If someone had told me that Dracula, a Sith Lord and an evil Wizard would come together to create an album of symphonic metal, I would have scoffed at them. “Scoffed!” I say. But those three ne’er-do-wells did such a thing. Better yet, they’re only one man.
Christopher Lee ( Dracula, Count Dooku and Saruman) teamed up with producer/composer Marco Sabiu, Denmark’s Tolkien Ensemble, Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar to create a symphonic metal album based on the life of King Charlemagne. I’m going to wait a minute to let you pick up the brain matter you may have lost when I blew your mind just now.
While I’m waiting, I’m going to watch a Manowar video.
Seriously, Manowar. You feeling OK now? Good. Let’s go:
Charlemagne: By The Sword and The Cross, is Christopher Lee and gang’s heavy metal epic opus tribute to the life of the man who kicked all of Europe’s ass and still had time to become the emperor of a little rinky-dink operation called Rome.
Besides being completely awesome, there’s another reason Charlemagne was chosen as the subject of this album as opposed to slightly more awesome historical figures such as Attila the Hun or Batman: Christopher Lee is really his descendant!
Lee’s been making movies since all they had were flip books and Charlemagne was born in the 8th century, so I guess that makes Lee his grandson.
But getting to the actual album, there is much more symphony than there is metal. This is not Metallica meets Michael Kamen; this is more like Christopher Lee meets a 100 piece orchestra with a few guitars and drums thrown in on occasion. Don't get me wrong, the symphonic stuff is really great. It's almost an opera with Lee bellowing out tunes about ransacking the Franks and beheading the Saxons and his guest singers playing other roles in Charlemagne's life.
When there is some heavy metal, it is few and far between. There are some chugging guitars in the opening instrumental piece “Overture” but then no more guitars for three more tracks (like twelve minutes later).
That isn't even really a problem as most of the album is pretty kick-ass just with the orchestra. There are a few instances of metal and symphony being married very well such as in "Act II: The Iron Crown Of Lombardy" and in "Act III: The Bloody Verdict Of Verden."
The metal riffs build as the album grows closer to its conclusion which seems weird seeing as it was advertised as a symphonic metal album more than anything. But even then, the heavy metal is far from spectacular and only serves as butch window dressing on a far more accomplished and epic soundscape provided by the orchestra.
The biggest problem with this album is that it grinds to a halt whenever it's just getting going. It's broken down into Acts with a few miscellanea at the beginning and ending of the album.
But then, each act has its own “Intro” which is an historical lecture about that period of Charlemagne's life read out un-emphatically by Lee's daughter Christina. Every time she gets the microphone I want to fall on my sword.
It goes from reveling in decapitations to a snooze fest over and over throughout the album, not allowing any form of momentum to build. That's what's unfortunate. This has something really unique about it that becomes a dramatized piece of history set to some awesome music. The highlights do shine through, though.
Lee's voice is shockingly good and as deep as you'll ever hear. His command of the lyrics shows great control over the entire vision of the album. The other vocalists (professional singers, I imagine) pale in comparison. His wisdom and depth add so much to the delivery it's uncanny.
Plus, if I said anything bad about him, especially after dissing his daughter, he might banish me. I've just listened to sixty-odd minutes of the man sing about killing heathens, for God's sake! Get off my case.
While it’s more symphonic than it is metal, Charlemagne: By The Sword and The Cross is easily the greatest book on tape ever recorded. It’s also the best celebrity musical endeavor since Steven Seagal told us to talk to his ass.
Which begs the question: who would win in a kick-ass musical duel between Lee and Seagal? We would, my friends. We would.