CHRISTOPHER LEE — Charlemagne: The Omens of Death (review)

CHRISTOPHER LEE — Charlemagne: The Omens of Death album cover Album · 2013 · Power Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
adg211288
In tribute to Sir Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015).

Sir Christopher Lee will no doubt be (rightly) remembered as one of the greats of the big screen and not for his late life interest in metal music and release of his own metal albums, but that doesn't change the fact that it happened and all things considered I don't think it's really all that bad despite the largely negative reception I've seen from other metalheads, but it's music that really needs to be taken in context before any sort of appreciation can be found for it. So first of all, I think some history is in order.

Charlemagne: The Omens of Death (2013) wasn't Lee's first attempt at a metal release. There was another album before this one, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross (2010). The two releases are essentially the same set of songs (tracks are renamed though, for example The Bloody Verdict Of Verden becomes Massacre of the Saxons) but The Omens of Death has a few new ones tacked onto the end. If this were a movie, you would call it a remake. And there's a good reason for that, the idea behind By the Sword and the Cross was to make a symphonic metal album. But that went wrong and Lee ended up with an album that sounded like a film score with occasional metallic guitars on it. Why did it go so wrong for him on the first go? Because for some reason Lee teamed up with an Italian composer called Marco Sabiu, who was previously known for working with pop artists such as Take That and Kylie Minogue and well, the moral of that story is to never get a pop guy to do a metal guy's job. I actually quite liked By the Sword and the Cross at the time it was released, but it is not primarily a metal release by any stretch of the imagination and I've since lost all interest in it thanks to this much more metal version.

So a few years later comes along The Omens of Death, the extended remake. The songs are the same up until a point, and the vocals were largely lifted from the original sessions. It's probably fair to call that lazy. The music though has been transformed by Judas Priest's Richie Faulkner into a traditional/power metal release. In all honesty the music is rather standard sounding stuff for these genres; if the two albums have anything in common, it's they're releases designed for the full attention to be on the vocals. The vocals are the area that most metalheads seem to have a problem with, and I can understand why, the album is done in such a way that it sounds like it should be performed in theatres rather than be on record. It's a metal opera; with Sir Christopher Lee playing the lead role, with a cast of guest vocalists. The theatrical singing style of the album applies to both Lee and his guests, at least on the songs originally from By the Sword and the Cross, the newer songs I think have a noticeably different vibe. There's even a growler on The Devil's Advocate. It might be true that the singing styles were more suited to what Marco Sabiu originally came up with on By the Sword and the Cross, but it's clear that The Omens of Death is the album that Sir Christopher wanted to make in the first place.

And taken in context, I think it's a pretty good album. Not exactly mind-blowing and certainly an acquired taste, but good. Lee sounded damn impressive as well despite being in his 90's (he was 93 at the time of his death), a real commanding presence on record just as he was in films. Considering Lee's still recent death, the lyrics of the songs are actually pretty thought provoking. He's singing about his own ancestor, First Holy Roman Emperor, King Charlemagne, and playing the ghost of the character, but it wouldn't take much to reapply the lyrics to himself, especially in a track like Let Legend Mark Me as the King.

Though it's not an album for everyone, I for one am pretty happy that Lee got to make it before his passing in 2015. Whether you like the music on not, Sir Christopher Lee proved something with this: that metal is for anyone and everyone and I at least am happy to have The Omens of Death in my metal collection. A four star rating is fairest objectively, I think.

Rest in Peace, Sir Christopher Lee.
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