Jim Louvau

No Drama for Kerry King

We might as well call May ‘Kerry King Month.’ This week the legendary metal guitarist plays his first shows with his new band under the name Kerry King, and it’s somehow only the second band the ferocious axeman has performed with during the course of his 40-year career.

We have high hopes for the rest of spring, starting now, but starting on May 17, specifically, as Kerry King releases From Hell I Rise, his debut album. These are exciting times for the rocker and his fans; his ravenous followers can mark this as a return for this will be the first that they have heard from the man since his former band retired in 2019.

The reception from the first singles band and first releases from From Hell I Rise – “Idle Hands” and “Residue” – are deservedly garnering five devil-horn reviews. Just wait until you hear the LP from front to back, we say! The album is an unconditionally blistering, vicious, and unstoppable attack. The instrumental intro, “Diablo,” sets the stage, bringing anticipation that gives way to a monster riff welcoming “Where I Reign.” Then we’re off to the metal races.  

Single “Idle Hands” is another barnburner showcasing King’s furious arsenal of riffs. The primitive drums on “Residue” lend to the track’s sinister vibe, and King’s signature blunt and aggressive lyrics accompany the ultra-aggression of “Trophies of the Tyrant,” “Crucifixation,” and the aptly-titled “Rage.” The track “Two Fists” is an uncompromising platter of eighties glory days and hardcore punk, while “Shrapnel” is inspired by the Scorpions (a seemingly odd choice that actually makes perfect sense).

Then there’s the band that created this maelstrom; King is quick to emphasize that, while the name on the album cover is Kerry King, this is a true band and it is not Kerry King and company. He enlisted drummer Paul Bostaph, his longtime bandmate from his previous group, and singer Mark Osegueda, vocalist for Bay Area thrash stalwarts Death Angel who is committed to King’s band. His commanding, belligerent vocals are a revelation. It is Osegueda as you’ve never heard before, which was King’s vision for the singer. 

While King lays down the album’s unyielding rhythm guitars, lead guitarist Phil Demmel gives a phenomenal performance. His scorching solos elevate the songs. Demmel played several fill-in dates with King in his prior chapter when guitarist Gary Holt missed several shows due to family commitments. Kyle Sanders of Hellyeah provides bass lines that enhance the tracks on From Hell I Rise and teams with Bostaph for a natural, yet relentless rhythm section. 

King, the man and band, will soon join Mastodon and Lamb of God for an arena tour. Although those shows do not include area dates, that just heightens the anticipation. We cannot wait to see him arrive on the East Coast, especially after we recently spoke with him at length for an exhaustive, in-depth interview. 

Had you been thinking about putting together your own band for awhile?

Paul and I, we were guns blazing. I was throwing out picks on the last tour saying ‘Reborn 2020,’ because I had every intention of being out in 2020. Then the pandemic came up, so me and Paul were not together, then we did start getting together three months later, and then we both got COVID-19. Mine lasted three days, but his was one of those long things. He didn’t feel bad, but it lasted about a month. 

There are definitely some songs left over from our final Slayer album, Repentless, on this record. On album number two there are going to be three or four songs leftover from Repentless, plus leftover songs from From Hell I Rise and songs written since then. 

[L-R] Paul Bostaph (drums), Mark Osegueda (vocals), Phil Demmel (guitar), Kerry King (guitar), Kyle Sanders (bass) / Photo by Jim Louvau

Did the band come together soon after your final show in your previous band? 

I took three months off after Slayer wrapped it up and then just said, “I’m going to get back on this. I’m not going to waste six to eight months just doing nothing,” so I had a prolific 2020-2021. That’s where the bulk of these songs came from. 

How did you go about getting the band together? 

Actually, when Tom finally told everyone in the band, I knew months before, but Paul and (former Slayer guitarist) Gary Holt… Tom just for whatever reason didn’t tell them and I didn’t feel like it was my job to tell them because I wasn’t retiring. Once they finally got the news, I saw them at a photo session the next day and I went over to Paul. I said, “Hey man, I got you if you want to continue on with me. I think you and I work very well together,” so he was obviously the first one in the fold.

Demmel – he did fill in four dates at the end of 2018 in Europe for Holt because his dad was sick and he wanted to come back and deal with that. The entire time that Phil was there, he made it clear that he wanted to be a part of my future, so the little light bulb went off and I said, “What a great idea.”

He’s been a friend for decades. What he came out and did for Slayer, I couldn’t do for my favorite band on the planet. For instance, if Judas Priest said, “Hey, Kerry, we need you to fill in for Richie or Andy in two days,” I would’ve said, “I’m flattered but I don’t know I could learn everything in two days.” Phil came in and crushed it. I knew he was going to be awesome. Then Kyle I met on the 2016 Mayhem Tour. I didn’t need a bass player then, but we shared numbers because we’d always be hanging on days off.

I can get probably 80% of the metal guys on the planet, so the most important thing for me was just to get friends. No drama – no one expects anything unrealistic and you just go out there and have fun. 

Mark threw his name in the hat very early and I put it in my back pocket that this was hopefully going to be the last singer for the rest of my life. After a while, me and Paul were making demos of just guitars and drums. I would send Mark some early, early demos and I would send him early lyrics and say, “Hey, man! Why don’t you come down and listen to my scratch vocals and make them better?” We would do that every six or eight weeks. Every time he’d come down, he would know the songs better, and we would address things that we thought would be better and just make the entire product better. He’s the only singer that ever played with me and Paul. I think it was February of last year – he was in my house and I said, “If you want the gig, it’s yours.” He was visibly excited. He was super stoked and texted his family immediately. Two months after that we were recording. He came in and just crushed it from where the demos ended up, and what he ended up performing is light years different. 

I know what to expect from Paul. He and I were so rehearsed. We started in 2021 or 2022.  When we went in, for the first time in Paul’s career (with me or Slayer), he was able to know where all the lyrics went and how they went. He knew where all the leads went, so he could play what I would call reactionary drums, playing to what is happening in the song. He could play to the song, which I think was super beneficial to him. 

Kyle, when he came in to play bass, I had already sent him demos. I sent demos without bass and I sent him demos with bass so he could listen to it and embellish whatever was there. He could do that. He never rehearsed with us. He basically came in cold. He knew his stuff. There was no point in flying him across the country to rehearse. If he had any questions, I could show him on a FaceTime video.

The only thing I did with Kyle when he was doing his tracks was this: I would sit and watch him, because I know how everything’s going to go. I kept a hawk’s eye on him. I said, “I know that some of these notes are fast. If you don’t know what’s going on, just ask.” I was just policing what he was doing, but he had a firm grasp on what he was doing.

Demmel just came here and did his leads. I did all the rhythms. He did it in a day and that didn’t surprise me. He came in and crushed, and the rest is what you’re hearing. The third day recording in the studio I caught Paul coming around the corner and said, “You know what, dude? You’ve done this with me a lot. This is fun, just to be in a different environment, different food in the studio, different people in the studio.” Everybody had a blast. 

The introduction to the album, “Diablo,” sounds like an inexorable military advance and then “Where I Reign” explodes with a monster opening riff as a statement of intent. 

I’m kind of spoiled in my old age. I need a song that was just put on earth to be played when we walked onstage. With “Diablo,” I wanted it to be different than the introduction on Repentless. I wanted it to have a different vibe, different flavor. This one is just heavy. It’s got a bit of a recurring lead, an anthem recurring lead, and it sets up “Where I Reign,” which definitely references where I’ve come from. It’s perfect for people to hear as basically my coming out track. 

“Idle Hands” was the first single. What was the reaction? 

I don’t really read comments. My friends tell me that, being conservative, they feel like 85% to 90% of the comments are positive. It makes me feel good. If you liked me in my previous band, there’s no reason you’re not going to like this.

“Residue” has primitive drums and a sinister sound. Is that one of the songs you referenced as having had in your back pocket for a while.

I’ve had that riff since the last time Paul was in the band. He doesn’t remember, but I do. I remember I worked on that riff with Dave when he was in the band. I just never found the other riffs that became friends with the main riffs to make it a song. I had this song, but I just couldn’t finish it. I kept it in the back of my head or on my little phone notes and eventually finished it. It came together pretty fast in this session. Actually, that’s one of two songs I wrote lyrics to when I was in the hotel with COVID! The funniest thing – and this is relevant because people had this, people died from this – was the worst I ever felt was the last day I tested negative. I felt shitty that night. I was in the bar watching the Stanley Cup with my friends. I almost left. The next day, I was positive, but it was very mild. 

Do you look at your guitar like a weapon, as the neck and headstock as a bayonet? 

They are definitely visually menacing. I love historic guitars. I love Les Pauls, I love Strats, but I don’t have any. I like the V guitars. If you think of me, you think of some kind of pointy guitar – the Warlock, the B.C. Rich, the guitars with every company I’ve played with, the ESPs, the Deans. It’s just kind of synonymous with me. 

“Two Fists” is total hardcore punk. Did you plan to go in that direction?  

That’s how I set out to make that song. I made the riffs up to be very punky. I approached the lyric ideas as very punky. There are lines in there that I never would have tried in Slayer just because it’s a different vibe. I wanted to present it like a punk song from the eighties.

You have talked about “Shrapnel” being inspired partly by a Scorpions-type riff. What impact and influence has the band had on you?

The Scorpions used to be a super hard rock band and they, like Van Halen, went from super hard rock to basically a pop-rock band, but if you go back to their (Love Drive song) “Another Piece of Meat” days, it was like, “This is great! I love this stuff!” I like the popular Scorpions songs, too, but I’m more from the heavy camp. My intention in “Shrapnel” was to do something like the beginning of the Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism” riff, the big wide-open riff. It came together pretty quick. I had that vision and it jumped out of my hands that day. 

How did you go about helping the rest of the band play the music you wrote the way you wanted to hear it?  

With Phil, it’s his leads that he basically wrote himself. I didn’t even watch him. When he was done, I listened to it and he had a few questions like, “Is this too melodic? What do you think?” It was like, “Man, this is a new record, this is a new band. That’s your lead. If it’s not making me throw up, I think it’s great.” He brought a nice, melodic vibe to my anarchist vibe and I think it mixes really well. 

With Kyle, I could’ve played bass. I’ve been playing bass for a long time, but I thought, “Kyle’s so into this.” The first four songs I sent him, within a week he sent them back with bass and I was like, “Wow. No one has ever done that for me. It’s his gig. If he’s digging it, I’m digging it.” 

Mark was the one I worked with the most. We had lots of conversations. I said, “Listen, I can’t have Mark from Death Angel. You’ve got to be recreated today. Everything changes. Think about that every day and you become something more than you were.” These aren’t detrimental things. These are just things I expected if you want to sing in my band. I worked with him on the demos. I worked with him on the scratch tracks and in the studio, and it was more enunciation, cadence, paying attention to every detail. I think we have the best performance I’ve ever heard from him. 

You haven’t played live in the past five years. How excited are you get back onstage? 

I’m very into playing. It’s not the travel. I love going to cities, of course, but getting to cities is a pain in the ass. I would love if I never traveled again; I’m cool with that, but I’m put here to perform and I enjoy performing. I’m looking forward to performing and the more we rehearsed and the more polished we got this stuff, and the more songs we have for the future, sp I’m just getting stoked. 

I said to Paul, “I want to go immediately into the studio and bang out record two afterward.” When you’re fresh off the tour and sharp, you can do a super quick performance because we’ll all be rehearsed on it. That’s the plan. I’ve got everything in place to make that happen now. We’re going to be on tour and I can work on lyrics for pieces that aren’t finished yet. Hopefully everything will be done by the time the tour’s done. 

Your first show is on May 7 at Reggies in Chicago. Did you specifically want to play to a smaller crowd before the Welcome to Rockville and Sonic Temple festivals?

No, it was just so we could get in a performance scenario without being thrust into it with everything out of your own hand. We want to prepare. We don’t want to be onstage bumping into each other. Kyle’s a lefty so there’s going to be a new thing that we’ve got to look out for. It’s a warm-up; that’s why it’s got to be small. It is just to get your sea legs going, but it’s going to be intense and it’s probably going to be a sweatbox. 

Do you think there will be any nerves before hitting the stage for the first time in five years?

Not really. I’ve never gotten nervous. Maybe very early on, but it’s not my style. I get it, though. I don’t think it’s butterflies as much as adrenaline. For me, the first time we played Donnington in the nineties was a super achievement. Back then we only had magazines and every year you’d see this incredible lineup of bands that played Donnington. Then we finally got to do it and I’m like, “If I didn’t think we’d made it, we’ve made it now.”

How much of From Hell I Rise will be in the set?

The problem, so to speak, is all my set times are going to be different. Reggies is a headline set. I’m not going to go in there with an hour-and-a-half of material, but we’ll probably play around an hour and 15 or an hour and 20. Those two festivals are either 50 minutes or 60 minutes.

I’m looking to play the majority of the record. I don’t want to play all of it. I feel if I play all of it there’s no reason to come back. However long the set is I’ll fill it in with Slayer songs that I wrote or helped write.

The Lamb of God/Mastodon tour runs through August 31, then you turn your attention to Louder Than Life, Riot Fest, and Aftershock. Will you hit the road again right after those shows? 

That’s my plan. I’m waiting for plans to fall into line. I definitely want to play out. I’m imagining the touring cycle going well, well into 2025, including next summer’s European festival circuit.