Kerry King: “I’m going to keep going until it physically doesn’t make sense anymore… I hope that’s still a long way away”

Riding off into the sunset was never an option for Kerry King. He’s too driven, too angry, too damn metal for anything like that. On top of it all, debut ‘solo’ album From Hell I Rise is cranium-rattling proof he’s still got far too much to give. Digging into its creation, it feels reassuringly unlikely that he’ll ever give up that legendary Flying-V anytime soon…

Kerry King: “I’m going to keep going until it physically doesn’t make sense anymore… I hope that’s still a long way away”
Sam Law
Jenn Five, Jim Louvau, Andrew Stuart

If there were a heavy metal Mount Rushmore, it’d be a safe bet that Kerry King’s spectacular bald bonce would be carved out somewhere close to the top. Demonic tattoo. Trailing goatee. Wraparound shades. The works. The Los Angeles native mightn’t be the most technical six-stringer in the genre’s history, nor the most diverse creative, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not one of the most consistently, charismatically badass. When he ceremoniously raised the heavy duty link-chain from his waistband to salute fans assembled at the Los Angeles Forum for Slayer’s ‘final’ farewell show on November 30, 2019, it felt like the end of an era. But never quite The End.

“Was it inevitable that I would find myself back onstage?” he strokes his wiry beard four-and-a-half years down the line. “Absolutely. Before [Slayer bassist/vocalist] Tom [Araya] told me that he didn’t want to do this anymore, I’d never really thought about setting out to do something ‘solo’. But as soon as he did, I realised that I still had that desire to play, to create, to entertain.”

It’s a desire – indeed, a fire – that burns through each of the 13 tracks on the upcoming LP From Hell I Rise. From snarling riffage and quasi-military beats to its flashes of heresy and hatred, it feels like exactly the album you’d expect this grizzled veteran to make. But from a legend with his legacy already well-secured, its serrated cutting-edge and sheer ferocity also feels truly exceptional.

“If you’d asked 20-year-old Kerry, he’d have told you that of course he wouldn’t still be playing when he was 60 years old,” he stresses. “But you ask pushing-60 Kerry the same question and I’ll tell you that I’m not anywhere near being done yet. I think I’m still making relevant music. I think the fans are still fired-up to see what I have to offer. It’s funny. The first Kerry King show in Europe – June 3 at Tilburg’s Poppodium 013 – is on my 60th birthday at the only venue where I’ve ever cancelled a show. That feels kind of ironic. But it’s exciting, too!”

Certain prerequisites had to be met to get the show on the road. Kerry had to be in shape: he reckons the young Kerry would approve of the look and feel of this new project. Pandemic delays would have to be overcome: original plans to get going in 2020 got put on ice with the rest of the world, and were further delayed due to the logjam of releases as music came back up to speed. A new label needed to be set up to facilitate working with the people he wanted to: the album appears on the newly minted Reigning Phoenix Music (RPM). But pivotally, he needed a band of players – and this ‘Kerry King’ is a band – who could fulfil the vision, personally and professionally.

“The most important thing to me was to be able to have a bunch of my friends – not just random musicians,” he underlines. “We can all get on the bus together, have a bunch of drinks and hang out. No drama. At our age we just want to get out there, entertain people and have a good time!”

Notoriously hard-hitting Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph was always going to be foundational. He and Kerry worked together to write this music, and the pair continue to be the backbone of the new band. Ex-Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel had joined them for four European Slayer dates in late-2018 when Gary Holt had to fly home to take care of his ailing father.

“While he was out for those shows, Phil told me that he wanted to be a part of my future,” Kerry smiles at the memory. “I took that and put it in my back pocket.”

The third otherwise “out-of-work” member was to be ex-HELLYEAH bassist Kyle Sanders, who Kerry always considered a great player and even better dude. Then there was Death Angel vocalist Mark Osegueda. Having been an acquaintance of Kerry’s for the best part of four decades, the pair grew close in the mid-2010s, and Mark initially tracked over his scratch demo vocals just as a friendly favour. Only 15 months ago did he join the band.

“I always knew that Mark was a great singer,” Kerry enthuses, “but even as we were going into the studio, I don’t think any of us realised what he would bring to the table. From the early days, I told him I wanted to recreate him: ‘Nothing against Death Angel, but Mark from Death Angel is dead!’ I needed something above and beyond. I’d keep nudging him or giving him advice, ‘Every time you open your mouth – whether singing a song or doing an interview – it’s got to be an event. People have to pay attention.’ I guess over the months it really sunk in, because he’s transformed!”

Indeed, working with producer Josh Wilbur at LA’s Henson Studios, the collective smashed out something truly spectacular over the course of just two weeks. Without baggage, it feels like a thrash classic in its own right, but even more special is how From Hell I Rise dovetails and refuses to be dominated by the imposing Slayer discography it will inevitably be held up against.

“Honestly, I was surprised this album didn’t sound more like Slayer,” Kerry laughs, knowing there’s no need to fix what ain’t broken. “Slayer’s all I’ve done my whole adult life, for the last 40 years. I was the main songwriter in that band for the last 15 or 20. It is an extension of that for me. But with this band I did do everything. I had my hands on everything. I was there all the time.”

Still, Kerry had never thought of this as a ‘solo’ project in anything like the traditional sense. Naming it after him only happened after a variety of other suggestions – Blood Reign, King’s Reign – were rejected by trademark attorneys. The album title would be more telling. Idle Hands was one suggestion: a self-explanatory descriptor of the work the Devil makes. Crucifixation was another, eventually abandoned when Kerry hit Google and found out he’d been beaten to the punch. Eventually they circled back to the first choice, From Hell I Rise, subtly referencing the phoenix-like energy of Kerry’s return from stasis of lockdown and the uncertainty of being left without a band, while also tying to the final Slayer record Repentless, for which the song was originally written and with which its sound and imagery mercilessly chimes. Even the album’s most experimental moments, like Shrapnel – whose riff was inspired by Scorpions classic Animal Magnetism – Kerry insists, would probably still have been borne out for a 13th Slayer album.

Going soft with old age obviously isn’t a concern. Song titles like Tension, Two Fists and Rage tell a red-painted story all by themselves. But dig deeper into cuts like Residue and Toxic and there is real political outrage, fuelled by writing sessions while stricken with COVID, watching the U.S. Supreme Court set back women's rights by overturning landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade.

“Anger isn’t really my personality,” Kerry shrugs, insisting that he was never really the furious young man people painted him to be, let alone a grumpy old one. “Hanging out, I’m a pretty normal guy. We can grab dinner, have a few drinks, go home. But when I write music, my anger comes out. Honestly, I see humanity as the Earth’s pest problem. All we do is destroy things. When humanity is gone, the Earth will be a happier place. When I write music, it’s where I channel all that [hatred] for humanity or religion and my problems with government. Watching the overturning of Roe v. Wade really stuck in my [craw]. I watched every one of those Supreme Court Justices appointed during [the Trump presidency] go through questioning, and every one of them said Roe v. Wade took precedence and could not be overturned. They effectively lied to get their jobs. Those are the people making judgements that affect our everyday lives…”

Ultimately, though, Kerry stresses that this is music that most people feel more than they think about. Although he’s not seen old mucker Dave Grohl in a minute, and his gig-going was curtailed by a reluctance to go into crowds over the course of the pandemic, he’s still the quintessential metalhead himself. He caught Judas Priest’s recent headline tour. And Skid Row’s. Walking down the street in New York not that long ago, he looked up to see John 5’s name on a marquee. A couple of text messages with his old friend later, he was headed down to the show.

“I definitely want to give the fans what they want,” he gestures, “because I am a fan of this music myself. When it came to writing new music, I didn’t have to think too hard about writing songs that would appeal to the kind of people who’d be interested in what I was doing. I knew it’d just naturally come out. And I think I was able to deliver a good range of variety in the songs that we’re bringing out. They’re all their own vibe, their own statement, their own mini-movie, so to speak.”

They’re also nothing like the sort of nostalgic drivel that so many ‘classic thrash’ acts try to get away with. There are echoes of Slayer, sure. Big echoes of Slayer. But never does it sound more like a copy than a continuation. If being asked onto countless festival main stages isn’t enough of an acknowledgement of that, then getting the support slot for Mastodon and Lamb Of God’s upcoming ‘Ashes Of Leviathan’ U.S. tour – both bands having cut their teeth in arenas in support of Slayer in the 2000s’ Unholy Alliance tours – is an especially validating full-circle moment.

“I was so happy when we got that tour,” Kerry smiles. “We helped out both those bands back in the day. Mastodon supported us for the best part of two years. Lamb Of God were more established, but they’ve been out with us countless times over the last two decades. To have them do the same thing for me is great. Not only do I value the friendship of those guys, but also the fact they’re looking out for me and giving me this great platform to come back out and play.”

And to get out and play is the main ambition. Feeling the connection between stage and crowd is the narcotic high to which everything else leads. Having reinforced his reputation with this album, and introduced a new band, it’s about raising as much hell as possible for as long as they can.

“As soon as we’re done with this album, we’re heading into the studio to bang out the next one,” Kerry grins. “We want to keep this train rolling – at a high tempo. I still feel good for my age. I think people are into our music. I’m going to keep going until it physically doesn’t make sense anymore. Because there will be a time when my wrist says to me, ‘I don’t want to play From Hell I Rise today…’ I hope that’s still a long way away. Might I slow down when that time comes? I think we’ve got the catalogue to do it. But I really don’t know. Almost-60-year-old Kerry says probably not. Maybe almost-70-year-old Kerry will say something else…”

From Hell I Rise is out on May 17 via Reigning Phoenix Music. Kerry King will play the Apex Stage at Download Festival on June 16 – get your tickets now – and the Electric Ballroom in London on June 18

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