LES CARLSEN: He’s Coming

After the untimely passing of his best friend and fellow metal missionary, Michael Bloodgood, Les Carlsen dealt with the pain of loss in the only way he knew. He went to work. Without Michael, there is no more Bloodgood the band. Les was able to utilize material the band had been working on, and add some fresh new songs to give us what might possibly be the best Christian metal release of 2022. 

He’s Coming has that fantastic classic Bloodgood metal sound but Les has added a new dimension by utilizing his musical theater background to present a layered and dramatic vocal attack. Joyce, Les’ wife, also adds her considerable pipes into the mix for a varied and unique effect. 

Paul Jackson, Oz Fox, David Zaffiro, Craig Church, and Les Carlsen play guitar all over this record. Drums are brought by Dan Needham. Ricky B. Roger’s thumps the bass. Joyce Carlsen’s production brings a clarity and balance to the mix that is missing in many of today’s hard rock/heavy metal releases. 

The guitars are spaced evenly in the mix with the many parts bouncing effectively from side to side. The bass is even and present without overtaking the guitars and the drum production is on point with a punchy attack but laying in the pocket enough to affect an infectious groove. 

The star of the album is the vocals. Of course, it is a Les Carlsen solo record! But it isn’t just the quality of Les’ voice, but the arrangement of the multilayered vocals we hear all over. Les sounds refreshed, healthy, and emotive. And the multi-track vocals are breathtaking. 

But an album can have the best instrumentalists playing impeccably produced tracks but without good songs, the album will fail. The songs on He’s Back are all great. No, not great, fantastic. And this critic is going to do what he rarely does and dive into this record song-by-song.

The album starts with the track, I Wanna Know You. This song would have been at home on the Bloodgood album Rock in a Hard Place. It is a classic Bloodgood mid-tempo hard rock song. The lyrics speak to Les’ yearning to know God even more than he does, and to hear His voice speak in his life. 

I Wanna Know is followed by Scars. This is another very “Bloodgood” sounding track that does not cover any new territory but is a superb track nonetheless. Les’ voice soars as he proclaims that the hands that have created everything still have scars.

Oz Fox lends a writing and playing hand on the next track, Judas is Dead. Bloodgood already has a passion play of sorts with the one-two punch of Crucify and The Messiah off the Detonation record. This song can be added to the mix to further tell the story of passion week. Told from Judas’ point of view, this song is musical theater at its best. The double tracking of Les’ voice throughout lends a very mournful effect to the proceedings. There is a spoken word section that finds Judas realizing what he has done and what he must do that is absolutely heartbreaking. Judas is Dead is an instant classic. 

Next up is The Jesus Freak Show. Not to be confused with the classic DC Talk song, this is a brand new presentation. Once again, Les’ musical theater background is front and center with vocal effects and even a circus barker calling us to hear the greatest story ever told. It is hard to describe this without comparison to other artists. The Jesus Freak Show is a great combination of Marilyn Manson, Meatloaf, Alice Cooper, and Rod Stewart. I know that might be an odd combination, but give it a listen and you will understand. 

Faith is Tested comes roaring next. Les used this album as a catharsis of sorts to help him through an incredible year of loss and mourning. It is refreshing to hear artists be honest and talk about struggles of doubt and pain. The greatest hymnal ever, the book of Psalms, found David crying to God in pain many times. Faith is Tested is followed by another song of doubt and pain, How Long. Les asks many times how long can this pain last? These songs are heavy, emotional, and honest about these issues. But both tracks give us the answer we all need. Faith and endurance can and will be tested. But with God we can come through it all. 

After the emotion and driving metal of How Long, Les offers us some breathing room with the introspective and gorgeous, River. Equating our savior to a clean and flowing river, Les realizes that if we rely on the strength of Christ, we can carry on and flow through life with power and grace. The song builds from a melancholy ballad to a driving and decidedly crunchy finale. 

He’s Coming is a classic Les Carlsen song unashamedly proclaiming the return of Christ. Michael Bloodgood would be thrilled to hear Les continuing the classic Bloodgood sound and this song entails all that made Bloodgood so great. It is here, the boldness of lyric, the crunch of guitar, the strength in melody. 

Return Me to the Fire finds Les turning over lead vocal duties to his beloved Joyce. Les and Joyce have worked together since the 1970s and it is great to hear her on this. She has an incredibly strong voice for such a tiny person (If you have seen her in person, you know!) This song is a great way to finish the album. It is a strong, driving song that really showcases what Joyce can do. I vote for a Joyce Carlsen solo album next. 

He’s Coming is Les and friends firing on all cylinders. We may never get a new Bloodgood record, but as long as Les has breath, we can look forward to material from his rich musical imagination. This record is an astounding effort and quite the rewarding listen. It is a true “headphone” record with all kinds of production trickery and “ear candy” throughout. Lyrically rich, honest and emotional, He’s Coming is a journey I have been willing to take over and over. And so should you. 

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