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Kerry King, Armed With New Music, Is Finally Ready to Talk About Slayer

Kerry King moved on from Slayer, whose breakneck-paced declarations of destruction redefined metal for a generation, a long time ago. In 2018, as soon as frontman Tom Araya told him he was done with the band, King says he “shifted gears.”

“I’m like, ‘Well, I’m not done,’” he tells Rolling Stone with a piercing gaze. “The only regret I have is that we finished when we finished. But it’s also like, ‘Hey man, we’re Peyton Manning: We won the Super Bowl and we left.’ And unfortunately the world went to shit right after.” He pauses and huffs kind of knowingly and says, “Kind of strange.”

Seated in the back of a Mexican restaurant in lower Manhattan, near the apartment that he and his wife moved into at the end of 2021, King sips a trio of diet cola, water, and tequila. He’s wearing a black T-shirt with a pentagram on it, obscured by his long black beard, and his instantly recognizable tattooed head and arms would give him away to any metalhead who wandered in. It’s cold outside, but he looks unaffected as he leans against the window, keeping his trademark stoicism as he talks about his life after Slayer.

On May 17, King will release his first solo album, From Hell I Rise. If you’re expecting a sharp turn from Slayer — hitherto unexplored territory for the songwriter like love ballads and campfire sing-alongs — you’re kidding yourself. The lead single, “Idle Hands” — premiering here — opens with an explosive, skull-rattling riff before settling into a galloping riff that would sit comfortably on Slayer’s beloved Reign in Blood. Singer Mark Osegueda (Death Angel) narrates the return of King — “So begins my revolution/Violence spreads my retribution” — before railing against God and declaring himself an Antichrist: “Till the end, idle hands do the Devil’s work.”

It’s the type of song that King, 59, has written for the past 40 years, and the album will contain 12 more just like it for a lucky 13 tracks. In addition to King and Osegueda, the LP features longtime Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph, former Hellyeah bassist Kyle Sanders, and ex–Machine Head and Vio-lence guitarist Phil Demmel. The group, which will make its live debut this spring, recorded the album with longtime Lamb of God producer Josh Wilbur.

King says he’s been patiently awaiting this moment. After Slayer’s farewell tour concluded in 2019, he expected to come right out with the album, but the pandemic stalled everything, with other speed bumps causing more delays. (“Dealing with a new record label, delay, delay, delay, delay.”) The pauses gave him more time to perfect the album, which arrives close to nine years after the release of Slayer’s parting shot, Repentless.

The guitarist sees the album as a continuation of his writing since Repentless, and the title track, “From Hell I Rise,” is one of two songs on the album that he has carried over from Slayer’s Repentless sessions. “It was finished, we recorded it,” he says. “I wasn’t happy with the performance part of it, so I was like, ‘All right, I’ll put this in my back pocket until the next Slayer record.’ And that didn’t happen, so it’s now on my record.” (The other Repentless-era song is titled “Rage.”)

Between sips of his beverages and bites of chips and guac, King gets comfortable. “I’m not in a hurry, so don’t feel like we got to rush or anything,” he says. And for the next three hours, he calmly fields questions about Slayer’s breakup, where things stand with former members Tom Araya and Dave Lombardo, and regrets he’s felt since the death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman. He also revels in the freedom he’s felt starting over with a new band.

King says he’s even prepared for another solo album, since he still has four more leftovers from Repentless that he can re-record and six unused songs from this album’s sessions, plus he’s still writing. “I’m taking advantage of what the pandemic’s given me,” he says. “I’m not just sitting on my ass.”

What does “Idle Hands” mean to you?
“Idle Hands” are what I’ve been doing the last four years. That and “From Hell I Rise” have been my frame of mind in the last four-and-a-half years.

Your trademark style comes through in the song’s main riff. How do you describe that sound?
I don’t know the real word for it, but I call it a “broken rhythm.” The vocals follow the riff. Then the big release is the chorus. Mark just opens up, and it’s huge and it escalates.

After making so many Slayer albums, did you know what From Hell I Rise would become as you were writing it?
I had the song sequence for this, fuck, for two years probably. I structured it like a song list for a stage show. There has to be an intro, because I got to come to the stage to something, and then there’s the opener that blows the doors off of everything. And then you back it up with something heavy; on this one, it’s “Residue.” Then “Tension” is a spooky one. “Two Fists” is the Eighties punk one. I call “Crucifixation” the money shot. That’s like supreme Eighties thrash with the big breakdown in the middle.

“I had the song sequence for this [album], fuck, for two years probably. I structured it like a song list for a stage show.”

What’s your creative process like these days?
It’s fucking primitive. I play out an amp about the size of my boot, and I record on this [King points to his phone]. I watch football or SportsCenter, just tune out, and let my hands do what they do; they’ll just make shit up. I got to make sure I’m paying attention enough to record it.

Why did you decide to call the band “Kerry King”?
I didn’t. It was going to be King’s Reign for a long time, which is really cool. But even with that one, I went to the guys, like, “I’m not a vain dude. I don’t want my name to be a part of it.” We talked about Blood Rain for a while, but it didn’t work. Every time I came up with anything remotely cool, it was taken by some obscure band in Eastern Europe. It became Kerry King because I love that logo.

Is it true you cut the album in two weeks?
Dude, the drum tracks were done in, like, five days because Paul and I were so on this.

Did Slayer ever record that way?
No. God Hates Us All was done in nine days except for vocals, which took three months. With this album, Paul went in more prepared than he’s ever been in my history with him. After the drums, I did rhythm guitars, and I did all my leads in one day. I did 18 leads in a day. I went back the next day and cleaned up seven or eight of them, but they were there.

Slayer in 2001. From left: Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, Paul Bostaph, and Tom Araya.

Mick Hutson/Redferns

How did you assemble the band for this album?
I knew Paul was going to be with me. My original intent was to have [Slayer guitarist] Gary Holt but the farther I got away from Slayer, the more I thought people would call this band “Slayer Light” or “Baby Slayer.” They’re going to say that anyway, so I didn’t need to fuel that fire. There was no falling out between me and Gary.

How did Phil Demmel come to the project?
Demmel came out with Slayer at the end of 2018 to fill in for Gary for four shows. What he did for us, I don’t think I could do for any band on the planet. He had basically two days to watch [Slayer] play so he could know where the pyro was and the tempo of our set. I couldn’t do that for Judas Priest, and I’m a giant Priest guy.

With this, Bostaph said, “Hey, what about Demmel [for the new band]?” I texted him. He’s like, “Yeah, I just got done with Machine Head the day before yesterday.” I went, “Well, that’s kind of perfect.”

How do you and Phil play off each other?
He’s more technical than I thought he was. He comes from California thrash like I do. He’d be like, “Do you think this solo is too melodic?” I’m like, “It’s your lead. Unless it’s offensively lame, I’m not going to squash it.” I like what he brought to the record, even though it wasn’t much, since I didn’t let him play rhythm guitar.

I was surprised you had a second guitarist. I thought you would have played all the guitar and bass yourself.
I have done that. Not on this, but since the early Nineties I’ve done all the rhythm guitars and all the bass [on Slayer records]. I’ve always done bass because my guy [Tom Araya] really didn’t.

What did Kyle Sanders’ bass playing bring to this?
Early on, I sent Kyle early demos of just me and Paul, no bass. Three days later, he sent them back with bass. I went, “I’ve never had anybody do that for me.” That turned on all the light bulbs.

Mark Osegueda sounds incredible. Was he the obvious singer?
With Mark, he was on board early on. I just didn’t pull that trigger. I was like, “Let’s see what happens.” Say for instance, [Judas Priest’s] Rob Halford calls me and says, “Hey, I would love to be your singer,” I’d have to go that way.

Did you ever consider doing an album like Tony Iommi’s with different singers on every song?
I was against that because it’s not reproducible. Say Rob Halford sings a song; who’s going to sing that live? Mark would do pretty good, but I want to have an album — like an old-school album with the same band. I don’t want guest musicians.

Rumors have circulated that Phil Anselmo would sing on your album. Was that ever a possibility?
It was considered. My management, my promoter, my record label all wanted Phil. Phil’s a good friend of mine, but I always thought he’s not the right guy. That has nothing to do with his ability; I just knew he wasn’t the right guy. When you hear Mark on this record, you know that’s the guy.

I had to do due diligence, because at the end of the day, had Philip been the guy, we’d be in arenas immediately because we could play new stuff, we could play Pantera, we could play Slayer, and fans would’ve been happy. It ended when the Pantera thing came up.

I also heard rumors that you would be part of the Pantera reunion.
I won’t confirm or deny that.

“[Slayer breaking up] hit me right away because I knew I wasn’t going to change anything about what I do.”

I saw Mark a few years back singing covers of Minor Threat and Cameo in the Wedding Band with members of Metallica. It was different from what he does in Death Angel, and he sounded great.
He’s super versatile. He took steps to make this different than Death Angel. I don’t touch on probably 50 percent of what he can do on the album.

Mark knew how I expected the songs to be performed. On my demos, I sing with very good conviction, but I don’t have pipes; that’s why I don’t sing. With “Residue,” he sounded so good I had to ask him, “Is this sustainable? I don’t want you to blow your load on this record and then blow your voice out every third show.” And he swore up and down he could do it. He went on to some of the harder ones and did the same thing on those, so I went, “OK.”

The way he sings, it sounds like Slayer.
Well, that’s me putting the vocals together. Tom could scream his ass off. I’ll never take that away from Tom. His conviction might come and go — and I’m not looking to jab at Tom, that’s not the point — but Mark just showed up every fucking day and is on point every fucking second of every song.

Since we’re talking about Tom, how did you find out he wanted to retire?
We were on tour and some kid was interviewing him, and he said something about, “I’ve got to get together with Kerry and talk before we talk about the next record.” He should have just said, “I’m probably not going to do another record,” or had that conversation with me before he mentioned anything like that.

I was just assuming, “Oh fuck, what’s this going to be?” And it was, “I’m done.” Not what I expected. But if you made that decision, I’m not going to try to talk you out of it because your heart’s not going to be in it anyway.

Did he say why he was done?
I think just the wear and tear of the road. I think he wanted to be home. None of us are real spotlight seekers, but he’s certainly not. And when Jeff [Hanneman] was around, he was like a hermit. He did not want fame. I tolerate fame. Somebody’s got to be that guy.

I was wondering if the split was due to you two having different political ideologies. You seemed pretty angry when Tom posted about Trump on Slayer’s Instagram.
I was super pissed off at that — but not enough to fucking quit my band. I was like, “Dude, that’s what your personal social media is for. You’re the only one in this band that gives a shit about this idiot, and when you put it up there, we’re all backing him.” And I am not [backing Trump], Gary’s not, Paul is not. That’s your opinion, not ours. I would never do that to you.

I wasn’t sure if it was something deeper.
Well, me and Tom have never been on the same page. Like if I want a chocolate shake, he wants a vanilla shake. “Kerry, what color is the sky?” Blue. “Tom, what color is the sky?” White. We’re just different people. The further on in years we got, it just became more.

Am I going to hang out with Tom? He likes tequila a little bit and I’m a big tequila-head, so I’ll have my shot with him, and we’ll part ways. We’re not going to hang out or anything because we are very different people. And together, we made great music and a great live show.

When did it hit you that Slayer was done?
It hit me right away because I knew I wasn’t going to change anything about what I do. He said it. When we got to the Forum for the last two shows — especially the last one — I’m like, “This is the last time I’m going to be doing this in this format.”

It was tough. The hardest thing for me probably was keeping my head in the game [during the shows] and not messing up [playing] because your whole life’s in your head.

Have you talked to Tom at all since the last show?
Not even a text. Not even an email.

I’ve talked to everybody else from the band on the phone, text, or email. If Tom hit me up, I’d probably respond. It probably depends on what he hit me up for, but I don’t wish him dead at this moment.

Did you reach out to Tom about re-recording the songs you’d done in the Repentless sessions for From Hell I Rise?
Doesn’t matter. I wrote them. Had he wrote any, if I used them, I would’ve changed them, like the Metallica-Mustaine early days. But the leftover stuff was my stuff, so there’s no issues.

“[Dave] Lombardo is dead to me. … He threw me under the bus, and I’m like, ‘I’m the guy that kept you here.’”

The only other surviving original Slayer member is Dave Lombardo, but the band fired him in 2013 after he made a Facebook post about the band’s business behind the scenes. Have you talked to him?
No. Lombardo is dead to me.

I didn’t know it was that bad.
He went on that tirade when we were on a flight to Australia, and he knew we couldn’t retort for 14 hours, and he threw me under the bus. I was the only one keeping him in the band. Tom wanted him out before that, and Jeff had just gotten the spider bite [causing him to contract a flesh-eating bacteria, forcing him off the road], so he wasn’t playing with us much. I said, “We need [Dave]. The fans won’t get it if we replace him right now.”

And then the Australia thing came up. He threw me under the bus, and I’m like, “I’m the guy that kept you here.” So I thought, “Fuck that guy.”

What happened there?
He’s super impressionable. He was listening to this woman that was his attorney at the time, and she thought we had Metallica money, which we’ve never had fucking Metallica money. So she’s just blowing shit in his ear, and he thinks he should be getting more than he should be getting. It’s like, talk to somebody that actually knows the situation and isn’t just blowing sunshine up your ass to make money in your commission.

Did the dynamic in Slayer change after Jeff had to step away from the band? It seems like he was the tiebreaker between you and Tom.
Yeah, for the longest time, it was the three of us, even though Paul’s been there forever. Actually, Jeff’s vote was the deciding vote in bringing Paul back, and that was a good one. [Bostaph replaced Lombardo in 1992 and played with the band until 2001 when Lombardo returned. He returned to the lineup in 2013.]

Was it hard for you to move forward without Jeff?
We always assumed that he’d be able to come back and hopefully join us for more than just the fucking Big Four show he did. But that didn’t pan out.

I think the last year he toured with us was 2010. He wanted to come back. And I told him, “If you’re not a hundred percent, people are going to know immediately.” We had that conversation before the Big Four when he came back. He’d learned four songs. I talked to Tom about it, and I said, “Listen, it’s in our best interest and Jeff’s best interest to play two songs because people are going to be so stoked to see him, they’re not going to hear him play anything.”

So I went to Jeff with this and he’s like, “Yeah, but I learned four songs.” I said, “You are going to be excited, so you’re going to be extra intense, and by the third song, people are going to start realizing that you’re not playing at a hundred percent.” It’s probably the hardest conversation I have had in my life. I said, “That’s how it is, man. I’m doing you a favor.” And in hindsight, no one ever had anything bad to say about that show because they never had a chance to.

Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King in 1991.

Ann Summa/Getty Images

The way you and Jeff played together, it seemed like you were two halves of the same sound.
I think that’s very perceptive. He and I were like the same people. We had a couple of different opinions, but in the early days, it was hard to tell us apart. As we got older, it became more obvious for sure.

How did he influence your songwriting?
He went through his punk phase, and I never gave punk a chance because I was into great singers like [Ronnie James] Dio and Halford. Thanks to Jeff, I got punk, and I’ve known how to incorporate that in my music ever since. Even on this record, I got a couple songs I would call punk: “Everything I Hate About You” is thrashy punk and “Two Fists” is like Eighties groove punk.

Did you get to say goodbye to Jeff before his death?
No. I knew he was in the hospital. I knew he was in bad shape, but I didn’t know it was that bad. I was rehearsing with Paul for whatever we were doing, and [my manager] called me one day and said, “We lost Jeff.” I’m like, “I didn’t see that coming.”

I thought there would be a point … I mean, he lived only an hour from me, in a direction I never go — which that’s no excuse. But you just don’t know until that finality comes and you’re like, “Motherfucker. I wish I went there yesterday.” But it didn’t happen.

Is Slayer completely done now? Would you and Tom make another Slayer album?
I can pretty much a hundred percent say no because I have a new outlet, and it’s not Slayer, but it sounds like Slayer. I’m making the music I like to make still, so I don’t need to do that. Records don’t sell anymore anyway. It’s just a means to have a product out so people know what I’m playing when I come to town.

Will Slayer tour again? I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Could Slayer play a show again? I’m sure there’s a scenario. Am I looking for it? No, I’m just getting ready to start my career. So if that happens, it happens. But I’m going to be doing this for the next 10 years at least.

The lyrics on the new album focus on two clear enemies, which date back to your Slayer days: Christianity and the government. Why is that?
Well, it’s no secret that I think religions are a crutch for people that need something in their life to get them over the hump. That crutch in America is Jesus. Around the world, there’s many Jesuses in whatever form or whatever their name may be. I just think it’s a crock of shit, and I always have. It blows me away that so many people need something that inspires them. That’s what my family and friends are for.

Can you see society without government or Christianity?
Well, you need government. I just wish there was a college textbook that told you how to do government right. One of the lines I wrote for “Toxic” is “Too many people spend too much time forcing their opinion on other people’s lives.”

What inspired that lyric?
I wrote that right around the time that Roe vs. Wade went down. The biggest point I’d like to make in this interview is that every Supreme Court justice that got hired under Trump lied to get their job. A fucking judge lied to get his lifetime job. How fucked up is that? They overturned Roe vs. Wade because that’s why they were put there. It took me a long time to get over the fact that our Supreme Court justices lied. It shows up in numerous songs. It’s in “Toxic” and “Residue.”

“Rage” seems political, too. Mark sings, “Alternative facts for an alternative God.”
Remember when Trump left the White House to take a picture with a Bible in front of a church? “Rage” has a lyric about getting a baton to the face because Trump, this person that’s not as smart as the rest of us, has to go out and take a picture in front of a fucking church with a Bible. A lot of “Rage” is about that because the police in the streets looked like a Gestapo. I remember one where they pushed this 80-year-old man. He fell back and cracked his head.

I’m like, “How can you do that and sleep at night?” It’s like, “I’m Kerry King. I write the most fucked up words you’ll ever fucking hear from anybody, but I still feel for humanity.” I was so sad that day. I’m like, “How can you be a part of this and say it’s OK and tell the policeman that’s OK?” George Floyd, how can you tell me that’s OK? It’s not fucking OK. That’s our society.

“Will Slayer tour again? I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Could Slayer play a show again? I’m sure there’s a scenario. Am I looking for it? No, I’m just getting ready to start my career.”

Are you ready for November?
I’m ready to leave.

Do you worry about alienating fans of yours who like Trump by talking about this?
I think fans enjoy the music. I don’t think fans are that influenced by what I think politically, and they have their opinion, and I don’t try to talk them out of it. I state facts. If you like to believe it, good for you. If you don’t, stay in your hut.

I read that you changed some of the lyrics on this album about war after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Ukraine War came out while I was in the midst of writing a lot of my lyrics, and I pretty much wrote “Trophies of the Tyrant” about the Ukrainian war, but some of the other ones like “Two Fists” touched on war.

There’s been wars in the Middle East since the dawn of time, so we’re all numb to that. But this is Putin lying to his people and just executing the Ukrainians. So I’m like, “Why would I want them to feel anything except awesomeness about my song?”

I’m an older fella, I’m not 20. I don’t need to raise fucking hell. I write what I write because I’ve always written it. But I just didn’t want to be insensitive to what’s happening there because war is just tragedy anyway. I didn’t want a new band, a new album to have that stigma over it.

Speaking of age, how do you feel about turning 60 this year?
I still feel young. I’m young at heart. I still write music that makes me feel young. That being said, things happen when you get older. If you get an injury, it hurts longer. But that doesn’t carry into my music.

Are you ready to get back on the road?
I was telling my wife the other day, “I’ve never been home four-and-a-half years of my life, so I’m super anxious to go play.” It’ll take time to get used to it. But once I hit the stage, it’s going to be so fun.

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