Following a truly exhausting day, I wasn’t sure this old dog could handle another. However, with a little rest and some crappy gas station breakfast food I was rearing to go. Arriving a little later than expected at the BMI Center due to that much-needed rest, I came on the scene during Glen Kaiser’s acoustic set. It was really good to see the former Rez frontman in action as I’ve never actually caught him in a live setting. The Icing on the cake was having his wife Wendy come out for a rendition of “The House is On Fire.” This man certainly doesn’t need much in way of instrumentation as was evidenced by the contraptions he played with like what, two strings or three? Lol!
The next group to hit the stage was Canadian rockers The Daniel Band who seem to be a favorite among many in attendance, the same as they were last year. The truth is, I think I owned one album of their back in the day, and for whatever reason they just didn’t grab me in the same way as others. That being said, they sounded fantastic live, and anytime a power trio can pull off a performance such as they did it is certainly something to stand up and take notice of. When they played “Bethel,” I was immediately taken back to the 80s and remembered how much I really do dig this song, and actually the entire Rise Up album. Other fan favorites included “Walk on Water,” “Run from Darkness,” “Sixteen,” “Never Again,” and “Somebody Loves You,” which they closed out their set with. The majority of material seems to have come from their debut release and Run from the Darkness. Personally, I would have loved to hear more from Rise Up as it was the one album, I was most familiar with.
Perhaps the band I was most eager to see this time around was the legendary Whitecross who during last year's event just absolutely impressed the crap out of me. These seasoned vets are everything the current Metal landscape is lacking, and they are darn near senior citizens! Dave Roberts, the band’s vocalist newest member is a stellar frontman Imo. I realize there will always be elitists who refuse to accept change but hey, if God put these guys together, you’re going to have to take your issues up with him! The guys hammered through an array of hits including, “Enough is Enough,” and “Who Will You Follow,” from the band's self-titled debut as well as Rex Carroll’s axe-slinging instrumental giant “Nagasake.” From the Hammer and Nail LP, they broke out with my favorite WC tune “Take it to the Limit.” Now, I must admit that I am a stingy fan, and would love to have been given at least a song or two from the Triumphant Return album, but for whatever reason that album was completely overlooked. I also could have used another song from Hammer and Nail but alas, notta. What we did get however was a few new tunes including two songs from last year's three-song sampler, “Fear No Evil,” and “Man in the Mirror,” and a never before heard tune called “29,000,” all of which will be included on the forthcoming album Fear No Evil (we all expected it to be out before their show at Immortal 23). There was an amazing standout portion of the band’s set where they stripped it down to an acoustic base, sitting on stools with Rex playing a mandolin for the song “Blind Man,” also the first time ever played live. Awesomeness! The band ended their set with “In the Kingdom,” and the feeling of family and belonging couldn’t have been more present during the entire fest than right at this moment. Before leaving the stage drummer Michael Feighan asked if we would yell Happy Birthday Christy to his wife in heaven who passed away this same time last year. God bless this man and his heart!
Les Carlsen, the legendary Bloodgood frontman was up next, and one could only stand in awe that this brother and his amazing wife Joyce are now in their 70’s and rock harder than many of the younger generations of bands out there. Following the untimely passing of Michael Bloodgood Les was already preparing to release his debut solo effort and the live representation of this stellar release is chock-full of intensity on every level. Last year’s inaugural Immortal Festival was the band’s debut performance. It would be interesting to see what changes, if any, took place after a year had gone by. Suffice it to say, the band has only grown tighter and honed their already amazing skills, cohesively bringing their music to the crux of superiority. Now in many ways, this comes as no real big surprise as the bulk of the band have in fact been performing together for years. Les along with guitarists Paul Jackson and Craig Church have been flying the Bloodgood flag for decades. Last year we bore witness to the drumming madness of drummer Jeff McCormack, so what made this year even better than last? Well, the addition of the amazingly talented Juan VanDunk on the bass guitar of course! This man has chops on top of chops and his low-end thump could be dealt on each and every tune throughout the band’s set. Ultra-heavy hitters such as “Judas is Dead,” (my favorite played this night), “Scars,” and “Jesus Freak Show,” were all in fine form and made it known to the crowd that Metal is alive and well even into your 70’s! “I Wanna Know You,” “He’s Coming,” and “Return Me to the Fire,” (featuring Joyce Carlsen on lead vocals) were also powerful additions from the new album. Joyce was definitely more present this year than last in all aspects of the performance and it was just such a blessing to see her and Les performing side by side. So, maybe it is expected by fans, I don’t know for sure but the inclusion of a tribute to Michael Bloodgood while seemingly appropriate, was not something I myself expected after disclaiming last year that the book of Bloodgood was at an end. I would completely understand if Les never performed Bloodgood songs again if simply for it being too painful. However, they did offer up a handful of tunes from the Bloodgood years including the ever-popular Rock theater version of “Crucify,” where Les dons his Pontious Pilot garb for the death and resurrection of the savior, ending with the song “The Messiah.” The band closed out their set with two superb tunes from the final Bloodgood album Dangerously Close, “Pray,” and the imminent and climatic rock anthem “Lamb of God.” Nothing but love for this band and their ever-advancing ministry. God bless em!
Headliners for the night Sacred Warrior were on deck to finish out the evening's events and those of us in our latter years were really starting to feel it creep up on us as bedtime was now on the brain. Unfortunately, I had to miss the opening song, or at least its beginning as I was backstage interviewing my bros in Fear Not. As I wrapped up the chit-chat, I hurried to the front of the stage, camera in hand to snap off as many pics as I could in the time allotted. Kudos to the security for letting me shoot an extra song since I was late to the game. The first time I ever had the pleasure of seeing Warrior was right after the recording sessions for Masters Command took place in Los Angeles. The band played a surprise impromptu performance at Church of the New Order on a Sunday afternoon. I was attending Sanctuary Hollywood at the time and when the announcement came that they were playing a free show, well how could I possibly pass that up? Hearing them slam headfirst into “Day of the Lord,” from the debut release Rebellion, brought back so many memories. Rey Parra still has the pipes after all these years; gave me chills. They also got the title track of that record in there and I was nearly beside myself with giddiness. The first album is no doubt my favorite except when Wicked Generation is of course, lol! Luckily, they pulled out a few tunes from that record as well. “No Happy Endings,”, “War Torn Hero,” and the title track were all included, and I was a truly happy camper. I’ve always enjoyed the tones guitarist Bruce Swift gets with the songs from that particular album. I know it is not really most fans' favorite release, but I dig it wholeheartedly. Another major standout phenomenon of Sacred Warrior’s sound is the impeccable double kick drumming offered by Mr. Tony Velasquez, very notably present on such cuts as the instrumental “Onward Warriors,” yes, they played it, and “Temples on Fire,” as well. The fan-favorite ballad “He Died,” was also in the set as was the epic “Master’s Command,” and “Mad Men.” I’m happy to see the original lineup still at it and working toward the future. Such a class act they are. The night ended with a worship chorus to the king. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” was the perfect close to the night and the band invited several of the other musicians from the fest as well as a few fans in attendance to join them on stage to celebrate the majesty of our King.
Immortal Fest 2023 Part II was an amazing experience both physically and more importantly, spiritually. The Jesus high from the weekend was really tough to come down from, but we all have our day-to-day walk to contend with and adhere to his guidance for the months to come. Thanks to Steve Barhorst and the entire BMI staff for giving us such great memories. I truly miss all the Christian Metalhead family we so rarely get to see and pray for next year to be equally as important if not more. This is a much-needed movement and as a person who gave their life to Christ at a Christian Metal concert, I am more than vested in seeing this ministry thrive. Until next time, God bless everyone!