Is this album more than fifty years in the making, or is it simply the latest in a career that has made Les Carlsen one of the most distinctive voices and dynamic frontmen in metal? Either way, as surely as Jesus is coming, we can say of Les, HE'S BACK!
Steve with Michael Bloodgood and Les Carlsen during rehearsal
We first interviewed the famous vocalist of Bloodgood in 2020 and were so excited when we got to see the band perform for the first time in decades in February of 2022. It would be the last time Bloodgood would ever be together, for namesake bassist Michael Bloodgood passed away just a few months later. Among the things that were evident during that night of face-melting, Jesus-glorifying metal, was that the whole band was in top form, and we were all looking forward to music that we hoped would be coming out soon.
Enter He's Coming! Les's new album is what metal fans have been wanting, and now it's here. Although he has recorded numerous projects in a career spanning more than half a century, the last to bear only his name was in 1971. After spending most of his time fronting Bloodgood, with whom he recorded more than fifteen studio and live albums, including Detonation, which HM Magazine named #8 in the 100 greatest metal albums of all time, Les brings a lifetime of experience and an all-star lineup into the studio. With Paul Jackson, Craig Church, and David Zaffiro, all from various incarnations of Bloodgood at his side, along with Oz Fox (Stryper, Bloodgood) and more, you get what you have every right to expect.
"I Wanna Know You" opens with a drum attack that makes you sit up and take notice along with a guitar line that has you reaching for your air axe and banging your head. Of course, this is a Les Carlsen album, and it's his trademark mix of scream, growl, and grit that gets you smiling and saying, "Awww, yeah!" And you can't miss the tasty breakdown starting at 2:54. This was also the first video Les released, which was a solid choice to introduce the whole album.
That frenetic drum/guitar attack returns on "Scars," and with lines like "forgiveness comes from nail-scarred hands" and "nations fall, there is one Who is Lord of all," this is vintage Carlsen. Every time we have spoken with Les, he has made it clear that proclaiming Jesus Christ is what he is about, and with a song that takes biblical truths, puts them into pure metal lyrics, and supports it all with a blistering guitar solo and pounding drums, you have a song to thrill any metal fan.
Could you get a more metal song title than "Judas Is Dead?" Enter Les with an almost whispered opening lyric. The third track brings us a look inside the mind of Judas as he wrestles with his betrayal of Christ, and we are back in the realm that Les knows so well, rock theatre. He is acting out a story in this five-minute-plus, dark, metal ballad. Thanks to the varied vocal delivery and eerie backing music, you feel the insanity taking root in the mind of the betrayer who snaps his own neck in the noose at the realization that he has given his own friend over to death.
In 1995, DC Talk released the phenomenally popular "Jesus Freak," but "The Jesus Freak Show" is far from that. The sound conjures images of, well, a freak show in a creepy carnival, which is right up the alley for any metal fan, but as you get drawn into that freaky world, you begin to realize something. It is the world apart from Christ that is distorted and strange. "Don't you know the way back home? Trapped in a world that won't let go." Once again, the music develops the atmosphere, and Les, very reminiscent here of Dee Snider on Twisted Sister's 1984 "Burn In Hell," comes off as ringmaster of the The Jesus Freak Show, a role he will hopefully develop onstage.
"Faith Is Tested" continues the slow, heavy, dark tone of the album and then expands into triumph and light. "Open up the seas. Part the skies. Do the same in my life." Les is a master of vocal dynamics, and here he matches sound with lyrics perfectly. Yet as the song develops, it never shies away from the darkness that attacks us all. This is no happy-clappy version of Christianity. It is real...and once again with pounding drums and heavy, yet melodic guitars.
"How Long" makes a reviewer wonder how long he can keep using the word "attack." Let's substitute "assault." The intro assaults the senses, which is appropriate for a song in which Les asks and then screams, "How long can this pain last?" As we have remarked many times on The Wildman & Steve Show, album art is important to a record, and the black-and-white picture of a city in a thunderstorm fits this song perfectly. The song is dark and grey, but don't let that put you off. Jesus Himself reached for the lyrics of a dark song when he cried out from the cross in the words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" There are times when we all need to ask or even scream to God with the question of how long a particular pain will last, and the last line, which I will not reveal here, is one of the most honest and shocking prayers someone could pray.
After such bludgeoning of the emotions and eardrums, we need a break, and we get it in "River." A soft, delicately layered song, this one takes us on a quiet walk with Jesus. Sometimes we just need to sit beside a river with Him, and the guitar solo midway through is what fans of this genre love. Almost equal parts vocal and instrumental, this number cleanses the palate and gets you ready for what is about to happen.
"He's Coming" is the penultimate song and title track from the album, and with an opening verse that addresses drug addiction and the things we do to soothe our own souls but then opens up into, "He will return, thief in the night, destroy the dark with blazing light," you have a solid evangelistic message, metal style. It confronts sin and unflinchingly points the way out. My only problem with this song is that it is too short. As I heard it ending, I glanced at the time stamp and was saddened that this was only 3 minutes and 24 seconds. You really need to listen to this multiple times before moving on to the final track.
Wait...what? Is that a female voice on "Return Me To the Fire?" YES! It's the First Lady of metal herself, Joyce Macek Carlsen! As she sings "return me to the fire of my first love" with an absolutely wailing wall of blazing guitars and drums behind her...and then lets loose with her own screams...you can only imagine what sing-along night must be like at the Carlsen house!
Bottom line? This is a great album to enjoy while you're waiting for the return of Jesus. He's coming indeed, and if you ever see that Les himself is coming to a concert venue near you...buy those tickets immediately!