By 2010, Sir Christopher Lee’s CV was longer than a newspaper. The then-87-year-old was, of course, an iconic actor, renowned the world over for his parts in Dracula, The Lord Of The Rings, The Man With The Golden Gun, Star Wars and The Wicker Man. He’d also flaunted his baritone voice as an opera singer and, after serving in the Second World War, hunted down Nazi war criminals for a spell. It seemed like there was only one thing he hadn’t done in his life: release a heavy metal album.
On March 15, 2010 – however – that changed, and Sir Christopher became a bona fide rock star. He released his debut metal album, Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross, as an octogenarian, then its follow-up, Charlemagne: The Omens Of Death, on his 91st birthday. For his contributions to the genre, we at Metal Hammer honoured Sir Christopher with a Spirit Of Metal award at the 2010 Golden Gods, and he released three EPs of heavy songs between 2012 and 2014, before passing away on June 7, 2015. The icon’s final years were wholeheartedly dedicated to preaching the gospel of metal – yet another entry into the 93-year saga of him being a total fucking legend.
Revisiting Sir Christopher’s heavy metal oeuvre in 2023, the late actor’s admiration for the genre is obvious. It would have been so easy for a figure of his stature to coast by and release any old crap – with his name on it, it would have sold – but the Charlemagne series was a clear personal passion project. Not only were the two albums released independently, but they were concept pieces about the historical icon of the same name: the first holy Roman emperor and a person deeply connected to Sir Christopher, given the actor was a descendent of his (again, total fucking legend).
The albums are also musical counterparts. By The Sword And The Cross is a symphonic metal odyssey, divided into “acts” and defined by Sir Christopher leading a cast of singers, including his daughter, Christina. His vocals boom over swelling strings, which often overwhelm the guitars and drums. The Omens Of Death is the opposite: a foray into power metal where the art of the riff is king. Future Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner arranged the more high-octane disc, with Marcos Sabiu – a songwriter for Take That, Kylie Minogue and Barry Blue – returning for a “composer” credit. There was some serious talent tapped for the projects, reflecting Sir Christopher’s proper affinity for metal.
The story of Sir Christopher’s history with metal is, well, the story of metal itself. During a 2014 Metal Hammer interview between the actor and Tony Iommi – guitarist of the original heavy metal band, Black Sabbath – Tony cited Sir Christopher as an essential inspiration.
“You started metal!” Tony told the actor in no uncertain terms. “As a band, Black Sabbath were influenced by seeing a lot of your movies. We thought they were all good: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy…”
However, Sir Christopher didn’t start paying attention until a little while later. “I used to play golf with Alice Cooper, who was really good at the sport,” the actor reflected in the same Hammer interview – and he quickly fell for the parallels between metal music and a good horror film.
“Of course, [Alice] had all that incredible stuff going on live – hanging himself and so on,” he continued. “When I go to see a good concert from a metal band, it’s exhilarating. Like nothing you’ve ever heard before!”
We have Manowar bassist Joey DeMaio to thank for Sir Christopher actually getting hands-on with heavy metal. The power metal musician had previously produced another of the actor’s albums, and was managing and producing Rhapsody (now Rhapsody Of Fire) in the early 2000s. So, one string pull later, Sir Christopher appeared on the band’s 2004 album Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret. What was supposed to be a simple narrator role soon blossomed into something more.
“What I remember from those sessions was that everyone else was singing, and I was being left out,” Sir Christopher reflected in 2014. “So I told them that I’d like to have a go. You can imagine the reaction. Not another actor who thinks he can sing! But I did it, a song called The Magic Of The Wizard’s Dream, and I think I can safely say I proved I could carry it off.”
The actor became a Rhapsody regular, reappearing on five further albums, including one posthumously released in 2019. He also showed up on Manowar’s re-recording of Battle Hymns, Battle Hymns MMXI, in 2010. At the same time, the actor was chipping away at the Charlemagne project, which started in 2007.
“[By The Sword And The Cross] took about two-and-half years to make,” Sir Christopher said. “But, while I’m an essential part of it, the real credit should go to Marco [Sabiu] and the wonderful musicians he got together for this. Without them, none of this would be possible.”
Future Judas Priest player Richie Faulkner entered the picture for 2013’s The Omens Of Death, at the behest of Sir Christopher’s drummer, Tony Newton. “He wanted to do another record and add all this music mapped out for, like, an orchestra,” Richie told the Everyone Loves Guitar podcast in 2023. “They wanted it arranged, so it could be played on a festival stage, for example – so it could be played by a metal band with bass, guitar and drums.”
The guitarist never showed up on the final album, having been pulled away by his joining Judas Priest in 2011, replacing K.K. Downing. Guitars on The Omens Of Death were eventually played by Hedras Ramos Jr, although Richie has nothing but lovely things to share about the experience.
“It was great to talk to Sir Christopher and he was a guy, obviously, from a different generation,” the guitarist said. “He had different views on things. It was refreshing really to speak to someone with such […] grace and authority.”
Sadly, The Omens Of Death would be Sir Christopher’s final album. The actor released three metal EPs – A Heavy Metal Christmas, A Heavy Metal Christmas Too and Metal Knight – the last of which came out barely a year before his passing. However, his late foray into metal shows a star who was adored by the genre paying that reverence back. Never would Sir Christopher have needed to make heavy music into his 90s. But the fact that he did it anyway reaffirmed, for the thousandth time over, that he was just bloody brilliant.