Immortal Fest –
Day 1 – Saint * Human Code * Sacred Warrior!
When I first heard the announcement of the inaugural Immortal Christian Rock Festival earlier this year I was at once overly excited and severely disappointed as I just knew there was no way possible for me to attend. O me of little faith! Just one week from the event launch God saw fit to bless me with a three-day all-access pass, hotel accommodations, and airfare to Ohio, I ended up helping Fear Not and Deny the Fallen during the weekend as part of the crew. Thank you so much to the beautiful souls who made this weekend possible (you know who you are). I arrived a day early and had the pleasure of hanging with the guys in Fear Not while they rehearsed just down the street from the BMI Event Center. Upon arrival, I as was everyone else hanging out shocked when former Bloodgood frontman Les Carlsen made an appearance and jumped on the mic and jammed with the guys on an impromptu song. This later would open doors as guitarist Chis Sorensen and Les seemed to hit it off and started discussing plans for a future collaboration. After a bit, everyone decided to walk down the street and catch a bite to eat at a local food establishment. It was great getting to catch up with the guys whom I hadn't seen in 20-plus years.
Event day one! Arriving on-site at the BMI Event Center I was immediately greeted by a few friends whom I’d not seen in quite some time including the guys from Human Code, Mr. George Ochoa and his wife Denise, Todd Libby, Terry Russell, and Michael Drive, and Sacred Warrior/Deny the Fallen front man Rey Parra, who were currently sound checking. Within an hour’s time, the doors were open, I’d checked out all the merch tables and made my way to the photo pit to get ready for the opening act.
Getting the festivities underway this evening were Oregon's iconic Christian Metal warriors, Saint. Introducing the band was none other than Pastor Bob Beeman. This man has meant more to the Christian Metal community than any other person I can think of. Now, I have to admit, I was skeptical about Saint being fronted by anyone other than Josh Krammer but when the album The Calf was released, I was utterly blown away by the vocal acuity of new frontman Dave Nelson. The live experience is even better and nothing short of astonishing. Dave is a solid performer, and not only does he deliver the goods with the band's latest material, but he also does the songs from the band’s back catalog justice as well. Dave has grit, and he has the range. I find it surprising that so many of these bands can still rock harder than many of the younger acts on the scene today and Saint is no exception. Bassist Richard Lynch looks as if he was forged by the flames of God for this Metal specific role, I mean come on, did you see that bass guitar he wields? As the band tore through their hour-long set, they pulled out some of the very best classics they had to offer including, “Too Late for Living,” “Abyss,” “In the Night,” and “Hell Blade” among others. They also played a few from The Calf including my favorite tune, “Fragile” and from their latest album Heaven Fell, including the cuts “Vengeance,” “Holier Than Thou,” and “Chosen One.” The fans in attendance were all so appreciative and showed nothing but love to the guys. For many, this was the first time seeing Saint in any incarnation. While at one point in history the guys may have mirrored a somewhat Judas Priest vibe, they have truly found their own sound with this current line-up. I’ll say it again, it’s hard to believe that these guys are still rocking after all these years. I’m really glad they are and hope for many more albums and live performances to come. A great start to an exceptional weekend that lay ahead.
Following the iconic performance of Saint, we were treated to the debut performance of Human Code a new band featuring the all-star line-up of Barren Cross vocalist Michael Drive, aka Mike Lee, former Deliverance, Recon, Vengeance, and current Worldview guitarist George Ochoa, former Holy Soldier drummer Terry Russell and Worldview bassist Todd Libby. A supergroup of sorts, I must give them props for taking a chance on this gig as they’ve yet to release an album and no one attending was familiar with their music. I myself was privileged to have heard some early ideas the band had worked on through George but even I was not sure what to expect. They offered a means to download four demo tracks from their forthcoming album, three originals, and one cover, but really no one had any clue as to what they were in store for as there was no time to listen before their set. George has always been a great songwriter and he truly is a master of his art. The music was certainly heavy, although I'm sure many expected the material to be heavier than it actually was. Very melodic with some modern nuances the music wasn’t bad at all. That being said, I believe it’s something that needs to grow on most. Even then, this festival was all about reminiscing the past so to speak. With all the legends on the bill over the weekend, they were already facing a challenge to win anyone over. I will say this, George easily had the best guitar tone of any band throughout the event IMHO. Mike sounds as good as ever and remains one of the most entertaining frontmen in the business. Truth be told though, no matter what he does, he will always remind me of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson. He should own it! Complete with multiple wardrobe changes and more rockstar poses than any one man should know, the crowd ate up every moment in spite of not knowing the music. Surprisingly, the band’s set contained quite a few covers and secular ones at that, which kinda went over, I guess? Their cover of Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” in a Metal format was pretty dang good in my book. One standout moment was when bassist Todd Libby took over on piano and accompanied Mr. Drive in an emotional and heartfelt ballad (don't remember the name). The band also played songs from the demo they were offering including one titled "40 Seconds" which Mike explained was about an astronaut that went into space and never returned...uh, “Space Oddity” anyone? Many of us thought this would be a Ziggy Stardust cover but it turned out to be an original piece. My favorite of their originals was a solid rocker called "Socially Incorrect" which has quite a lot to say about our present society and the madness that has grown exponentially in recent years. Overall, it was a great set that almost fit the event's grand scheme. I was surprised they didn’t ask Rey Parra to join them for a couple of Worldview tunes as all members were present. That would have sat rather nicely.
After a brief intermission, the time had come for the evening's main event, in this case, the legendary Sacred Warrior featuring all original members! This historic reunion was something most of us fans never believed would actually happen. We hoped and prayed but were so surprised when they announced the band's involvement. Originally, Deny the Fallen which is Rey and Johnathan's other band, were gonna just do a few Sacred Warrior classics but then came the news that the guys would be added to the bill as the first-day headliners and no one could be happier. The last time I got to see Sacred Warrior was when they were in California to record the Master’s Command album, I think around 1990? Pastor Bob once again introduced the band with some light tales of the guy's history. The audience was definitely riled up in anticipation by this time and from the strike of the first chord we all knew we were in for an otherworldly, that is heavenly, show. Now, I love the song but thought that opening with “Mad Man” wasn’t the most powerful tune they could have chosen. No matter, everyone was so stoked to be able to bear witness to this gathering it didn’t really phase us. Only in hindsight do I make mention. After the medium-paced opener, the band broke into “Temple On Fire,” which proved to be a much more exciting rocker. The guys managed to break out a number of great tunes including “Rebellion,” “Onward,” “No Happy Endings,” “Wicked Generation,” and a few others, but honestly, I was left wanting more and missed some songs that I’d preferred to hear instead, like “Minister By Night,” “Sword of Victory,” Master’s Command, and “The Flood,” which I would have been happy to lend my voice to for the Roger Martinez parts lol! No one even comes close to the power that is in Rey Parra’s vocal ability. I just wish the sound team were able to boost the volume as it was a tad difficult to hear him at times. Even after 20 years, the man hits a home run every time. It was great to see guitarist Johnathan Johnson back in the fold as his stint with the band back in the day lasted only a few short years and they then became a one-guitar band. The real miracle is seeing drummer Tony Velasquez pounding the skins after undergoing a heart transplant surgery just a few years back. Maybe the most awesome highlight of their set came during the last song when vocalists Les Carlsen (ex-Bloodgood), and Saint vocalist David Nelson joined Rey in singing "Holy, Holy, Holy." This was the perfect end to the first night of the festival. We all felt the presence of the Holy spirit permeating throughout the building and we were left with the inconceivable reality that this was only the beginning! To be continued...