On this sad day when we mourn the passing of the great Christopher Lee, it’s also a good day to reflect on all the amazing things he’s done. In a film career that spanned eight decades, Lee has played everything from a vampire to a mummy to a Tong leader to a pirate captain. He’s been a Jedi, a wizard, the world’s greatest sleuth, and a Bond villain. But perhaps the most eclectic role in his long and storied career was that of a heavy metal god. At the age of 84 (!), Lee embarked on a career creating, as he put it, “Symphonic Metal” music.
He’d had contact with metal in the past; he worked with the Italian symphonic power metal outfit Rhapsody, singing a duet with lead singer Fabio Lione on a single called “Magic of the Wizard’s Dream,” and later narrated the story of four of Rhapsody’s albums, Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret, Triumph or Agony, The Frozen Tears of Angels and From Chaos to Eternity as well as on the EP The Cold Embrace of Fear – A Dark Romantic Symphony, portraying the Wizard King. He worked with Manowar in 2010, too, re-dubbing Orson Welles’ original vocal stylings from the band’s first album Battle Hymns for an updated release.
All of this is to say that Christopher Lee had metal in his blood — and I don’t mean too much iron. Lee’s family comes from music, opera specifically, and it was the marriage of these two styles (and the grandiose nature of both) that led him to start creating his own heavy metal concept albums. Before his deat, he’d released four full-length albums (two of which were metal) and three EPs.
The first of his metal albums, as part of his Charlemagne project, was entitled Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. Released in 2010, it tells the story of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and his unification through violence of most of Western Europe. Lee’s basso profundo, still resonant even into his 80s, assayed the voice of Charlemagne as a ghost reflecting on his life and conquest while metal singer Vincent Ricciardi played him as a younger man.
The album won the Spirit of Metal Award in 2010 and was followed up in 2013 by Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.
The above song represents the only music video produced from the album and features Lee and Ricciardi in front of green screen. It’s not the most well-produced of videos, to be fair, but it certainly illustrates how the orchestration was used, melding of different styles and instruments. And at the center, we have Lee giving it his all with his Saruman-Dooku gravitas.
Below is a video of Mr. Lee explaining his musical roots and how his incredible voice was almost recruited by one of the finest opera singers in the world. Even though he didn’t get into it until later in life, I think we can safely say Christopher Lee was about as metal as they get.