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Cover Story: Kerry King • Solo Time

| May 31, 2024

Five years since Slayer played what was to be the band’s final gig on November 30, 2019, on their Farewell Tour during a hometown show at the Forum in Los Angeles, guitarist Kerry King has resurfaced with the release of his first solo album, From Hell I Rise (via Reigning Phoenix Music).

Recruiting former Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph was a no-brainer, while former Hellyeah bassist Kyle Sanders, former Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel, and current Death Angel vocalist Mark Osegueda were also top-shelf choices, making the Kerry King band one lethal unit.

With Bostaph already on board with the project, Demmel became available after his exit from Machine Head in 2018 after 15 years of service and let King know his intent on wanting to join the band. Demmel was already familiar with King as he filled in for guitarist Gary Holt on the last four European Slayer shows in 2018. Elsewhere, King hit it off perfectly with Sanders while their respective bands performed at the final Mayhem Festival in 2015. Last but not least, Osegueda threw his name in the hat early on by participating in the recording of the demos with King and Bostaph off and on for eight to nine months.

Post-pandemic, it costs exponentially more to bring a heavy metal show to audiences. Four years after COVID-19 subsided, the inflated prices continue to rise and seem to refuse to go back down to where it’s reasonable enough for bands to get out and tour comfortably. Although King has the built-in name recognition and notoriety from being in Slayer for the past 40 years, he’s basically starting all over again with a new band. “It’s just a whole other animal,” King confesses during a recent phone interview. “I haven’t started a new band in 40 years—then I was a teenager, and it all seemed easy. I’ve been riding the headline wave for a long time. It is more difficult; the way I’m used to traveling has to change because it’s too expensive. So I’m learning how to make that work.”

Work on From Hell I Rise began as early as 2020. However, King initially created some of the material that made the record during Slayer’s Repentless writing sessions, and on the 13 “Slayer worthy” tracks, King’s thrashy DNA permeates throughout the entire album. “There were two (tracks) left over from Repentance,” King admits. “On the next record, there’s three or four left over from Repentance as well as three or four left over from From Hell I Rise, and three or four I’ve written since then. But you also have to understand that since God Hates Us All, I’ve been responsible for most of the Slayer stuff. People say it sounds like Slayer and ask me if I’m concerned with that. But I’d rather be compared to myself than bands I don’t like.”

Writing all the music and lyrics for From Hell I Rise, King then demoed the songs by playing the bass and the guitar while also laying down scratch vocals before calling in Osegueda to put his magic touch on the tracks. The Death Angel vocalist’s dynamic range on the album is second to none. Although his timbre and inflection mimic noticeable Tom Araya similarities, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more well-suited vocalist than Osegueda on King’s solo debut. “I had so many lyric ideas, and we had Pro Tools set up in our rehearsal room, so anytime I had something at the end of practice, we’d just go for vocals until I got tired of doing it or until I ran out,” King explains. “And every time we’d get together, I would just punch in and make them better. So you got as good of a version (of vocals) as I can do—and that’s not great—but it conveys the thought; it conveys the conviction. So when Mark came in, he didn’t have to find where (the vocals) went; he already knew where (the vocals) went.”

Kicking the album off with the brief instrumental opener “Diablo,” FHIR comfortably steers in the thrash metal lane, while the track “Tension” contains a touch of groove metal, and “Two Fists” displays some savage punk/hardcore tendencies. The third track, “Residue,” is a mid-paced rager that wouldn’t have been out of place on Slayer’s God Hates Us All. However, a few of the tracks are a bit too repetitive without much musical variation or tempo changes, which ultimately wears out their welcome rather quickly. But for the most part, fans of latter-day Slayer will welcome From Hell I Rise with open arms. The musical chemistry and camaraderie are highly apparent throughout the record, as King was already friends with his bandmates—which made the transition even easier.

The guitar histrionics throughout the tracks are just as one would expect from King, but Demmel’s solos are highly engaging and complement King’s spots rather nicely. Plus, King gave Demmel free rein with his solos and tried to divvy them up equally between the two guitarists. “I had the opportunity to make up probably 95% of them (beforehand),” King says. “I think I had one left I had to make up in the recording studio, but I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted it to be. In mixing them up, there would be ones that I knew I had leftover from Repentless, so I kept those. I gave Demmel the ones that (Gary) Holt was going to do, the ones that I thought he would be better at than me.”

Lyrically, it’s not too hard to recognize that these are Kerry King songs, consisting of various anti-religious topics, atrocities of war, corrupt political leaders, and general strife facing the world. King’s ammunition for the crafting of the lyrics was fed by simply observing the world today. “With the pandemic, I spent a lot more time watching the news than I ever had in the past,” King admits. “First and foremost, I was more knowledgeable about the topics of the day and topics of the month. More about the Ukraine War when it came out, more about American politics than I ever knew before because that’s all you did. You sit home and binge-watch some new show, and when you get up in the morning, watch the news and see what’s crazy happening in the day. So it’s easy for that to sneak into my lyrics.”

The album was tracked at Hollywood’s renowned Henson Studios by producer Josh Wilbur (Korn, Lamb Of God, Avenged Sevenfold, Bad Religion) in a little over two weeks. The overall sound the veteran knob twirler achieved is monumental, bringing out the classic Slayer/King guitar tone while showcasing Bostaph’s blistering drumming skills and also capturing the volatile aggression of Osegueda’s vocals. “I’m just looking for somebody that clicks,” King says. “When I met him, I just wanted to make sure we hit it off because I need to take direction; I get lazy in the studio like anybody else does. I need somebody in there that if he tells me to play it for the 25th time, I say, ‘Yes, sir.’ I’m happy to do it again, and I need that. I think he did two or three mixes of masters. This last one that we ended up using captures the live guitar sound closest to anybody who ever has (tried to capture it). It’s really difficult to capture how the mic hears it and how the mic transfers to electronics. But at the end of the day, this one has that big girthy sound of my life sound. So, I’m pretty happy with it.”

On the live front, Kerry King’s band has only played three gigs so far, including Reggies Rock Club, Welcome To Rockville festival in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Sonic Temple Festival in Columbus, OH. And if you were one of the lucky ones who turned up at Reggies’ on May 7 to witness the band’s first-ever live show, you already know that this band absolutely crushes it on stage. King’s 17-song setlist in the South Loop included six King-penned Slayer tracks, as well as 11 of the 13 songs that appear on **From Hell I Rise. Although King has performed in Chicago many times over the decades, he has never played Reggies before. “My big memories from Chicago are all the Aragon shows,” King reflects. “I’ll never forget those forever. It’s always crazy. It’s always incredibly vocal and responsive. The Chicago crowd is very cool. I can’t wait to come back and play somewhere where a lot more people can come. We’re coming back. Don’t worry about it.

Reggies was super intimate. I knew it was going to be a small place, and we wanted it to be intimate; we wanted it to be small. We didn’t want to be thrown onto a festival stage on our first show. So, we got that under our belts, and two days later, we went and did Welcome To Rockville.”

As the headliner, King was allotted ample time to play almost the full new album. King filled me in on which of the new tracks he and his cohorts have been enjoying playing the most live. “Phil really admires and enjoys “Trophies of the Tyrant,” and I do too,” King confesses. “I like the (proper) opener “Where I Reign.” I like the closer and the title track, “From Hell I Rise.” It’s hard for me to pick one I don’t like. I’m just trying to figure out what to play and what to balance out for these first three shows.”
Although King is only currently focusing on playing the Slayer tracks that he wrote or co-wrote (“Repentless,” “Hate Worldwide,” “Disciple”), he’s not opposed to playing some of the classic Hanneman/Araya-written Slayer songs in the future. “I’m totally open to playing “Angel of Death” because people expect it,” he says. “I’m totally open to playing “War Ensemble” and “South of Heaven” because people expect it. But I’m not going to do any of that this year because I’m not giving any haters any extra ammunition. I’m doing stuff that I wrote or co-wrote from Slayer. That’s how it’s going to be, at least through this year.”

King’s band is gearing up for the upcoming European festival circuit in early June. Plus, three Slayer one-off “reunion” shows in the States at Aftershock, Riot Fest, and Louder Than Life festivals in September and October are also on the docket. Following the festivals, King’s band hooks up with the Lamb of God and Mastodon North American Ashes Of Leviathan co-headline tour from mid-July to the beginning of September. In addition to the upcoming live shows, King informed me that album number two is already in the works. “I know we have over 10 songs demoed from the last however many months and years; we’ve just got to go back and revisit them,” he says. “I’ve been spending so much time making sure I have a good live state of mind… playing guitar, standing up, hitting the pedals, hitting the leads, getting back into the rhythms. All this stuff is new to me because I haven’t done it in almost five years. I’m trying to keep the machine going. We’re not kids anymore and I want to make the most of the time that we have to entertain people.”

-Kelley Simms

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