As if day one of the inaugural Immortal Festival in Versailles Ohio wasn’t enough, day two brought the festival atmosphere to an entirely new level with not one but two legendary bands on the bill including both Whitecross with their new lineup and Barren Cross featuring all original members. Still stuck in a bit of a blissful haze from the previous night, (think along the lines of having a hangover from a Holy Spirit bender), it took a minute to wake up and get back into the swing of the festivities. Arriving on site, the first order of business was to partake of my run via Hardees on the way to the BMI Event Center, and yes like expected they messed up my order. All good though.
Second on the docket was to check out the merchandise tables as I’d yet to decide which shirts I was taking home with me from the weekend, and how I was going to fit all the extra baggage in my suitcase, hmmm. Also, some new arrivals, namely Chaotic Resemblance only added to the trouble of my dilemma. I ended up getting a Chaotic shirt for my wife who couldn’t make the trek and for myself I left with one each from Whitecross, Barren Cross, Sacred Warrior, and Fear Not, all of which I’ve never owned one shirt from. This is pretty surprising as those who know me are very aware that I am a shirt junkie, to put it bluntly. I definitely need a bigger closet, especially after this weekend. By this time, the doors had officially been open for about an hour and the show was ready to begin.
First up on the day’s itinerary was Deny the Fallen who feature in their ranks former Sacred Warrior guitarist Jonathan Johnson and vocalist Rey Parra. The band being a newer act that has a more modern feel than the majority of what was being represented at this event, were in some ways the odd man out along with Human Code and Chaotic Resemblance. That being said, Rey Parra’s voice alone has the power to win over any fan of good Metal, no matter what decade it arrived in. The guys absolutely killed it as expected but as it was the night before when Sacred Warrior played the vocals were at times a bit low and hard to make out. Getting to hear these tunes in a live setting was so rewarding I can’t even begin to offer enough praise.
Stand-out cuts and my personal favorites were the band’s latest single, “If It Costs Me My Life”, which they actually cut, but I like to pretend I heard it live, “Hands for War”, (a nice call to be more prayerfully minded) “Eye of the Hurricane”, “Symptoms of Eternity“, and “Death Machine”, which came with a declaration from Jonathan Johnson exclaiming that he did not care if anyone was offended by this song, abortion is evil! I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps the most surprising song of their set though was the inclusion of the classic Queensrÿche song “The Mission” from the Operation Mindcrime album. This makes total sense as Mr. Parra’s vocals have always been compared to that of Geoff Tate. Originally the band had planned to do some Sacred Warrior covers until Sacred Warrior were actually added to the bill. In turn, they opted to include this rare Queensrÿche cover. Another added bonus was getting to see drum duties split between Rey Parra’s son Dylan Parra and Jonathan Johnson’s son Josh Johnson. No doubt an awesome way to begin day two of the Immortal festival.
Chaotic Resemblance was next and boy howdy do they ever put on a show. Just prior to them taking the stage I actually bumped into them.. Ehhmm, in the restroom…lol! Believe it or not, they were putting their eyeliner on, lol! I said, guys, this is the public restroom, didn’t they give you a dressing room area? To which they replied, “yeah, probably, but we’re good.” Haha! Talk about being the complete opposite of rock stars. These guys are as humble as they come. Moments later when they hit the stage all guns blazing the energy was intense and the crowd was soaking up every bit of it. I must have taken a thousand shots of these three but just couldn’t bring myself to stop. They were by far one of the most photogenic bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting. While I do know that as a front man, singing without carrying an instrument can be very liberating, Travis McConnell’s return to handling bass duties has not hindered their performance in the slightest. Highlights of their set included their newest single “Passover Prophecy”, “Jesus is King”, “Surrender”, “Unto the Lamb”, and the never-ending crowd pleasing “Get the Hell Out”.
Beyond their musical outpouring and wearing their faith on their sleeve was the message Travis brought. A no holds barred preaching of the word of God and an altar call to boot! A few of us guys were talking prior to the event start and it was stated then that Travis would undoubtedly be the guy who preached more than anyone else across all the bands that shared the stage and, as it turns out, the notion was not wrong.
After a brief intermission to catch our breath, grab a drink, and whatnot, the time had come to bear witness to the re-vamped lineup of Whitecross featuring new vocalist Dave Roberts. I know there are always gonna be those elitists that will never be swayed to accept a Whitecross without Scott Wenzel. Those types are always around. Black Sabbath experienced it, Van Halen, Petra, Guardian, the list goes on.
Thankfully, those of us who are not so close-minded and who recognize that God is still very much at work in this band get to enjoy a new chapter with the guys. So, as the band rips right into their set’s first song, we are immediately shown that they are still at the top of their game. Besides such iconic songs as “Take it to the Limit”, “Enough is Enough”, “Who Will You Follow”, “Down” and “Top of the World”, all of which Dave nailed mind you, we are then blessed with a trio of brand-new tunes including the first single, “Fear No Evil” followed by “Man in the Mirror” and “Lion of Judah”. Dave is the culmination of David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, and Scott Wenzel into one.
Now, let’s discuss for a minute the band’s founder, Mr. Rex Carroll. In all the years that he has graced our presence, he has not changed a bit in his musical prowess. He is Rex being Rex and he absolutely kills it in everything he does. His spotlight portion on this night was filled with a ton of shredding and the astonishing rendition of “Flashpoint”. As if this were not sufficient, we were also treated to one of the most entertaining drum solos that I’ve ever seen by the one and only Michael Feighan. As he made his way around his drum set, playing while standing up and then playing on the literal stage all the way to the front where he handed a lucky fan a pair of sticks and jammed on the railing with him. He also had the most fabulous pants (or pajamas) of any of the other performers the weekend over. All in all, a very satisfying performance from one of Christian metal’s most iconic bands. But wait there’s more as the legendary Barren Cross were up next!
Earlier in the evening, prior to the start of the first band, Barren Cross took part in a live podcast hosted by professional wrestler and heavy metal vocalist Chris Jericho of the band Fozzy. Chris is a Christian, a huge fan of Barren Cross, and served as the Master of Ceremonies for the second day of the Immortal Festival. The session was great as fans were able to have some of their questions answered that were pre-submitted. The band shared some great stories. The anticipation of seeing these guys perform again after so many years was beyond expectation. It’s been about fifteen years since I’d seen them if I’m not mistaken. Some in attendance hadn’t seen the band in thirty years and still, others had never seen them. We can only hope and pray that this was not their final performance.
When the lights went down, and the band finally hit the stage, ironically opening with the song “Stage of Intensity”, all were in awe of the remarkable sound and stage presence they wielded as it seemed as though no time had passed at all. The band sounded as good as they did thirty years ago.
Michael Drive with his iconic acoustic flying v guitar and his monster vocal prowess ala Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden made for a delivery that was nothing short of being punched in the teeth. Guitarist Ray Parris may have chopped his hair off, but his chops were right on point and bassist Jim Laverde pranced around the stage like a twenty-something rock star. The only drawback that I could see with the band was that their drummer, Steve Whitaker struggled a bit and momentarily lost his place throughout the set. Both Laverde and Parris kept going back to stand by him and help him stay in place. A very minor hiccup that ultimately did not affect the band’s overall performance in any significant manner. That being said, it is possible that this could be the very last show for Barren Cross ever, or at least for Steve. The band’s set was chock-full of their classic tunes, including fan favorites such as, “Deadlock” (totally awesome), “Close to the Edge”, “Rock for the King”, “Rattle Your Cage”, “Light the Flame”, (my personal favorite) “King of Kings”, “Dying Day” (also a favorite), “State of Control” and “Imaginary Music”.
Maybe it’s just me, but as much as Michael Drive exudes power in his vocal acuity and stage presence, along with his multiple wardrobe changes, there is also an unwarranted harshness that I pick up on. Nevertheless, the music speaks volumes, and I couldn’t have been happier to be present for this historic performance.
Following the end of their incredible set, the night finished off by getting some much-needed photos with the bands and saying goodnight to the many friends I’d met throughout the day, both new and old. In closing, the gospel was preached, we worshiped at full volume and the church was alive and thriving as the end of day two of the inaugural Immortal Festival came to a close. Bring on day three!
…to be concluded