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Music

Remembering Christopher Lee's career as a metal singer

@SamWKemp

Here’s a fact to boggle your mind: In his autobiography, Lord of Misrule, Christopher Lee recalled witnessing the last public execution in France as a young man. The unfortunate criminal was Eugen Weidmann, a German serial killer who was beheaded on June 17th, 1939. Weidmann’s grisly end clearly made an impact on the young Lee, who would go on to establish himself as the king of Kensington gore in films such as Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein.

After he died in 2015, however, it became apparent that the actor’s career had been far more varied than anyone had realised. Because as well as starring as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings, (Lee was the only cast or crew member to have actually met J.R.R. Tolkien) he also had a prolific career as a metal singer.

Lee’s life in metal began when he met Fabio Leone, the original vocalist of the Italian symphonic metal outfit Rhapsody of Fire. Together, they crafted Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret, which includes such singles as ‘The Magic Of The Wizard’s Dream’, a suitably Tolkienesque ballad featuring some of the most impressive hand acting of Lee’s career. Lee’s work with Rhapsody saw the actor occupy the role of a backing singer, using his distinctive vocal character to provide theatrical flair. Although, in Lee’s case, there were fewer “sha la las” and more explosive declarations of expert swordsmanship.

Lee also recorded four solo albums, including Devils, Rogues & Other Villains (1998), Revelation (2006), Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross (2010), Charlemagne: The Omens of Death (2013), and a series of traditional Christmas classics reimagined as heavy metal songs. If you’re looking to dive into Lee’s catalogue, the best place to start is ‘The Bloody Verdict of Verden’ with Charlemagne. Because if there’s one thing better than watching Christopher Lee bellow the words “I shed the blood of the Saxon Men,” while swishing a plastic sword, it’s watching him do so in front of a CGI cathedral wreathed in hellfire.

Lee’s passion for heavy metal began in the 1970s after he heard Black Sabbath for the first time. He frequently praised guitarist Tony Iommi, calling him the “father of metal,” to which Iommi replied: “But you’re the one that started it, really. Because we used to go watch Dracula and the horror films you did and that’s what influenced us.”

Christopher Lee’s career as a metal musician might be slightly mind-bending, but we shouldn’t be surprised. He remained interested and passionate about his work in the arts until the end of his life, always refusing to be pinned down or typecast: “I have a great belief that things, no matter what they are – music, literature, anything in life – should from time to time surprise people,” he told Metal Hammer in 2015. “And that’s what I believe in: surprising people. Heavy metal has, since its very beginning, surprised in the best sense of the word. And people all over the world. To be involved in that, and to show people that even now I can still surprise my audience. It’s very important. I’ve spent my entire career taking risks. Acting is a risk, it has to be. I’ve never been afraid, and I’ve done my best to take those risks.”