The metal community will no doubt already be aware of Sir Christopher Lee's affinity with the genre through his Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar collaborations during the past few years. However, 'Charlemagne - By the Sword and the Cross' signifies his first venture into metal territory independent of an established band. I say independent as this is being marketed as a 'Christopher Lee' album, but a quick glance at the press release reveals a great ensemble effort at work here. The music has been composed by one Marco Sabiu (renowned for collaborations with Kylie Minogue, Take That, and legendary film composer Ennio Morricone) and is performed by a 100-piece orchestra, two metal bands, and a choir, together with several guest vocalists who both sing and narrate alongside Lee himself. Intrigued? I most certainly was, and the listening experience proves 'Charlemagne...' a fairly innovative cross-genre musical hybrid. Part film score; part history lesson; and part symphonic metal, Sabiu has fabricated a sonic tapestry rich with layers of orchestral grandeur and sporadically purposeful heavy guitars/drums that is aurally engaging from the offset and remains so throughout. Subject-wise, as one would guess from the album's title, it's centred around Charlemagne, the Frankish king and First Holy Roman Emperor who, during his reign from 768 - 814, expanded his kingdom into an empire that covered the majority of Western and Central Europe. Book-ended with two instrumental pieces, 'Overture' and 'Finale', the main body of the album is divided into five acts, each preceded by historical narratives, uttered by Lee's own daughter, Christina, and these serve to set the scene for each of the songs to which they relate. I guess "set the scene" is an apposite phrase as the underlying aesthetic is that of cinematic creativity. Interestingly, plans are currently underway to bring this project to the stage, so it will soon exist in visual form. And there lies another dimension of the album as it also has an undercurrent of the soundtrack to a musical, and an epic one at that. Lee's vocal performance is stunning, utilising the resonance in his classical baritone voice efficaciously to convey the drama inherent in the words he recites as the ghost of Charlemagne. The guest vocalists also bring with them a plethora of singing talent in their respective roles, adding drama to the story at all the right moments over the epically sonic backdrop of Sabiu's score. I do, however, predict that this album will divide listeners and journalists alike into a love it or hate it dichotomy. Personally, I'm in the former category and I await the stage version of 'Charlemagne...' with eager anticipation. All hail Sir Christopher Lee...the metal genre's newest, and oldest, singer!
CHARLEMAGNE - BY THE SWORD AND THE CROSS
Review by Mark Holmes
15th March 2010
1) Overture; 2) ACT I: Intro
3) ACT I: King of the Franks; 4) ACT II: Intro
5) ACT II: The Iron Crown of Lombardy
6) ACT III: Intro
7) ACT III: The Bloody Verdict of Verden
8) ACT IV: Intro
9) ACT IV: The Age of Oneness Out of Diversity
10) ACT V: Intro; 11) ACT V: Starlight
13) Bonus Track: Iberia
14) Bonus Track: The Bloody Verdict of Verden (Instr.)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a sonic tapestry rich with layers of orchestral grandeur and sporadically purposeful heavy guitars/drums that is aurally engaging from the offset and remains so throughout."