff that opens the number sounds very strong when played with more force – as you’d expect – and the return of the muted, cymbal-less drum sound reinforces the pure darkness that’s gradually unfolding in Slower’s moody world. With a solid riff in place, applying a neo-gothic vocal is a no-brainer, and Amy and Laura lift the sludge perfectly. Somehow, though, this musical collective’s best efforts fail to make this anywhere near as distinctive – or as much fun, relatively speaking – as their other “slower” picks. If not for a brilliantly played solo or two, absolutely mangled with effects, ‘South of Heaven’ probably wouldn’t have stretched beyond being dull doom/sludge by numbers. That said, if played in isolation, away from the rest of the album it works so much better. There’s less chance of listener burn-out, and that allows for more of a chance to focus upon a fine, moody vocal, but it’s still Slower’s weak link.
These are all old favourites, but heard in a way you’ve never imagined before. At it’s best, this album shares some of the best doom since Witch Mountain released their self-titled disc in 2018. Whether “slower” works as a concept in the long term is certainly debatable, especially since half of Slayer’s power came from their relentless speed, but approached on their own merits, most of these performances are surprisingly enjoyable. Delivering the slower and slower still, this band’s commitment to the concept is certainly admirable, and their overall tone is brilliant. Even with ‘South of Heaven’ missing the mark, the musical talents gathered make ‘Slower’ (the album) far greater than the pure novelty it could’ve been.
December 2023/January 2014