My Greatest Hits: Kerry King

Slayer frontman Kerry King picks his own career highlights, from opening for Judas Priest to Slayer's final shows

In the last four decades, Kerry King laid down some of the greatest metal riffs of all time. As the axe-wielding firebrand behind Slayer, he was at the forefront of the wave of thrash metal that swept the airwaves in the 80s, bringing with it legions of devoted fans and more than a few splashes of controversy.

In theory, that door has closed now. Even when Slayer played what was marketed as their final show in LA in November 2019, Kerry knew he wasn’t done. Half a decade on, he’s marching on as he always wished to, helming a solo project that spawned its first release From Hell I Rise, last month. He’s even bringing it to the home of metal royalty itself, Donington Park, for 2024’s Download Festival. Furthermore, in a move not even the most gifted of clairvoyants could have foreseen, Slayer have shows in the pipeline again at a few US festivals later this year… 

To understand how he got here, it’s worth looking at where he’s been. As expected, Kerry’s got a thick, doorstop-like tome of tales from his career, from playing on stages made with sticks to summoning the courage to talk to his hero, Rob Halford… 

Slayer’s first show in Europe, Heavy Sounds 1985

Slayer, Los Angeles, 1986
Slayer, Los Angeles, 1986
Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage

“It’s the first year we played in Europe ever. I thought that was pretty good for a kid [who had] nothing to his name. So I was pretty excited about being in Europe, for one, and being a big attraction on a decent sized festival back then; directly supporting some of our heroes back then was quite a thing for us. We were still driving ourselves around – we had this rental vehicle that was set up by whoever was in charge back then. We had one crew guy. It was still a bottom basement kind of tour but to be there, and to be able to play in that environment for our first European show… I mean, I’m not really a nervous kind of guy but I probably had butterflies because it was by far the biggest thing we’d ever played.”

Opening for Judas Priest, 1988 

“Judas Priest is my favourite band of all time. They started that tour with Cinderella opening and nothing against Cinderella, but that is just a horrible bill. That just doesn’t make any sense. For the last 13 shows of that run, they called out Slayer to bail out the West Coast dates. At that point, I was like, ‘I can’t talk to Rob, I can’t talk to any of the guys, I’m a gigantic fan…’ I am still a gigantic fan, but I can talk to them like normal people now. It was the first taste of real arenas and it was big for me because I’ve been such a fan of them all my life.”

First Clash Of The Titans US tour, 1990 

Dave Mustaine of Megadeath, Scott Ian (Anthrax), Jeff Hanneman (Slayer) and Kerry King
Dave Mustaine of Megadeath, Scott Ian (Anthrax), Jeff Hanneman (Slayer) and Kerry King
Photo by Ann Summa/Getty Images

“We got three of the big four – Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer. My main thing was just getting through the big four together because at that point in my career, I never thought the Big Four would ever get together because Metallica were already light years ahead of everybody. They didn’t need us to help them sell anything. So the three others of the Big Four banded together and made a big summer tour. I think that package was really cool for the fans to be able to get to be part of it.”

Playing Monsters Of Rock, 1994

“Being from America, you would read about this festival in the metal mags back then all the time and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t wait till I’m important enough to be on that’. Then ‘94 finally came around and we got the call. So I was very excited to be at Donington Park, at that great event for the first time. Paul [Bostaph] was fresh in the band and it was just a good time.”  

Playing Ozzfest in 2004 with reunited Black Sabbath and Judas Priest

“This one’s really big for me. And another thing I’ve touched on a couple times. The ’04 Ozzfest. It was when Halford went back to Priest with a reunion and it was Sabbath, Priest, Slayer and I’m like, ‘If I made up my [dream] line-up of bands I can ever play with, that was probably it’. Whoever was in front of us didn’t matter, I think it was Motörhead, which is equally cool. But it was just the best of the best, you know? Two of my favourite bands – we were direct supports of both of them – so I was pretty proud about that. That’s the best Ozzfest bill there’s ever been. I had a bag full of LPs from all the teenage bootlegs I bought from Priest and I had a stack probably four to six inches [high]. I couldn’t bring myself to bug them so my wife, who was out on the tour, went up and said ‘Can you sign these for Kerry?’.”

Finally getting the Big Four together in Europe, 2010

Slayer, Raining Blood - Live 2010

“Metallica didn’t need any of us – they just decided this would be cool for the fans, so they got everybody together and we did it. They did a number of songs together and I played two or three of them – they were going to do ‘So What’ and I’m like, ‘I will learn that this second I would love to play ‘So What’” and by the time I learned it, [Dave] Mustaine and Megadeth shot it down because it had too much bad language. I said ‘Come on man, we’re all adults here. What the hell?!’ Me and Gary knew it and they switched songs that night to one I didn’t know. It would have been great for that to continue but there’s just too many spoons in that pot, so to speak.”

Performing in India, 2012 

“I just think it’s cool for the culture to be able to have an extreme band like Slayer come in at least for one day, so people can come and check it out. When we went there for the soundcheck, I looked at the stage and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ The stage was literally made of tree branches. I gotta tell you, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know about that’.  But I got on that stage. That was one of the sturdiest stages I’ve been on in my life. It was a good time, and probably the only time I’ll ever get to India. I’m happy that we got to go on.”

Slayer’s final show (at the time), 2019

SLAYER - Repentless (Live At The Forum in Inglewood, CA)

“We went out with a bang and went out on top. We did two nights and killed it every night so that both nights everything went as planned, which I wouldn’t have expected. I played as usual, really. It was the end of that era. I wasn’t sure exactly what the future held after that because it took us a while to get here. But I knew I was going to be able to flare and I knew I was gonna continue to make albums. It’s taken me a while to get my new thing touring, but it’s super exciting.” 

Kerry King is playing Download festival between 14-16 June – with last tickets available here.

King is also playing London’s Electric Ballroom on 18 June. Find tickets here.

Photo credit: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns