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Live Reviews

Immortal Fest II 2023 - Day One
All Photos By David Priest Copyright 2023

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My thoughts regarding Immortal Fest 2023 over Labor Day weekend are nothing short of amazing. I have so much to say and I’m sure that I can never completely cover all that transpired over these 2 days.  I’m 110% blessed to have been able to participate in this year’s event. Last year, God blessed me immensely with only a week’s time to prepare for the show, getting airline tickets, securing passes, lodging, etc. 

This year, I had a little bit more time to prepare. But once again, it was only by the grace of God that I was able to attend this year’s event and as a bonus, I was able to bring my wife along with me as well. Due to the amount of hardship in our family, be it financial, multiple deaths in the family, depression, or work, we were not sure that this was where we were supposed to be.  However, God opened the door and gave us an opportunity to be a part, to connect and fellowship with so many of our extended family in the Christian Metal community. The love and fellowship felt throughout was more than enough, but this was a music festival and music was in abundance. 

 

We arrived the morning of the event following a nine-hour flight that began in Ontario CA and ended up in Dayton OH with a 3 1/2-hour layover in Atlanta. Unfortunately, we were not able to check into our hotel room until 3:00 PM, and desperately in need of at least an hour of sleep we decided to forgo seeing both Gary Chapman and Matthew Ward (we did catch the tail end of his set). Arriving on-site within an hour of Fear Not taking the stage we checked in at the box office, obtained our passes, and made our way around the merch tables greeting our friends, family, and band members and subsequently dropped a chunk of change on the amazing shirts, patches, buttons, and CD's that we found at said tables. This of course is inevitably part of the overall experience when attending such an event. Show time was now quickly upon us and as the lights dimmed, I grabbed my camera and made my way to the front of the stage into the photo pit area where only the media was allowed, ready to shoot the opening band. My brothers in Fear Not emerged and I Couldn’t have been more overjoyed to see them once again. It was just a few months ago, June in fact that my own band, Shroud was blessed to share the stage with them and Stryper at the world-famous Whiskey Agogo in Hollywood CA. As I began shooting the band I only got off just a few shots before my camera said that my SD card was full I immediately began to panic as I knew that the card had said it was empty, to begin with so I raced to the back of the venue grabbed another SD card from my camera bag which my wife was holding at the time made my way back to the front of the stage began to shoot again only to get the same message, SD card full! At this point, I was beginning to feel the full impact of anxiety a photographer goes through when technical difficulties such as these arise. Racing once again to the back I grabbed another SD card and returned to the front of the stage. Thankfully, this time I was able to get the job done. Halfway through shooting I began to have yet more technical difficulties with the lens this time not wanting to focus and take the shot I knew that this was a gamble as this lens was a new lens that I purchased off eBay, and it was used but said that it was in perfect condition. Well. that's not actually the case. Needless to say, it was a bit of a struggle to get the job done, but thankfully God was merciful and allowed me to do what I needed to do. 

Fear Not hit the stage all guns blazing. It’s amazing what these guys can do. The fact that they never really get to rehearse just astonishes me that they can do so well live. I suppose if one knows their music, that’s all that is truly needed. What a powerhouse performance this band gave. Their southern tinged no-holds-barred slammer of Hard Rock enthusiasm is one all of us should aspire to if we are anywhere calling ourselves musicians or even just fans of the music. Songs such as “Fields of Sorrow,” "Voluntary Madness,” and “Carry Me,” all shown forth an amazing array of colorful melodies, heavy-hitting riffs, and layered vocals that transcend the heavens. New frontman Eddie Green and his Midwest Shinedown vibe of an attack helped to set the precedent for the band to follow. Guitarists Larry Worley and Chris Sorensen are a tag team of epic proportions. I was especially made to feel the love when Mr. Sorenson noticed me at the front of the stage beating his chest in love and pointing in my direction. I was instantly overcome with joyous emotion as I only get to see these guys once in a great while it seems, even though I’ve been friends with them for 30+ years. A highlight of the band's set was when they did their rendition of The Who’s “Join Together.” and had Rey Parra of Sacred Warrior and Les Carlsen (former Bloodgood) join the band on stage! The night's festivities were off to a fantastic start. 

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A Saint was up next, and the anticipation filling the arena was in overload. These guys, being the legends that they are within the Christian Metal scene were definitely one of the fine points of this year's fest. Last year I was completely blown away at how the band has in many ways reinvented themselves. Their performance this year was ever more potent. New, or not-so-new vocalist Dave Nelson who has been featured on the band's last two releases, The Calf, and Heaven Fell, and has a third album pretty much in the can, is as solid a frontman as they come. Now, I realize there are those who miss Josh Krammer in the lead vocal position, but Dave did an incredible job staying true to the classics of the early Saint days. He hit the notes man! At least most of them. I somewhat joked that his straining of the cords surely left him virtually speechless the following day. Fan favorites such as “Too Late for Living,” “Island Prisoner,” and “Hell Blade,” were all in fine form. The handling of Saint’s new material though was on a completely different level altogether. “Heaven Fell,” which the guys opened with, “Rise,” and “Vengeance,” were off the hook! They even broke out a new tune called “Salt in the Wound,” which will be featured on their forthcoming new release expected in 2024. Yes, The Saint collective was in full force and absolutely owned the night. Kudos to Mr. Lynch for keeping this band alive and well in 2023 and beyond.   

After a brief intermission, and some meet-ups with more friends, the final act of the night prepared to take the stage. It’s been more than 30 years since I got to see X-Sinner perform. I remember the night well as they were playing with Guardian who had just released Fire and Love and X-Sinner had just released Peace Treaty with new frontman Rex Scott formerly of Zion. Tonight was poised to be extra special as both X-Sinner and Zion as a special guest were set to deliver the goods. The band hit the stage like a freight train and proceeded to plow through an array of their best tunes including “Medicine,” Accountable,” “Lift Him Up,” “Living On the Edge,” and “Walking Evil,” the set was pretty heavy with tunes from the debut release but they still managed to include “Peer Pressure,” from the Peace Treaty album and “What Rock is For,” from the World Covered in Blood release and even a new tune called “Running Out of Time,” from the forthcoming Going Out with a Bang album. The band sounded absolutely monstrous. Like Rollin’ Thunder lol! Greg Bishop is a phenomenal guitarist. Now, say what you want about Rex Scott’s voice. He’s never been as appreciated as their original singer and due to age and such, he may struggle a bit, but this man is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen, and he certainly gives the younger performers of today a run for their money.  

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Following X-Sinner's set a quick change of guitar players where David Moore steps in to replace Greg Bishop and the band then proceeded to play a total of five tunes from the Zion album Thunder from the Mountain, (Rex fronted this band prior to joining X-Sinner). This was a great thrill for me as surprisingly, I had never heard of Zion until a couple of years back. Actually, I’d heard of them but knew nothing about them. For some reason their album eluded me for years. It’s a shame too, as I absolutely love this album. Last year during the inaugural Immortal Fest, the legendary Dorn Reppert was going around giving away vinyl copies of this album to which I was ecstatic to have landed one. Being given the opportunity to see some of these tunes played live was just unbelievable. Now, truth be told, I actually prefer Rex’s voice in this manner than to the Bon Scott styling's he does with X-Sinner. “Who Pulls the Strings” began the Zion set followed by “Is it a Crime,” now, I have to mention that in addition to Rex handling vocal duties he also shreds some guitar, and his axe of choice just explodes with a screaming Metal perspective, (see photos), slowing it down for a moment we were treated to the gut wrenching “Help Me,” before picking up the pace once again with my favorite tune of the Zion catalogue, “Kick in the Gates.” Greg Bishop Returned and the band closed out the night with “He Loves You.” What an amazing night and a grand finale for day one. While we were all certainly tired, we just didn’t want the night to end. If I could have hit rewind I most assuredly would have. Wow! Thankfully, we had another day ahead. Time to grab some grub and hit the hay to get rested for day two!! 

-Priest

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