Slower by Slower

Release date: January 26, 2024
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds

There will be some Slayer fans who, on hearing the beginning riff of opening track ‘War Ensemble’ stretched out from a RSI-inducing blitz-riff to a crunching stoner gait, will say: “What the f**k, man, this doesn’t even f**king sound like f**kin’ Slayer”. Speed metal fans can be profane.

But that is kind of the point of this exercise. It is a trans-Atlantic supergroup brought together to not only slow Slayer songs down but to reimagine them as songs in an entirely different genre.

If we wanted the same shrill Tom Araya barks and Kerry King guitar squeals but more sedate, we’d just buy a vinyl copy of our favourite records and find one of those old players that has a 16rpm speed (I used to have one as a kid – it made Elvis sound like cross between Lux Interior and Chris Barnes).

This all started with Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch, who had a guitar student come to him wanting to play Slayer’s ‘South Of Heaven’ (ironically one of the band’s slower songs), and dialling back the speed to match their ability. He thought it sounded cool and a seed was planted.

Then Esben Willems of Monolord got interested. And hey presto, a driving stoner-doom drum track played by a man wielding a pair of railway sleepers. Then Peder Bergstrand, the bass player of Lowrider, was recruited. So we had a gut-rumbling low end. And Amy Tung Barrysmith from the punk-inflected doom duo Year Of The Cobra was added on vocals – as was Laura Pleasants of the much missed sludge/stoner/unclear subgenre band Kylesa for one track, ‘South Of Heaven’. And if you needed proof that they can sing the house down, they both tease melodies out of old Slayer songs. Even Slayer didn’t manage that, not even in their nu-metal phase. Oh, Scott Reeder from Kyuss also pops up on bass, on one track.

The production sounds like it was handled by Willems at Studio Beserk, if Balch’s guitar sound is anything to go on – it has the familiar heft and crunch of Monolord’s Tomas Jager.

And it all sounds amazing. It is worth pointing out that all the song choices are from Slayer’s “hipster” releases (Ha! As if Slayer fans are hipsters!) and none come from the 28 Minutes That Changed Everything, Reign in Blood. Which is fine. Although we wait in hope for a big-couch version of ‘Criminally Insane’.

Three songs come from Seasons in the Abyss, one from Show No Mercy (the one which they sound a 1991 thrash band, but it was released in 1983) and the title track from South of Heaven. Five songs may not sound like much – but if you were to put the original tracks together, they’d barely make 20 minutes. Here the whole thing nudges 40. See? There are advantages to going slower.

And as mentioned above, it takes a few listens to discern whether these are in fact songs spawned by Los Angeles’s favourite Trump-supporting Big-Four speed metal act. The martial opening riff to the original version of ‘Blood Red’ – one of the Seasons songs – is mellowed down to a thick Electric Wizard number – and Barrysmith’s rendering of lyrics like “You can’t hide the face of death, Oppression ruled by bloodshed” into a genuine singalong chorus is brilliant.

And ‘The Antichrist’ from Show No Mercy is elevated from a workaday thrash number (well, it probably wasn’t in 1983, but sounds like it now) into a top-quality stoner groove – and again, the chorus is something to behold.

Jeff Hanneman’s atonal opening to ‘Dead Skin Mask’ is the easiest to decipher as one of Slayer’s own, mainly because those evil notes can only come from one hand. And this is the heaviest song on Slower – yes, Slayer can be made heavier, even with a smattering of cowbell in the middle.

Speaking of heavy, when the instruments stop suddenly for Pleasants to utter the infamous exclamation “You must die” early in the final track, ‘South Of Heaven’, then come back in neck-wrecking glory, you know this album is a success. Because you will find your head nodding up and down in an involuntary groove, like you are at a Slayer gig. But, y’know, slower.  

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