Sept. 2-3, 2023
BMI Event Center, Versailles, OH

by Chris Gatto with excellent photography by Chad Fenner – Concert Fotos.

Versailles, Ohio is starting to feel like a second home, and I know I’m not alone in this. Every time I leave, I start counting the days until I can return to see all my friends again. The Immortal fans are the best, bar none. We’ve got Ed and Dwayne, the Greenville welcoming committee- who ended up starting an impromptu pre-party at the Holiday Inn, Billy and his air guitar, Shonda and George, our autograph collectors, Ernie Lonewolf and his wife Liz, cross-country bikers and downstairs neighbors, fellow bloggers, vloggers, and journalists Dave, Christian, David, and Rex, Anthony the merch man and his whole crew, the one and only Syke, Dorn and Su from Darth Plumber, BMI staffers Angie, Dave, and Mark, and you! An inexhaustive list of other musicians in attendance is members of: Weapons of God, Nostalgia, Telestai, XL & Death Before Dishonor, Grave Robber, Monsterus, Slamcat, Innersiege, Messenger, and Trytan. And the artists themselves make it seem like a big family outing. They make themselves available to the fans, and not just at meet and greets, mingling in the audience, talking, hanging out, breaking bread with the fans, listening and praying with them. It’s easy to see why the same faces keep returning and I pray that we see many new faces as well. This was part 2 of this year’s Immortal Fest, the so called “classic” lineup of faithful metal missionaries returning to the field to sow the seeds of the gospel once again.

Saturday was kicked off by GARY CHAPMAN armed only with his acoustic guitar and his sense of humor. He was followed by MATTHEW WARD with a full band (who seemed a bit reticent to hop in the van when I was asked to chauffeur them from their hotel to the venue). Matthew played a set of songs from his days in 2ND CHAPTER OF ACTS, as well as his extensive solo career. Even after 50 years of recording and singing, this CCM pioneer still has quite the distinctive voice.

The first heavy act of the night was FEAR NOT. From the band’s pop metal beginnings in the late 80’s/early 90’s, original members Larry Worley and Chris Sorensen (guitars), Rod Romero (bass), and Gary Hanson (drums) returned to the scene, now fronted by Eddie Green on vocals for a modern hard rock sound, by way of Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and with biker attitude for the For the Wounded Heart ep in 2019 and the highly successful Fields of Sorrow in 2022. The band kicked off with attitude with “Don’t Want None (Come Get Some)” from their ep, before delving deep into their current album with “Struggle,” “Black Soul Sonshine,” “Voluntary Madness,” title track “Fields of Sorrow,” “Lay It Down,” and “Beautifully Broken,” sometimes stopping to explain the song or exhort the audience, as with “Voluntary Madness,” a song exploring the dangers of alcohol addiction. Next was “Carry Me,” off the ep, before returning to Fields of Sorrow for “Riptide” and The Who cover “Join Together,” joined by Rey and Dylan Parra, Les Carlsen, and Syke Mochek, and closing with “We Have A God,” from the band’s 1993 debut. Fear Not put on quite the show, Eddie crooning passionately into his vintage looking mic, Chris and Larry laying down the bluesy riffs, and the aforementioned being the most friendly and down to earth rockers you’ll find anywhere.

Next up was SAINT. In the late 70’s/ early 80’s christian headbangers had Sweden’s Jerusalem and Chicago’s Resurrection Band (Rez) to soothe their itching ears, but not much of a heavier nature. That was soon to change in 1984 with the emergence of Saint, who brought the more traditional metal sounds of Judas Priest and King Diamond to Christendom. Main man and bassist Richard Lynch is the sole founding member left, but the lineup of Lynch, David Nelson on vocals, Matt Smith and Jerry Johnson on guitars (with Jerry in the band for almost 20 years now), and Jared Knowland on drums have been a stable lineup the last few years. The current band is extremely tight and their new music is some of their strongest material ever, while paying homage to the band’s extensive history. The band opened with “Heaven Fell” and “Vengeance,” both excellent offerings from the band’s current cd Heaven Fell. The band fully utilized the screens around them to display the cover of said album with a cathedral falling to the earth (heaven coming down) with pigeons flying amongst the clouds throughout their performance. Next was “Rise,” from The Calf, before going back to “The Choice,” from Jerry’s first cd with Saint- In the Battle, which merged right into “The Mark,” from the album of the same name. Similarly, “Phantom of the Galaxy” bled right into “Steel Killer,” the last 2 songs off the classic Time’s End album. Singer Dave, acting like he owned the stage- and yes, he did- stopped to introduce the band members. On to “Too Late for Living” and “The Path,” from classic era Too Late for Living and “Island Prisoner” from Time’s End and Dave throwing himself down on the stage after the exertion of singing the near impossible vocal acrobatics of his predecessor Josh Kramer. Next was “Hellblade,” from the 2010 album of the same name, Matt and Jerry showing off their guitar prowess, Rich speaking, and then we had the privilege of hearing a new song “Salt in the Wound,” from the band’s next masterpiece. The band then laid into a medley of songs (an excellent idea when your discography is littered with so many must plays!) which included snippets of “Plan 2,” the song from the debut ep Warriors of the Son that made me a lifelong fan,”Ryder,” from In the Battle, “Space Cruiser,” from Time’s End, and “Holy Rollin’,” again from In the Battle, before getting cut off by schedule conscious stage managers.

Closing Saturday night would be X-SINNER/ZION. It was a once in a lifetime chance to see both bands together. Since both bands shared singer Rex Scott, a set from both “resurrected” bands was possible using fill ins and shared members. X-Sinner was made up of powerhouse singer Rex Scott, rocking his red mic stand wrapped in chain and topped with a skull and guitarist Greg Bishop, drum kit ably filled by Zion’s Tommy Bozung and fill-in bassist Jason Ellsworth. The band opened with “Peer Pressure” from Peace Treaty with the band and audience both yelling “Tell ‘em NO!” Next up was “What Rock Is For” from World Covered in Blood, a tale of the not always glamorous life of rock stars. Greg Bishop stated that their setlist was the result of polling the fans about what X-Sinner songs they wanted to hear, and the majority called for songs from the 1989 debut album Get It, even though that predated Rex’s time in the band. And “get it”- they did- in spades with “Medicine,” Accountable,” and “Walking Evil,” before playing a new song called “Runnin’ Out of Time,” and then returning to Get It for “Living on the Edge.” “Wanna Be Set Free” comes from the X-Sinner’s latest cd from 2009, and then closed with the worshipful “Lift Him Up,” again from the debut. Set change. Greg Bishop out and guitarist David Moore in and Zion is on. Though the band only released one album, Zion’s Thunder From the Mountain produced more than a few chart topping hits, many of them in this setlist. Zion’s set kicked off with the haunting riff from “Who Pulls the Strings,” Rex Scott switching from the Bon Scott/Steve Whiteman vocal mode he employs with X-Sinner and GX Project to melodic metal vocals for Zion. Next came the monster hit “Is It A Crime,” before slowing down for “Help Me.” After “Kick in the Gates,” the band left the stage, returning (with Greg Bishop) to play “He Loves You” for an encore. Day one down.

Keeping things in the proper perspective, Sunday opened and closed with worship. Rockers and headbangers we may be, but it is God that we worship, not music. LARRY WORLEY did us the honor of leading us in worship with some popular choruses on acoustic guitar. For those that don’t know, Larry was the original singer of Love Life and Fear Not, still slings guitar for Fear Not and now Deny the Fallen, has a worship album titled Larry Worley and Friends out on Roxx Records, and is the genuine article.

Next up we had the privilege of having GLENN AND WENDI KAISER with us. Glenn and Wendi were known for the pioneering christian hard rock band Resurrection Band, aka Rez Band, aka Rez from 1972-1996. After Rez retired, Glenn continued playing electric blues with Glenn Kaiser Band, and still performs and records acoustic blues, all while pastoring at JPUSA in Chicago. Glenn gave a message from the Word before beginning his acoustic set. He began with “Babylon” from his recent album Swamp Gas Messiahs. Those praying for Rez material got their wish with “I Need Your Love” from DMZ. And then it got one better when Wendi came out to join her husband and sing “Waves” off the 1978 debut Awaiting Your Reply and “House is On Fire” off Innocent Blood. Once Wendi exited the stage, Glenn continued with “For A Change” from Cardboard Box and “Lovebomb” from Long Way From My Home. “I Wanna Live So God Can Use Me” is a Son House cover on harmonica, then Glenn broke out a one stringed guitar (a Didley bow) to play “News for the Blues,” also from Long Way. “What You Did For the Least” comes from Cardboard Box and “If I Leave This World Tomorrow” comes from the excellent GKB Live album. And then Glenn left us with “Mud and Spit,” returning to his current album Swamp Gas Messiahs, again playing the Didley bow.

Turning up the amps, Toronto’s DANIEL BAND gave us an impressive show. The band recorded and toured on 5 albums in the 80’s, but far from being a nostalgic act, the trio put on as powerful a performance as any band still out there gigging. This time around, the Canadians were represented by founding members Dan McCabe on vocals and the moustachioed Tony Rossi on guitars, joined by Frank Catrambone on drums. Daniel Band kicked off their set with “Party in Heaven” off 1988’s Running Out of Time, Dan then nailing the high vocals that start off “Bethel” from Rise Up. The band then revisited track 1 on their debut On Rock for the worshipful “He’s the Creator,” before performing a hat trick from Run From the Darkness with “Don’t Give Up,” “Never Gonna Die,” and “Run From the Darkness.” The excellent “I’m Sorry” and “You Don’t Need the Blues” also appear on 1982’s On Rock. Tony struck a chord with the audience with fan favorite “Walk On Water,” from Run From the Darkness, before playing another pair of songs from their debut: “Never Again” and “Two Roads,” and returning to 1984 for the hit “Sixteen.” The band closed out their set with “Somebody Loves You,” last song on their debut, along with a handful of audience members on stage, providing bgv’s. Daniel Band was a force to be reckoned with. The analyst “nerd” in me feels obligated to point out that their setlist was heavy on album #1 and #3, included 1 song each from #4 and #5, and totally ignored #2 Straight Ahead, undoubtedly orchestrated to give us the heavy hitters.

On deck was WHITECROSS, anchored by famed axeman Rex Carroll, with longtime members Michael Feighan on drums, and Benny Ramos on bass, with relative newcomer Dave Roberts bringing his raspy vocals to the show. The band kicked off with hits “Who Will You Follow” and “Enough is Enough” off their 1987 eponymously named debut. Then they turned their attention to the horizon, to new material off their yet to be released album Fear No Evil, with “Man In The Mirror” and “Fear No Evil,” both of which appeared on a 3 song pre-release last year, with “Good Enough,” from In the Kingdom sandwiched between. For “Blind Man,” first time performed, the band came to the front of stage unplugged style, while Rex Carroll played a mandolin. “Take It To The Limit” is from the excellent Hammer & Nail album and then they again ventured into uncharted territory for the new song “29,000.” Rex is known for his elaborate guitar solos and this time around he brought us “Nagasake,” off the debut. WC closed out their set with 2 winners from In the Kingdom, “No Second Chances” and the title track. Rex Carroll’s prowess on the 6 string generally commands a lot of attention, but I happened to find myself backstage for some of this set, and couldn’t help but notice how Michael Feighan put as much flourish into his drumming as Rex did on guitar, twirling his drumsticks and throwing them in the air and catching them. The band’s upcoming album will be quite anticipated.

After Whitecross, it was time for LES CARLSEN, legendary voice of Bloodgood. This time around, Les’ band consisted of Les and Joyce Carlsen on vocals, longtime Bloodgood guitarist Paul Jackson, longtime collaborator Craig Church also on guitars, heavy hitting mohawked drummer Jeff McCormack (and no- not the Heaven’s Metal writer), and for the first time Juan VanDunk on the bass. Les’ setlist leaned heavily on his album He’s Coming, released late last year. The first 4 songs, title track, “I Wanna Know You,” “Faith is Tested,” and “Jesus Freak Show” are taken straight from that album, before playing “I Will,” from Bloodgood’s final studio album Dangerously Close. Then the band returned to He’s Coming with perhaps their heaviest new song “Judas Is Dead,” before tapping Detonation for the equally weighty theater version of Christ’s crucifixion and burial with “Crucify,” and “The Messiah.” Les Carlsen has always been a master at using his acting skills to present the gospel in a visual, as well as auditory manner. The band then returned to their current album for the heavy “Scars,” ballad to Les’ granddaughter “River,” and the excellent “Return Me to the Fire,” with Joyce on vocals (and Joyce’s voice is an asset to the band!). The final 2 songs “Pray” and “Lamb of God” again come from the final Bloodgood album. 2 things I’d like to note. Firstly, Bloodgood’s body of work began and ended with Jesus- “Accept” the Lamb to “Lamb of God.” Secondly, it would be easy for Les to come out and play all Bloodgood songs. It is to his credit that he honors Michael by laying the Bloodgood name to rest until the reunion in heaven. Les’ new material proves that there is still fight left in this cat. God bless him.

The final act of Immortal, Part 2 was SACRED WARRIOR. The band was made up of founding members Rey Parra on vocals, Bruce Swift on guitar, Steve Watkins on bass, and the mighty Tony Velasquez on drums, with more recent member Tom Sanderson on keys. Guitarist Jonathan Johnson was missing for family issues. We wish him well. Warrior were known in the late 80’s/early 90’s for their hard hitting melodic power/ progressive metal, topped by Parra’s soaring vocals, inviting comparisons to Queensryche and Iron Maiden. The band opened with “Day of the Lord” from their debut Rebellion, then fast forwarded to their last album with Parra Obsessions for the “Temples On Fire” (gotta love Tony’s drums on that!) “Rebellion,” title track from the debut merged right into the instrumental “Onward Warriors” from Master’s Command. “Remember Me” from Obsessions has a softer haunting melody, and then the band went with a trio of songs from the acclaimed Wicked Generation- namely, “No Happy Endings,” “War Torn Hero,” and title track “Wicked Generation.” “He Died” from Rebellion saw the band in a mellower worshipful mood, before “Mad Man” from Obsessions. The festival closer was Sacred Warrior playing metal worship at their finest with “Holy, Holy, Holy,” from Master’s Command, with Fear Not members, Syke Mochek, myself, and other fans joining them in song and worship. A powerful and unforgettable way to close out Immortal this year!

Thank you, once again to Steve Barhorst for having the vision and supplying the resources to put this on, thank you to all the staff, bands, and unsung people working behind the scenes who keep making it a reality. If you like what you see, support it. Don’t just say “maybe I’ll go next year.” Next year is never a guarantee. Tell your friends. Bring your family. Most importantly, this is not about metal- it’s about God moving and stirring. Look at the disaster all around you and you’ll see that we need God now more than ever. We are humbled that God would bring repentance and revival, using the christian metal world again to spread the gospel and bring glory to His name. Be salt and light to the world around you.

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