Immortal Christian Rock Festival- Sept. 2-4, 2022- Versailles, OH

Written by Chris Gatto, Photography by Brad T. Bowman

The music is over. The bands and fans have packed up and gone home. All that’s left is the ringing in my ears and the memories of what has taken place this weekend. Promoter Steve Barhorst put together an impressive 3 day festival over the Labor Day weekend that drew in the metal faithful from all over the country for what could be a once in a lifetime event in Versailles, Ohio. The old guard of the metal faith played along with some of the newer bands, making for a diverse lineup of bands old and new, some rock and mostly melodic metal. But what marked this festival as special, even life changing, was the love of God shared by all those in attendance. I mentioned to several that this was like a metalhead homecoming, but it was so much more than that. The Word went out from the stage, people came to salvation, people came back to the Lord, fans prayed for each other for miraculous healing, and strangers, bands and fans alike, met and embraced, united in a brotherhood unlike anything the world has to offer.

Opening Friday’s event, SAINT brought down fire and brimstone with their fiery brand of apocalyptic metal. The band opened with “The Blade” and weaved their way through songs from throughout their almost 40 year history. Utilizing the venue’s screens surrounded the stage to set the tone with images that looked like raining fire, the band didn’t slow down for a moment, tearing through brand new songs like “Heaven Fell” and “Vengeance,” as well as classics like “Abyss,” “Phantom of the Galaxy,” “Too Late for Living,” “The Path,” and “Warriors of the Son.” Though often plagued with a revolving lineup, Saint mastermind Richard Lynch has always kept that signature Saint sound, and with the same lineup for the last 2 albums The Calf and Heaven Fell, the result was a powerful and confident band showcasing some of the very best power metal out there. While singer David Nelson has a lower, raspier register than Josh Kramer, he was able to hit the King Diamond falsettos on some of the older material, and then playfully threw himself down on the stage like he was spent. Jerry Johnson’s broken leg didn’t hold him back on guitar, and he traded licks with Matt Smith with his red leather pants and shoes and Graham Bonnet hairdo, while Rich Lynch displayed his metal menace on his red BC Rich Beast bass, and Jared Knowland tore into his drum kit, not stopping, even as snares and cymbals started falling off. Saint closed their spectacular set with “In the Night,” and then “Hell Bent” for an encore. The band would prove to be a hard act to follow.

Act 2 was the relatively new super group HUMAN CODE, led by Michael (Lee) Drive. Essentially the most recent lineup of Worldview, with Michael Drive (Barren Cross, Galeforce) on vocals, George Ochoa (Deliverance, Recon, Worldview) on guitar, Toddy Libby (Worldview) on bass, and Terry “The Animal” Russell (Holy Soldier) on drums, dressed up like it was prom night, expectations of similar output were broken when the band started playing original 80’s style rock and covers of songs like “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Clearly the audience showed interest in the band and anticipate some recorded music, but not knowing any of their original music ahead of time, and following Saint’s burn it down and salt the earth performance clearly put them at a disadvantage.

Friday night closed with the reunion of SACRED WARRIOR. The band was made up of founding members Rey Parra, Bruce Swift, Steve Watkins, and Tony Velasquez, as well as longtime member Jon Johnson and Tom Sanderson on the keys. The band tore through numbers from all 4 albums from the late 80’s and early 90’s, playing title tracks from Rebellion, Obsessions, and Wicked Generation, as well as the opener “Mad Man,” the reflective “Remember Me,” and the worshipful “He Lives,” audience singing along the whole time, even when Rey’s voice started blowing out. Bruce gave a word from the stage and the band closed the night in worship with their new rocking rendition of the hymn “Solid Rock” and Les Carlsen joining them for an encore of the band singing their concert staple “Holy, Holy, Holy.” One day down.

Saturday started with wrestler Chris Jericho seeking interview questions from the audience and then doing a Q&A style podcast with the members of Barren Cross. Other than this, and Chris Jericho coming back to introduce Barren Cross later on in the night, Pastor Bob Beeman of Sanctuary emceed the event all weekend.

DENY THE FALLEN was the first act of Saturday. For the uninitiated who might see Rey Parra and Jon Johnson and anticipate the soaring melodic metal of Sacred Warrior, Deny the Fallen is a gritty modern metal act through and through. Rey clearly was struggling from the effects of pulling double duty on the mic, but the band was super tight, pounding out hits from their debut, like the excellent “Hands for War” (an invitation to prayer) or their new singles “Eye of the Hurricane” and “If It Costs Me My Life.” Clearly a case of musicians reinventing themselves and coming up with something new and equally powerfully, Deny the Fallen will be a band to follow in the future.

Next up was CHAOTIC RESEMBLANCE, a more recent, but seasoned modern hard rock band with several albums under their belts. Their set was shorter than some, but they didn’t neglect giving the Word from the stage nonetheless. They opened with “Quick and the Dead,” and closed with the catchy, but risque song “Get the Hell Out.” Someone mentioned that Les Carlsen has taken these young musicians under wing.

Before the next band, Pastor Billy Crone came on and gave a teaser of his message for the next day. The promoter mentioned that Billy specializes in the prophetic.

WHITECROSS continued the night of headbanging with songs old and new. Guitar axeman Rex Carroll and longtime members Michael Feighan (drums) and Benny Ramos (bass) joined newcomer David Roberts as he tackled early Whitecross classics like “Who Will You Follow,” and “Enough is Enough” with his raspy vocals, hitting all of the high points of Rex Carroll-era Whitecross, like “Take it to the Limit,” “Top of the World,” “Down,” “Good Enough,” even covering Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick.” The band proved to be more than a nostalgia act when it played 3 blistering new songs “Man in the Mirror,” “Fear No Evil,” and “Lion of Judah,” showing that Whitecross is still a band to be reckoned with. Every band member gave the Word, and that coupled with technical problems during Rex’s guitar solo put the band way overtime, which jeopardized the last performance of the night. “We Know What’s Right,” and “No Second Chances” were the last songs played.

Saturday night’s main act was BARREN CROSS, with all original members, a rare treat indeed. The band had not played together in the 10 years since their Elements of Rock show was recorded as the live album Birth Pangs, and although many of the same songs were played, bassist Jim LaVerde and guitarist Ray Paris visibly loosened up as they began to play and really starting enjoying themselves, as much as the audience, screaming along to “The Stage of Intensity,” “Deadlock,” “Close to the Edge,” “Let It Go Let it Die,” “Rock for the King,” and “Inner War.” Michael (Lee) Drive played his guitar instrumental song “A Walk with God,” the band accompanied him on “Rattle Your Cage,” pulled off “State of Control,” even though they had only dusted it off earlier that day, “Light the Flame” devolved into a blues jam, before going into the worshipful “King of Kings.” “Dying Day” closed the killer set, followed by the perfect encore in “Imaginary Music.” Day two, out with a bang, amid smiles all around.

Sunday began with the preaching of Pastor Billy Crone. His end times message about A.I. was particularly poignant and to the point that times are short and how we need to turn to the Lord before it’s too late.

It’s ironic, but pretty cool that in spite of Petra officially retiring back in 2005, that 2 Petras still frequently tour, reliving their music from different eras. This being CLASSIC PETRA RESURRECTION, with Greg X. Volz on vocals, you knew to expect a lot of the Petra classics up to 1985 that this touring band has rerecorded on their Back to the Rock albums I and II. CPR opened with “Bema Seat,” and hit classics like “Clean,” “Angel of Light,” “Godpleaser,” “More Power to Ya,” and a reworking of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” slowing down only for “For Annie.” Highlight of the set was the song “It is Finished,” which I’ve always thought needs to be covered by a metal band. As the Rolling Stones continue to prove, age is just a number and rock and roll will never die.

The next band’s arrival from Canada was an answer to prayer, as there was some question whether DANIEL BAND would make it through US customs. Though the band made albums only in the 80’s, singer/ bassist Dan McCabe and guitarist Tony Rossi sounded amazingly tight and after opening with “Run From the Darkness,” Dan nailed the high vocals that start the song “Bethel.” They played songs from most of their albums- “Rise Up,” “He’s the Creator,” “I’m Sorry,” “Never Again,” “Long Time Ago,” “Two Roads,” “Walk on Water” (remember that video?), before having some- ahem- unruly audience members join them on gang vocals for “Somebody Loves You,” and closing with “Party in Heaven,” and the encore “Don’t Give Up.” Here’s one band I’d love to see record new material. Clearly they still have it.

FEAR NOT is that band from the early 90’s that you had all but forgotten, but they’ve made a name for themselves all over again, releasing Fields of Sorrow this summer. All the original members are still there, with the addition of Eddie Green on vocals, who brings a southern edge to the band’s output. The band opened with their new smash hit “Black Soul Sunshine,” before reaching back to the 90’s for “Give It Up” and “There is Love.” Many of Fear Not’s more recent songs such as “Struggle,” “Carry Me,” and “Beautifully Broken” show the ups and downs of imperfect people striving to serve a perfect God. The band’s biker persona came back on display for “Don’t Want None (Come Get Some),” before closing in “Fields of Sorrow,” and “Lay It All Down,” and then returning to their debut for encore song “We Have A God.” An impressive set from a band that continues to evolve and put out great music. Love those BGV’s!

Closing the festival was Les Carlsen. With the recent loss of Michael Bloodgood, Les has laid the band Bloodgood to rest, but has been working on new material of his own. Paul Jackson (Bloodgood) and Craig Church joined him on guitar and wife Joyce joined him on much of his performance, taking the lead on “Return Me to the Fire.” Les opened with new song “Jesus Freak Show.” Other newbies were “Scars,” “I Wanna Know You,” “Faith is Tested,” “How Long,” “Judas is Dead,” and the closer “He’s Coming.” Bloodgood songs played were mostly from Dangerously Close, including the encore “Lamb of God,” with the obligatory “Crucify” and “The Messiah” from their live theater days and “Seven” from Rock and a Hard Place. There was a poignant moment when Les paid tribute to his friend Michael Bloodgood with a picture of him on the screen laughing and playing bass. When all is said and done, life is short. Live for God.

The inaugural edition of Immortal festival was everything I’d hoped it to be and more. Fans and bands alike packed out all the local hotels, made new friends, prayed for each other, and sang along with their favorite bands. Many musicians from other bands, notably Crimson Thorn, Biogenesis, Motivik, Ritual Servant, Weapons of God, and Martin Simson’s Destroyer of Death, made appearances as well. Pastor Bob Beeman likened this to the early festival Metal Mardi Gras ‘87, and though I’ve only seen the video, I’ve never felt this close to my metal brethren. Make it happen again.

(Ed.- Promoter Steve Barhorst is already planning Immortal II, so save your $ and vacation days for next Labor Day, boys and girls.)

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  1. You nailed it with the review. I was so overwhelmingly blessed attending the Immortal Festival. One thing theme that kept being shared throughout the weekend (I think Jim Laverde said it several times) that it was more than just bands and their fans. This was a family reunion and it felt like that all weekend. I was able to capture so many cool pix and video over the weekend, but the handshakes, new friends, hugs and prayer was what I will carry on with me. I can’t wait until they do the 2nd annual festival !!

  2. “Family reunion” is a term we coined at the Audiofeed Festival, as that was how the Cornerstone veterans who attended Audiofeed saw it. Kingdom Come Festival was a newer branch of that family, and it applies there, too. And now, Immortal likewise brought the family together. Here’s to expecting another one next year!

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