Kerry King: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Kerry King Interview

Feature Photo: Kerry King – photo by Jim Louvau

Known as the guitarist/songwriter of Bay Area thrash staples Slayer, Kerry King has long peeled off chugging riffs and ear-splitting solos en route to classic records that defined a generation of metal-loving fans.

However, since 2019, when Slayer walked off stage for what was thought to be the last time, King has been mostly silent. The pandemic probably had something to do with that, but it also couldn’t have been easy reorienting after spending nearly 40 years at the forefront of thrash metal.

So, when rumblings that King was working on a new record that drummer Paul Bostaph said, “Sounded like Slayer, without it being Slayer—but not intentionally so,” emerged in 2020 and continued for the next few years, fans were, no doubt, curious. And in February of 2024, when King confirmed that the album, titled From Hell I Rise, was completed and set for release in the spring, curiosity turned to uproar.

From the moment that From Hell I Rise’s first single, “Idle Hands,” was released, the world new King meant business. So much so that not even Slayer’s surprise reunion news—including a show at Riot Fest in September, another at Louder Than Life five days later, and one more at Aftershock Festival in October—could halt King’s momentum.

In fact, King is on record saying that Slayer “will never release another album, or tour again,” meaning a second breakup, if you could call it that, is in the cards post-reunion. But then again, you never know, not that King cares, as in the here and now, he’s got an album of his own to tour behind. “It’s cool that it’s finally out,” King tells ClassicRockHistory.com. “It’s super cool that now, we’re gonna have gigs that we can play, and people will know all the material.”

He explains, “That’s always difficult for this kind of music. Sometimes, they don’t know the material, and it’s hard to make the connection, but by the time we start playing, everyone will have had time to stomach the new material; they’ll know it as well as they know everything.”

Touring behind From Hell I Rise, and the trio of Slayer shows aside, King is looking toward the future, which means more solo music. “It’ll be guns blazing, so that’ll be great, ” he says. “We’ve got tons of stuff leftover from the Repentless and From Hell I Rise sessions, and I’ve written since, so that will all be going toward record number two.”

He concludes, “So, as soon as the touring cycle for record number one runs its course, we want to go in and record number two as soon as possible, just to keep our touring chops up, get in there, and nail it.”

What prompted you to start working on From Hell I Rise?

Well, I wasn’t done playing music by any means. You know, I had a lot of stuff left over and a lot of stuff written. I just had to get the new guys in to take it by the horns and roll with it.

Was it difficult climbing back in the saddle?

Inspiration is never a problem. Humanity is the bugs of the Earth, and you know, there’s just things going on daily; there’s a never-ending, constant free fall of information that I can use for songs, and stuff. Be it governmental, be it political, be it religious, there’s never a shortage of things to write about.

Did any particular song push this album in the direction it ultimately went in?

Oh, no, because I had good stuff left over from  Slayer’s Repentless. And there’s still stuff left over from the Repentless record, so I think it will start there. And then, you know, stuff I made up from before From Hell I Rise, and stuff I made up after From Hell I Rise; there’s a good core of things happening already for the next record, too.

But for this one, you know, From Hell I Rise, the song “Rage” was pretty much done early on. And I finished “Tension” and “Shrapnel” early on, so, you know, it’s just getting a wide variety of things that capture the thrash, capture the Sabbath, the heaviness, and just everything that’s been a part of my influences throughout history.

Tell me about how you put your band together for From Hell I Rise.

Well, drummer Paul Bostaph has been on and off with me for the better part of 30 years, so he was an obvious no-brainer. And Phil Demmel came out and filled in for Gary Holt when he had some sickness and family issues at the end of ’18. And basically, every chance he got, he told me he wanted to be part of the future.

So, we just kind of back pocketed that, and when we were done in ’19, I hit Kyle [Sanders] up; I think it was actually 2020. I didn’t want to be insensitive to his situation, and I said, “Hey, man, if you’re still gonna tour, I’ve got something for you.” He said, “I hear you loud and clear,” and we pocked that.

And then, Mark [Osegueda] threw his name in the hat for singers, I think, in 2020. So, we had that in our back pocket as well. He came down and rehearsed with me and Paul many times because I think the biggest transformation on this record was getting who Mark was gonna sound like for the rest of his career for me and not be against Death Angel. I wanted something more, and I knew what was in there. So, we worked for months and months to get it out.

Once you extracted that, what became apparent thematically as the record started to take shape?

Oh, you know, I think in the past, I had more of a general direction with political songs. I made them more general to where people in France, for instance, or people in Sweden, Germany, or Japan, could say, “Hey, I know what he’s talking about. It’s the same problem with my government.” But on this one, you know, with the pandemic, we had so much time to sit on our hands and binge-watch TV shows.

Every morning, you wake up, turn on the news, and see what nonsense was going on during any particular day. So, I think the topical knowledge I had was a lot stronger on this run. It’s probably more pinpointed than it has been in the past because, you know, we’ve lived through some idiotic political times here in the last, I don’t know, let’s just say for the last eight to ten years.

So, you know, it was more home to me. I’m always gonna make fun of religion because that’s the easiest thing to make fun of on the planet; you’re always gonna get that from me. I approach the song like… like punk songs. So, not necessarily Slayer songs, but part of the Kerry King repertoire is hearing things that, throughout my history, have been my influence. And punk is definitely part of that, so I tried to include that, too.

I like that From Hell I Rise has a strong message of intent, which isn’t always the case these days.

It’s cool if people can, you know, get something out of it, or have it be what I meant it to be, or have it be something that means something to them. I still like to have that generality where they can take something I’ve written and make it important in their day-to-day life.

Like say, for instance, with “Everything I Hate About You,” I didn’t write that about anybody in particular, but on any given day, I can point at somebody and say, like, “Yeah, I really hate that motherfucker today.” And I know… I know fans are like that, too. So, you know, that can be for them, whoever that person in society is.

Of course, the record is filled with heavy riffs. What does that process look like for you these days?

It hasn’t really changed much, dude. It’s like, I play out of an amp about the size of my booth. And I record riffs on my phone, so better not lose that shit, you know? And when I get enough riffs to make a song, I’ll take that song, and maybe it’s Paul telling me ideas of what the drums should be. So, when we actually get together, within five minutes, we can record a song like we’ve known it for a month. It’s cool to be able to get through the process that quickly and get something that’s very listable very quickly.

And how about solos?

Well, I think thrash is kind of… solos really go hand-in-hand with thrash. And they really go hand-in-hand with metal. But you know, we’ve also got songs, a couple, I think, on this record, that don’t really have any solos. So, I tried to be objective about it and not just throw them in to cram them in, you know? If the song has a rhythm where a lead will fit really nicely… I don’t try to force it in there. If it’s got one, and the idea comes out great, yeah, I’m cool either way.

As far as your guitar tone goes, it’s massive. What are some of the keys there?

Well, it’s been the same since probably the mid-2000s, and I only use pedals that are overdrives and a Wah for lead situations. But you might hear some ambient noise and some riffs; “Shrapnel” has some ambient guitar, so it makes it sound like it’s in a big room. But that didn’t come from me; that came from, you know, production, and what’s going on with the ‘board.

But I think we have a great produced record, and I think how the mic hears the sound, and how the mics transfer the sound to the ‘board has something to do with how it sounds in the end. This time,  producer Josh Wilbur went in and mastered and mixed it, and it’s got this really girthy sound, if that makes sense. It really envelopes you, so I think that’s a good representation of this record.

What’s the latest on the guitars you’re using?

I went with Dean at the end of the Slayer run, so I got maybe two or three new ones [of his signature guitar] out for the last month of that run. I run with, I think, ten of them, just so we’ve got backups for all the tunings and what have you. If you’ve seen anything on YouTube, there’s probably not anything you haven’t seen.

Which of your new songs best represents where you’re at right now?

Um, well, “Idle Hands” was the first track single. Not only was it good musically, but as a first track, it was a good lyrical song to put out as the first single because, you know, it basically sums up what happened since the last Slayer show. Idle hands do the Devil’s work; that’s what I’ve been doing.

That’s what I’ve always done. And now, I’ve had time to, you know, regroup and force it into another group of songs; people are gonna dig into them. So, I would say “Idle Hands” and then “Where I Reign” definitely touches on where I come from, so I think that one is important, too.

As you prepare to get out and promote From Hell I Rise, what’s your outlook on the modern metal scene?

All I know is when I’m on the West Coast, whether in Vegas or Southern California rehearsing, I’ll get a rented car and hear SiriusXM station Liquid Metal. So, I get my little infusion of, you know, what’s popular at the moment, but it sounds like there’s some cool stuff. But being that I’m driving, I can’t unless they tell me who the song was by; I don’t know the song title and the band’s name.

So, I’ve heard some cool things over the last year, but, you know, I couldn’t tell you what they are. I know I’m looking for people to open the US run for early next year, so I’m excited about that. As far as we’re concerned, you know, we’re just gonna go out and play anywhere that wants us. If it makes sense financially, we’ll be there.

You’ve also got three upcoming reunion shows with Slayer. What’s your outlook on those?

It’s not really much different at all. It’s the same heads, same cabs, same pedals, same guitars. You know, there will be a lot of fire when Slayer plays, and I think, yeah, those shows will just be fun. It’ll be fun to play with Gary Holt for a few gigs; I haven’t seen him in almost five years, so that will be cool. And it’ll be cool to get together with Tom Araya and spit some hate out at people, but don’t get used to this being a yearly event.

Kerry King: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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