KERRY KING – “I Had No Intention Of Ever Doing A Solo Project; I Planned On Being In SLAYER All My Life”

May 16, 2024, 4 weeks ago

By Aaron Small

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KERRY KING – “I Had No Intention Of Ever Doing A Solo Project; I Planned On Being In SLAYER All My Life”

1981 – 2019. One of The Big Four of thrash metal, Slayer, from Huntington Beach, California had a career that lasted 38 years, spawning twelve studio albums, three live albums, a box set, and two EPs. The band received five Grammy Award nominations, winning two in the category of Best Metal Performance. Their importance, significance, and influence cannot be overstated.

On May 17, 2024, Slayer guitarist Kerry King will release his debut solo album, From Hell I Rise, via Reigning Phoenix Music. Vicious is the best adjective to describe this 13-song platter. Beyond invigorating, it gets the adrenaline pumping! “I, and we, are very stoked about it. Very happy with the outcome. We’re just waiting for it to catch fire and get going,” admits the 59-year old guitarist.

The first single, “Idle Hands”, whipped everybody into a frenzy, but there’s so much more on the album. As to be expected, there’s some tracks that sound like Slayer, and some that absolutely do not sound like Slayer. “Yeah, our record’s all over the place; in a good way,” confirms King.

When you were initially going into this, did you feel you had anything to prove with your debut solo album, or is it just the next chapter in your career? “Maybe initially. Cause I just got off of that with Repentless, cause Repentless was the only record we did without Jeff (Hanneman, guitarist R.I.P.) being involved in some way. So, I kind of felt that way with Repentless. I thought people were going to think, ‘Jeff’s not working on it, so Kerry can’t do it by himself.’ I f*ckin’ proved that completely wrong. Then going into this, I’m like, well, it’s just me now. So, in the beginning I probably considered that kind of thing, but it didn’t affect how I approached what I was going to be doing for the album.”

Kerry takes BraveWords through the steps of assembling his solo band, which includes his Slayer bandmate Paul Bostaph on drums. Rounding out the five-piece is Kyle Sanders from Hellyeah on bass, Phil Demmel from Machine Head on guitar, and Mark Osegueda from Death Angel on vocals. “I remember, I think probably the first piece, other than Paul, was probably Phil. Cause he actually played four Slayer shows in the end of 2018 when Gary Holt had to leave the tour to tend to his sick Dad. But he came out and filled in incredibly. He had two days to prepare. He was on tour with us watching our live show, getting used to the pace of the set, getting used to the pyro so he doesn’t light himself on fire. When he was out, he told me, ‘I want to be a part of your future.’ I thought, well, he just came out and proved to me that he can do it, in the kind of fashion that I couldn’t… I’m notoriously a Priest fan. I’ve been a Priest fan all my life. But I couldn’t do what he did for us in Priest; I couldn’t pull it off. He impressed the hell out of me! He’s a good friend, I’ve known him for decades. So that was a no-brainer really.”

“Kyle, I met in 2015 on the last Mayhem run, and we hit it off right away. I didn’t know then that I was going to need a bass player for anything. I had no intention of ever doing a solo project; I planned on being in Slayer all my life. But when the time came, it was after we lost Vince. After giving him time to respect the shitty situation he was in, I just hit him up. I said, ‘Hey man, if you’re still going to play music, I’ve got work for you in 2020; which is what I thought.’ He just said, ‘I hear you loud and clear.’ That was my notion that he was in. And Mark put his name in the hat to sing, pretty early on. But he’s the last one I gave the gig to, just because there was no rush really. He’s the only singer that came in and played with me and Paul. He did demos with us before he even knew he had the gig. He just came in and wanted to participate and show us why he’s the right choice. So, I told him, about, just a little over a year ago now that he got the gig. And we were in the studio two months later.”

There was no shortage of online rumor and speculation that Phil Anselmo from Pantera and Down was going to be Kerry’s singer. “That sh*t’s funny as f*ck man. I love the speculation. People are going to talk.” For whatever reason, everybody latched onto that name. “Well, Phil makes a lot of sense. I’ve known Phil since before f*cking Cowboys came out (in 1990). All the suits, be it management, be it promoters, call it the executives behind the scenes, wanted that to happen, just because of what a huge explosion that would be. We could go out immediately, headlining, playing new material, Slayer material, Pantera material. It’s a no-f*cking-brainer. I never really thought it was the right choice. Then the Pantera thing came up (the world tour with Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante replacing Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul), and it was just blown out of the water. Did we discuss it? Yeah, we had a couple of conversations. But I couldn’t get any sort of commitment out of him. And he never played a note with us. So, he went on the Pantera thing. I cemented Mark, and here we are.”

Josh Wilbur produced From Hell I Rise. He also mixed, mastered, and engineered the album. His resume includes Korn, Lamb Of God, Avenged Sevenfold, Bad Religion, and Soulfly. Was there one album in particular Wilbur worked on that drew you to want him behind the board? “You know, I’m sure I heard some, just by listening to SiriusXM. But I had no idea what he had done when I met him. I got introduced to him through Gerrardo, who was my guy at Nuclear Blast, now my guy at Reigning Phoenix. I was always like, ‘I like working with Terry Date (who produced Repentless), let’s work with Terry Date.’ But as time went by, I thought, the fewer pieces I have of Slayer, it’ll work out in my best interest because that’s just going to be more ammunition for people saying, ‘It sounds like baby Slayer. It sounds like Slayer 2.0.’ So, that’s why I didn’t move forward with (guitarist) Gary Holt. People might think we had a falling out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love Gary! Someday, maybe we’ll play again. But now, I’m focused on this band. Phil is my guitar player.”

Kerry and Gary will play again together on the Slayer reunion shows later this year at Riot Fest, Louder Than Life, and Aftershock. “Yeah, of course. But I mean, maybe creatively at some point, we could get together and do something. There will never be another Slayer album. There’s no reason for me to go down that road. I’m very happy with the record we’re about to put out. I’m stoked with the personnel. We hang out and everybody has a good time, it’s fun.”

Working at Henson Studios in Los Angeles, talk about a five star, top notch recording facility. Tell me about those couple of weeks that resulted in From Hell I Rise. “Well, Henson has always been really cool to Slayer, very cool to me, and that marriage carried on (Slayer recorded Repentless at Henson). They’ve always given us ‘bro’ deals, so I was really excited to be able to go back in there. We told them, ‘Record two’s not too far down the line. We will see you sooner than later.’ We’ve got a great relationship with the Henson people.”

Were any of the songs on From Hell I Rise submitted for consideration as Slayer material? Or were they all written after that last show on November 30, 2019? “No, I’ve got like six songs that were recorded at the Repentless sessions. We re-did two of them on this album, and I’m going to do three or four on record two. The two we used, ‘Rage’ and ‘From Hell I Rise’, were actually finished, they had lyrics and everything. I just didn’t like the performances on them, so I saved them to do again at a later date. And that later date became my record. Everything else was written after the fact. And there’s some things from this session that will be on record two. There’s still tons of material left to be unleashed on the world.”

The way Kerry and Phil Demmel trade guitar leads back and forth is reminiscent of what transpired previously with Jeff Hanneman, and subsequently Gary Holt. Especially on “Where I Reign” and “Trophies Of The Tyrant”. The guitar interplay is heartwarming for Slayer fans. “You know, I like it a lot. We’ve been working on videos here the last few days, and we’re listening to the f*cking same song like 25 times a day, and everybody’s saying, ‘I’m not even tired of this song yet.’ That’s a good thing! Every time I get to listen to it, and I’ve been listening to it a lot more lately because I started going to the gym, cause it’s getting time to be on the road; I’ve got to have stamina to get up there and entertain people. I always listen to the album, or I listen to new tracks for record two when I’m down there. It’s still super refreshing! I’m not tired of listening to any part of the album. I can start it at any song and just go. I love it!”

When Mark Osegueda was recording the vocals, were there instances where perhaps he sounded too much like Tom Araya (vocalist for Slayer), or too much like his own band Death Angel, and you had to suggest he try a different technique? “I don’t think so,” answers Kerry. “I don’t recall that at all. We worked very hard, he and I, during the demo process. And it was a work in progress until we actually got to Henson. I remember when he sang the second song, I was in another room, working on something, and I came in. Josh (Wilbur, producer) said, ‘Hey, come listen to what we did with the song.’ They’re playing it, and it was ‘Residue’ actually. I’m like, ‘How did you guys get to that register? I’ve never heard this register before.’ So, I went into Mark and I’m like, ‘Dude, this is re-creatable, correct? I don’t want you blowing out your pipes just for the f*ck of it, and not be able to do it live.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I got this.’ I’d wait an hour and go back and ask him the same question. I said, ‘You’re sure? I want to make sure you’re going to be able to recreate this.’ He blew me away in the studio, in ways I didn’t think it was ever going to sound like that. I’m sure at some point when you do a bonus album or extra tracks, we’ll probably put some of the demo stuff he did, just to see where it was before we went to Henson and recorded it. He made a f*cking giant leap from rehearsal to the actual studio.”

Kerry wrote all of the lyrics that Mark sings on From Hell I Rise. “I did f*cking everything this time, man.” “Crucifixation” is such a great song title! Did you coin that word? “No, I thought I did. I thought I did so much I was even going to call the album Crucifixation. Then for some reason, I looked online, and there’s been like eight uses of it before I did. I was just f*cking devastated. Usually I look stuff up, but I’m like, ‘I’m sure I made this f*cking word up.’ I did not. I think it’s actually a Municipal Waste song. There’s plenty of references, look it up. If I got the name of the band wrong, f*ck me. But there was like eight instances and I was just blown away. But I’m like, ‘I’m not changing it cause this f*cking song’s rad!’”

One of numerous great lines on the album can be found in “Crucifixation”, namely, “Ignore the world’s complacency, It’s a bottleneck of idiocy.” Truth right there. “Dude, the bottleneck came, I wrote that line when I was in traffic. I thought, ‘This is a bottleneck of f*cking idiocy,’ and I wrote that down in my phone immediately.” It’s funny how things come to you, at the most unexpected times. “Absolutely. You’ve got to be open to things hitting you at any time of day, any point of the day, regardless of where you are.”

“Residue” and “Toxic” are sort of related as Kerry wrote the words to both of those songs when he was stuck in a hotel room trying to get over Covid. “Yeah, I took it upon myself to finish the last few songs lyrically. I was very happy that I was able to do that. I wasn’t stuck in a hotel very long, but I went out of my way to finish the lyrics, and I did. Those were the ones.”

Both “Residue” and “Toxic” contain some killer lines. Beginning with “Residue”: “I’m in mental retrograde, So now it’s my crusade. I relied on this outdated system, I defied, I won’t become a victim. I can’t find where liberty goes to die.” It’s intelligent, it’s heavy, it’s Kerry King. “Well, that was also right after the time Roe vs. Wade got shot down, which is a travesty. It just is. To think that my wife, your mom, your little sister, all these women have fewer rights than their f*cking grandmothers did, that’s just f*cking senseless! And let me put this other f*cking thing in your head. All those f*cking supreme court judges that got nominated under Donald Trump, lied to get their job. These are people deciding our future, and they lied to get their job. How is that ok?”

“Toxic” brings up similar talking points: “Sanity implies that there’s intelligence, All I ever find is pure incompetence.” It’s so true about both the American and Canadian governments. Another standout line in Toxic reads, “Too many people spend too much time forcing their opinions on other people’s lives.” “That’s Roe vs. Wade.” On a smaller scale, that happens every day. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the gas station, in a restaurant, there’s always somebody trying to force their beliefs down your throat. “Yeah, live and let live dude. It’s not that big a deal. The world’s a big f*cking place, mind your own f*cking business.”

Earlier, we touched upon how some of the songs on From Hell I Rise are like Slayer and some are not. “Tension” is short at 2:47. “Everything I Hate About You” is even shorter at 1:21. That’s an 81-second song. “Damn right. You know, I did think about doing that song differently. I thought about where it ends; I thought about doing the typical ‘Crucifixation’ where you go into a breakdown part, and then come back to the speed at the end. But I thought it was a complete song being a minute and 20. It doesn’t f*cking need anything else, so that’s how I left it.” If you over-analyze, you run the risk of wrecking it. “Yeah, it would have been cool, but it’s all it needs to be as is. Especially coming after ‘Tension’. I think those two songs, it’s essentially a song. But it’s two different vibes, so I named ‘em.”

Undoubtedly, “Two Fists” is the most un-Slayer of the bunch. It’s kind of punk with an ‘80s feel. Also, it’s different lyrically as it’s not anti-religion or anti-politics. Mark sings, “Boredom is destroying my sobriety, it’s suffocating my reality… this f*cking ship’s about to sink, I think I need another drink.” The change in direction is refreshing. “I did that purposefully. Musically, I wrote it to be as if you plucked an unheard punk song out of the ‘80s. Here it is, this is my tribute to ‘80s punk. In writing lyrics for that one, I did take liberties to write it as I thought a punk singer would present the lyrics. So, I gave it that kind of vibe. A couple of those lyrics, ‘I think I need another drink.’ That will never find itself in a Slayer song. It’s perfect in ‘Two Fists’.”

“Shrapnel” was inspired by Scorpions and Hell Awaits. “Yeah, I thought, I want to make a riff like ‘Animal Magnetism’, cause I really like the wide-openness. Every time that song comes on, I’m like, ‘This f*cking riff!’ I wanted to have my version of an ‘Animal Magnetism’ riff, so I immediately went out and made up that riff that’s the beginning of ‘Shrapnel’. I wanted to tie that into the heaviness of Hell Awaits; not the thrashy part but the intro. And, it f*cking stands out! It stands apart. You’re definitely not used to hearing me play anything that wide open.”

Let’s talk about the visual aspect of From Hell I Rise. From the artwork to the logo with the inverted cross – it’s so Kerry King. This works on every level. Was it a tedious process to get to what the final product displays? “Dude, I’m still trying to come up with a band name. We had two, and they both worked with that logo. We ran down the road of Blood Reign, but there was too many uses of that; that’s where the logo came from. Then I thought, ok, let’s use King’s Reign. And the band was into that name – I’ve never been interested in having any part of my name in the title. I wanted this to be a band entity, and I wanted it to be known as that. But King’s Reign went up to the trademark lawyer, and it came back – nope, conflict of interest. When the shows were starting to get announced, you’ve got to roll with something. So, we just rolled with my name, cause it works with that logo as well.”

On the live front, in addition to several festival appearances, Kerry King will be opening for Lamb Of God and Mastodon on the Ashes Of Leviathan Tour in July and August. On that run, Kerry will probably get 45 minutes of stage time. “I would imagine, it might be 50.” Obviously, a couple of Slayer songs will be included in Kerry’s solo set as that’s what fans expect. Will they be classics or deeper cuts? “The only thing I’ll give away is, I’m not playing any Jeff (Hanneman) songs, because I don’t want people to have any ammunition to talk sh*t about us. Everything I play will be songs that I’ve written by myself, or songs that I’ve collaborated with. That’s probably 60-75% of the Slayer songs anyway. There’ll be a handful of stuff thrown in.” Will there be an extended guitar solo, either from yourself, or back and forth between you and Phil Demmel? Or are you just going to stick to songs? “You know, I’ve always liked to just do songs. This is the first time in 40 years I’ve only had one album to play songs from. But everybody knows Paul (Bostaph) can play, everybody knows Phil can play, everybody knows I can play. I don’t foresee that happening, but I also say, you never know.”

(Photos by Andrew Stuart and Jim Louvau)

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