KERRY KING's new reign: Inside SLAYER icon's second chapter | Revolver

KERRY KING's new reign: Inside SLAYER icon's second chapter

The thrash pioneer has finally ignited his solo project — but he's not shutting the door on Slayer just yet

This story was originally published in Revolver's new Spring Issue, which you can order at our shop.

It's a tourist attraction now, but 150 years or so ago, New York City's South Street Seaport was the busiest port in the world. Thousands of commercial shipping vessels from around the globe docked there annually to deliver their cargo and load up for the next voyage, and the nearby saloons were packed day and night with some of the roughest characters imaginable — sailors, stevedores and longshoremen sporting tattoos, earrings, scraggly beards, and skin as leathered as their dispositions from toiling year-round in the sun, wind, rain and snow.

A few of those old Seaport saloon locations are still functioning watering holes. Though they've all long since been cleaned up to appeal to out-of-towners and local workers from the adjacent financial district, and currently bear little resemblance to the notorious dens of iniquity and full-scale drunkenness that they once were. But on this snowy January afternoon, there's a guy sitting at a back table in one of those bars who looks like he'd have fit right in here a century and a half ago.

Scraggly beard and earrings? Check. Shaven, tattooed skull? Check. Fearsome scowl? Check. Several shots of hi-octane alcohol lined up in front of him? Also check.


This fierce-looking dude isn't exactly killing time between voyages, however; a resident of New York City since late 2021, Kerry King has become a regular at this particular establishment, which is a fairly easy walk from the Tribeca apartment he shares with Ayesha, his wife of 20 years, and their menagerie of rescue dogs and cats.

"My wife's from here, and she wanted to come back," he explains of their relocation from Las Vegas. "We moved out here two years ago, the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I'm still kind of getting to know it. I'd been to New York a billion times, but never long enough to worry about what part was what. When we started looking for places, I didn't know the Upper West Side from the Upper East Side."

The founding Slayer guitarist and songwriter has spent the last couple years familiarizing himself with the Big Apple's charms — "I walk everywhere, or take the subway," he says — including making several trips with Ayesha to the Metropolitan Opera. "She's a big opera fan," he says with a shrug. "I like it, but I always fall asleep trying to read along with the lyric translations." But as much as he loves the city, he's really looking forward to hitting the road this spring with his new band in support of From Hell I Rise, his long-awaited solo debut, which drops this May.

"I just finished [listening to] the last song as I was walking up to the door," he says, beaming. "I hadn't listened to it in a while, but you know what? I love it. It's still killer. I'm very happy… and it still feels like we finished it yesterday."

In fact, From Hell I Rise — a blistering 13-song album produced by Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Trivium) and featuring Death Angel vocalist Mark Osegueda, former Machine Head lead guitarist Phil Demmel, Hellyeah bassist Kyle Sanders, and longtime Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph — has actually been sitting in the can since last June, and it has roots stretching all the way back to Repentless, the 2015 album that turned out to be Slayer's final studio effort.

"I already had 'Rage' and 'From Hell I Rise,' two tracks on the new album, left over from Repentless," King says. "Those songs were originally recorded for that album, but I just didn't get the performance I wanted out of them. So rather than put them out half-assedly, if that's a word, I decided I was gonna keep them for the next Slayer record and try recording them again. But when it turned out that there wasn't going to be another Slayer record, they became my stuff."

Slayer — the storied and massively influential thrash-metal band King co-founded in 1981 with vocalist-bassist Tom Araya, drummer Dave Lombardo and late guitarist Jeff Hanneman — announced in January 2018 that they would be embarking on one final world tour and then "move on," a decision largely driven by Araya's desire to retire from the road.

On November 30th, 2019, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Slayer played the final show of that run. Nearly five years later, the band will reunite its most recent lineup — featuring Araya, King, Bostaph and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt — for three festival appearances this fall, at Chicago's Riot Fest on September 22nd, Louisville, Kentucky's Louder Than Life five days later and Sacramento, California's Aftershock on October 10th (dates that weren't announced at the time of our original interview with King). But there are no plans for a full-fledged return to action for Slayer. Which means that King is still very much in need of launching a new chapter in his career; consider the pointedly titled From Hell I Rise the opening passage.

Slayer live in 2019

"I had every intention of making another Slayer record," King says, looking back at the origins of the album. "Until Tom was doing an interview with some publication, and they asked him about the next Slayer album. He said something like, 'I don't know, I gotta talk to Kerry before we start working on the next record.' And that's what he wanted to talk to me about: He had no intention of doing another record.

"And when I found that out," he continues, "of course I'm hurt, first and foremost. Second, I'm like, 'I got a lot of work to do.' Third, I'm like, 'I've just gotta play my gig as best I can every night [on the final tour] and prepare to move on.' And fourth, I was like, 'OK, all these songs that I'd been writing for Slayer? Now they're just mine.'"

In a late 2022 interview with Metal Hammer, King called Slayer's retirement from touring "premature," and described the band's 18-month farewell trek as a "bummer." Today, he seems to view the subject with a little more equanimity, in part because he's so stoked about From Hell I Rise.

"I mean, there's something to be said for going out on top, and I'm happy to be a part of that," he says. "I feel like Peyton Manning — I won the Super Bowl and I quit. But was I done? Absolutely not. If I was, I wouldn't have this great record sitting in front of me. Would this have been the next Slayer record? Probably, though there's a couple of things on this that I might not have put on the next Slayer record. It's not like I ever felt like I had blinders on in Slayer, and I never felt pigeonholed in Slayer; but once you take the Slayer moniker away, my brain doesn't feel as restrained."

Striking out on one's own after four decades in one of the most iconic metal bands of all time is no easy task, of course. Mindful of the shadow that Slayer would inevitably cast over his next move, King put a considerable amount of thought into assembling From Hell I Rise — particularly in selecting the band that would play on the record and tour to support it.

"There was no way I was going to do this without Paul Bostaph," he says. "He's really fantastic; and I think a little bit of an overlooked thrash drummer. Lombardo's a great player. I can never ever take that away from Dave. But Paul works hard every second to be the best drummer he can be. He's very open to direction. He thinks about going through a song once, twice, 10 times before he plays it. He's a perfectionist."

King's first choice on bass was Kyle Sanders, brother of Mastodon bassist Troy and former member of Bloodsimple and Hellyeah.

"I knew Kyle from the Mayhem Festival we did together, and we'd got on great, and I knew I wanted him to be my guy," King recalls. "But I had to play my hand with him a lot earlier than I wanted to. Vince [Vinnie Paul] up and quit on us in 2018, and I didn't want to offer him the gig anywhere near Vince dying, because that's just inappropriate. But I was on the phone with Kyle before Hellyeah did their final tour, just checking in to see how he was, and I said, 'I don't want to cloud what you're doing, but when 2020 rolls around, I got something you're probably gonna be interested in.' And he was like, 'I hear you loud and clear.'"

The next piece of the puzzle for King was Phil Demmel, who had stepped in as a last-minute substitute for Gary Holt for the last four dates of Slayer's final European tour. "When Phil came out for those European shows, all he could talk about was that he knew I was going on after this — and he was like, 'I wanna be part of your future.' And he wasn't having anything less!

kerry-king-band-2024-jim-louvau, Jim Louvau
photograph by Jim Louvau

"At that point I was probably still in the Holt camp, as far as having him in my next band," he continues. "But I started to realize that the more pieces I take from Slayer, the more it's gonna be called 'Slayer Lite.' I mean, of course it's gonna sound like Slayer; I wrote 90 percent of the last record. But if I take less with me from Slayer, there'll be less for people to stand on, as far as making lazy comparisons. If I had to do Slayer over again after Hanneman [who died in 2013], 110 times out of a 100, I would pick Gary Holt. He was the right guy. But the perception of people, it weighs on me, and I don't want to deal with that.

"I love Gary. He's a great player. But I already had my one dude from Slayer I was definitely keeping. And Phil had only played four gigs with Slayer, so that comparison wasn't going to be there; also, he impressed the fuck out of me when he came out to do those Europe gigs. It was just a couple of days after his Machine Head tour had ended, and he learned 18 or 20 of our songs on short notice. He also had to learn our stage tempos, and where the pyro was. If Judas Priest had asked me to come out in four days and figure all that out, I couldn't have done it. But Phil did it for us."

When word began circulating in the metal world that King was putting together a new band, few vocalists stepped forward to offer their services. "Maybe they thought I already had somebody," King reflects, "or maybe they didn't think that they could handle the speedy vocals. I definitely have some tongue twisters in my lyrics, but I knew Mark could do it. I've known him forever, but we got closer in the mid-2010s when Death Angel opened for us on Repentless. He's a fun guy and a great singer. But I didn't tell him until about a year ago that he had the gig; I wanted to kind of test out his coachability, to make sure he wasn't a nightmare to work with, which he was not. And it turned out he had a whole other level of vocals that none of us knew about.

"'Residue' was the second song from the new album that he sang on, and he just went completely nuts on it. I walked in and was like, 'Is this sustainable? Because if this is just [you] on record, I don't wanna go out there and present something that's not reproduceable live. You think you can do this five nights a week?' And he's like, 'Yeah, I do.' And then he started really belting it out on 'Crucifixation' and 'Where I Reign,' and I was like, 'OK, I believe you!'"

Musically or lyrically, From Hell I Rise doesn't deviate particularly far from the template Slayer has laid down in the past — but the anger coursing through the album, and especially through tracks like "Rage," "Residue," "Toxic" and "Two Fists," all feels very immediate.

"I wrote the lyrics to 'Toxic' and 'Residue' around the time that Roe v. Wade got overturned," King recalls. "'Toxic' is vague enough where it can be about any government because everybody all over the world has problems with their government. But one of the lines in that song is 'hide behind the cloak' — and that, to me, referred to how every one of Trump's Supreme Court judges lied to get their job. If you don't want to believe that, look it up. I watched every one of them get nominated, and I watched every one of them lie about Roe v. Wade to get their gig. These are the people judging my future. And don't get me started on Clarence Thomas…"

"'Rage' is about all the political nonsense that happened in Trump's presidency," he continues, "like when he went to take a picture holding a Bible in front of the church during the George Floyd protests. Like, what the hell, dude? I mean, I'm not here to tell you what to choose. I'm here to point out things — maybe things you don't know, or things maybe you didn't think of, or you don't see because of the nightmare of nonsense people spew out at you.

"That's what I do with religion, too. It's not my job to tell you to like God, like the Devil or like atheism. But I've given myself this job to point things out that maybe you don't think about when other things are force-fed down your throat."

But despite the rage seething through From Hell I Rise, the album radiates the unmistakable vibe of musicians having an absolute blast. "We all just had the best time working together on the record," exults King. "Everybody was just fired up and really excited about the project, and I think the final product really says that; it's firing on every cylinder, for sure. I remember I went up to Paul Bostaph on like day three in the studio, and I was like, 'You know what? This is fun!'"


Asked when the last time was that he felt a similar sense of fun during a Slayer recording session, King doesn't miss a beat. "Eighties," he says. "But you know, when you're in a project for a long time, people change their opinions; we worked hard to be who we were, so you've gotta give and take. But I like how fun this is; I like just seeing people smiling, and people saying, 'You want me to do it again? Let's do it again!' I think it's a great piece of work, and a natural progression from Slayer. And it definitely fills a void."

And speaking of doing it again… when Revolver asked King about the likelihood of a reunion tour during our January interview, this is what he had to say: "I have not slammed the door on Slayer playing. I am pretty sure Slayer will never tour again, and I can pretty much guarantee Slayer will never make another record."

He adds, "Did we retire? Absolutely — we retired from touring. Those chains will never be worn again. Am I gonna make new chains? Yeah, probably." He laughs. "Because I don't know what to wear without 'em."

A month after our conversation, the cat is out of the bag: the Slayer reunion is official. So, of course, we need to go back to King and ask if he'd actually known about these reunion dates the whole time.

"If you ask promoters, they're going to have another answer," he replies. "If you ask booking agents, they'll probably have a third answer. But to me, it kind of came out of nowhere. Have we been getting offers the past few years? Yeah, we turn down offers every year, probably every month of every year. These three festivals are right around the five-year anniversary of our last tour, which I thought was kind of cool. So, I thought this might be the right time to test the water. It will be great to play for the fans again."


Considering that King has numerous festival dates of his own coming up this summer, along with nearly six weeks supporting Lamb of God and Mastodon on the Ashes of Leviathan tour, we were curious to know if he thought that the impending Slayer dates would upstage his new album and the serious roadwork that he and his band are putting into it.

"Well, time will tell, and my answer would be, 'hopefully not,'" he says. "The funny thing is, it never occurred to me until the day the Slayer announcement came, but Demmel said, 'Dude, is this real?' And I'm like, 'It's just a few weekends and that's it.' Of course, Paul knew. But I didn't tell Phil, I didn't tell Kyle and didn't tell Mark — and I said to the guys, 'There's no master plan here.' I didn't want anybody to start getting cold feet. I said, 'This is a little moment in time, and yeah, Kerry King is going to be touring, you know, hopefully later in the year, as well. But Slayer is an entity and I'm just a person.' But hopefully, we drive on with the solo project."

All of which, of course, begs the question: If the Slayer dates feel great, and Araya suggests getting the band back together in the studio to make another album, would King consider it? "I'll stick my hand in the bucket for a couple shows," he says, "but I just started my new career, and my career is just taking off. I'm very excited for the guys in the band to actually be able to see something coming of their efforts. And we've got material towards record two, already. And that's going to be under the Kerry King moniker, for sure.

"The wait for that album won't be long," he adds. "There won't be no five-year gap. I ain't got time for that, dude. I'm getting old. This is the point of my life where I ain't got time to fuck around."

Lighting by Jason Goodrich; Location is courtesy of Saint Vitus Bar