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Christopher Lee > Charlemagne: The Omens of Death > Reviews
Christopher Lee - Charlemagne: The Omens of Death

Christopher Lee’s Charlemagne The Omens of Death - 95%

Dom666, June 16th, 2013

“Charlemagne; The Omens of Death” is already Christopher Lee’s second full length album, and while his previous release, “Charlemagne; By the Sword and the Cross”, was more symphonic metal, this is outright heavy metal.

The album features the award winning guitarist, Hedras Ramos, and showcases arrangements by Richie Faulkner (Judas Priest), whose mark is clearly evident. The album dishes out classic hard core metal, overflowing with power riffs, melodic hooks and some serious shredding. A quick listen to “The Ultimate Sacrifice” and “Let Legend Mark Me As the King” will clear up any doubts you may have.

Lee, who is supported by a variety of voices on the album, is the lead vocalist and narrator, portraying Charlemagne in first person. The vocal interpretation, both spoken and sung in his apocalyptic baritone, is as always nothing short of epic. “Judgment Day” and “The Siege,” evidences the immensity of the tonal prowess Lee still possesses in his voice at 91 years of age!

“Charlemagne; The Omens of Death” sounds like Heavy Metal before the genre had all of the Rock & Roll stripped from it. It has those classic metal roots, which presents the album refreshingly full of rich textures, as well as being plenty fast and heavy in places. “Charlemagne” is not sludgy and mechanical like a lot of contemporary metal, so the most striking thing about the album, over and above Christopher Lee’s performances, is the bringing back of how dramatic and exciting metal music used to be. Nowadays, even the best bands of these genres seem to be incapable of the sheer intoxicating fervor of this pure classic metal sound.

The album’s momentum does lull at one or two tiny points, where maybe a couple of bars or so, aren’t as thrilling as the surrounding material, but the arrangements quickly get back on track with the roller-coaster guitar runs, and they certainly make up for the brief lapses within this adventurous musical storybook.

Without being too presumptuous, Christopher Lee and “Charlemagne; The Omens of Death” rules. If you think that this may be mawkish or dated, you haven’t actually taken the time to listen to the work, and you are doing yourself a great disservice. Don’t confuse this with the throwaway nostalgia that is being released by scores of imitators. Powerful, pounding, creative, fiery, and epic – if those are some of the words that describe the music that you are searching for, then look no further than “Charlemagne; The Omens of Death”.

And then there is the legendary Christopher Lee. Word has it that Charlemagne, the most powerful man in Europe during the First Century A.D., is in fact Lee’s ancestor on his mother’s side of the family. But what ultimately will impress the listener most is Lee’s consummate performance amidst the grind and fury of a never relenting metal soundtrack, as he brings Charlemagne’s battles and conquests right into your sound system.

If you like hard rock or metal you owe it to yourself to get this album, it is consistent all the way through, and the musicianship is superb.

He beareth not the sword in vain. - 77%

hells_unicorn, June 16th, 2013

Metal is generally dismissed by generations past in much the same way as early rock n' roll was in the 1950s as headache-inducing noise. In fact, the metal community takes pride in this generation gap with all but equal fervency to that of the punk rock scene. But with any rule crafted in this world, there is the occasional and sometimes charming exception, and dare say there is no more pleasant an eventuality than a man who lived before the time of Buddy Holly adopting heavy metal music and crafting an ambitious album following the retrospective approach of the likes of Manowar and Iron Maiden, in the basic style of Rhapsody Of Fire (the band that essentially made this all possible). But while Christopher Lee's vocal and acting prowess is beyond question, his ability to avoid being a mere novelty with little staying power is a legitimate question, and "Charlemagne: The Omens Of Death" fares mostly well in answering.

In much the same respect as Lee's work with Rhapsody Of Fire, the conceptual nature of this album takes on an audio book character, replete with spoken narrations and a de facto history lesson regarding the exploits of the famed Frankish ruler. Lee's voice stays pretty confortably in the lower bass-baritone register while singing, but manages to fill the arrangement with its colossal power. His particular points of strength are largely to be found on "Charles The Great" and "Let Legend Mark Me As The King", each of which feature the least amount of spoken activity and come off more as standard songs after the speed/power metal format. Everything generally tends to follow a traditional operatic model where quality and clarity are king and there isn't a whole lot of grit to speak of, as the heavier end of this tends to be handled by the traditional band instruments.

The musical content of this album is where things get a little muddled, though it never arises to the level of sabotaging things. The guitar work is moderately impressive, though largely a standard affair in reaffirming ideas that Manowar had been toying with since the late 80s. The lead work is generally the area where things shine with any consistent sense of originality, and sings as much as it shreds. The bass and drum work is pretty standard, generally going for a solid, unified approach along the lines of the heavily rock informed character of Manowar. Basically this is a Manowar album with a symphonic backdrop out of the Rhapsody Of Fire playbook, though de-emphasized a bit more in favor of the metallic elements. At times Lee's smooth approach clashes with the arrangement slightly, and at several key points on "The Devil's Advocate" things get jumbled as the guest vocal slots become a little too varied and drown out the instruments.

This is an album that works well on occasion, but will likely not inspire rabid fan worship. It's along similar lines to the early albums put out by Rhapsody Of Fire during Lee's tenure as their narrator and also Manowar's "Gods Of War". The principle charm here is who put this project together and when in his life he decided to do so. Then again, even the greatest of albums will usually have a gimmick or two in order to draw in its audience, and Lee's brand being on this doesn't disguise any drastic lack of musical quality or integrity. Many men have wielded the sword of metal, and Christopher Lee did not bear the sword in vain.

Let's not yank each others' chains here - 15%

BastardHead, June 13th, 2013

I'M SORRY, IT'S JUST NOT VERY GOOD

Really, I respect the absolute shit out of Christopher Lee, the guy is an incredible actor and has done more in his lifetime than I will ever do in my next six lifetimes, but... man he just can not do this. So many people are just ejaculating with glee over the fact that Saruman is 91 years old and releasing metal albums, but I think they're just letting some of the extraordinarily glaring flaws get swept under the rug. It's the same phenomenon we saw with The Devil You Know, where people fell absurdly in love with it simply because Dio, Iommi, and Butler were reunited and pushing like, six hundred years old apiece, and ignored the fact that only four of the ten songs are really engaging in any way (heresy, I know, but it's just really boring).

There are three huge problems with the second in the Charlemagne saga, The Omens of Death, and thankfully one of them isn't the production. By the Sword and the Cross suffered from one of the hands down most comically botched production jobs I'd ever heard. Lee's vocals were approximately fifteen times louder than anything else, and the guitar sounded like somebody humming in another room, it was just a complete wreck. Thankfully, people seemed to know what they were doing this time around, as it all sounds much more like a real album. The guitars are still pretty muffled, which is kinda lame, but this clearly wasn't meant to be a guitar focused album, so I suppose it's not really a big deal.

But no, one of the three huge problems is just that the songwriting is unbearably bland. Really, for a power metal fan, you've already heard this album back in 2002. All the common trappings are present, from the choirs that are nice but kinda fall flat and aren't as epic as they should be, the most unimaginative riffs ever, a drummer who knows a grand total of two patterns (both just really standard beat keeping, Lars Ulrich level stuff), and attempts at catchy melodies and big soaring choruses. Almost every song feels about three minutes longer than it actually is, and it's just because it's all so goddamn boring. I wish I could go into more detail but it's not really possible. It's extraordinarily standard power metal with less bombast than one would hope for from a project with this much ambition. Stale riffs and stale compositions, nothing to see here. If there's any shining bright spot with the music, it's that it oftentimes reminds me of the music from Dynasty Warriors 4 (check out the end of "The Ultimate Sacrifice", tell me that isn't straight away worthy of being the theme over the credits).

Another gaping fissure in the album is actually the main draw itself. I'm sorry, Christopher Lee's vocals are fucking horrible. He just narrates, which is all well and good normally, he has a great narration voice, but he tries singing frequently, and he's just bad at it. He's an old man, and he has an old man voice, and after 91 years of kicking ass, he just doesn't have the physical ability to be singing these big, booming baritone parts that he's aiming for. Remember back in my Kelly McKee review how I lambasted his vocals for sounding like he was just changing his tone while talking? Yeah, sad to say this about one of the most influential and well respected (and just downright most talented) actors of the past century, but Christopher Lee here does the exact same thing. Apparently he used to sing back in the day, I haven't heard that stuff, but right here, right now, he's incapable of doing what he's trying to do. It's admirable, but it still sucks. The best parts vocally are without a doubt the choirs, since they don't involve Lee's voice, and they're one of the only times we get to hear exuberant voices instead of tired old man storytelling or lazy guest vocals. Yeah, even the guest vocals, by technically accomplished opera singers, are just boring as hell. All of the vocals sound sedated, and it's a chore to listen to.

The last problem though, is by far my favorite, and I didn't even realize it until I was halfway done with this review. Whilst talking to a friend about it, I noted that the vocals seemed to not match at all, like they were off-tempo, and there were even parts where it sounded digitally sped up (like the middle of "Charles the Great"). His response to this observation is still making my head spin, several days later. "Well that's because there are basically no new vocals on this album, they're all the same parts from the first Charlemagne album".

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!

I'm sorry, I don't give a single shit if you're Dracula or Saruman or an ex-WWII spy or a real life knight or a nonagenarian, this is fucking lazy and inexcusable. The Omens of Death is, for all intents and purposes, a heavy metal remix of his first album, By the Sword and the Cross. I've seen almost no mention of this around the internet, in promotional material or interviews, and even Lee himself states: "The first Charlemagne album is metal, of course, but what I sang was more symphonic". Ironic then that the music has been made heavier but his vocals are literally unchanged. It's hard to forget "I SHED THE BLOOD OF THE SAXON MAN" when it's repeated ten squillion times across two separate albums. I'm on to you, you dastardly old codger. This is fucking sheisty and dishonest, and I, for one, don't tolerate underhanded laziness, even from one of the most accomplished men out there. The songs all have new titles and are arranged differently, and there's no mention from Lee that the first three quarters of the album provide nothing new from him, so yeah, I'm calling bullshit on it. I feel like most people haven't even noticed since, let's be honest, nobody listened to that first album. I know I certainly only heard a few samples and decided to stay away, what about the rest of you? Yeah, that's what I thought. The last handful of songs are new apparently, but they suffer from all the same problems as the first batch; boring instrumentals, sedated vocals from an old man with a whopping three semitone range, and a general feeling of disconnect between Lee and the rest of the band.

This is a trainwreck, through and through. There's almost nothing I like about it, from the dull arrangements to the wimpy riffs to the uninspired melodies to Lee himself, almost every component falls flat. I like what Lee was trying to do, and it's very inspiring to see such a respected actor with a passion for something as juvenile as power metal when he's old enough to have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, but let's face it, a lazy vanity project isn't going to give metal any more legitimacy as a style of music nor an artform. The Omens of Death is bad enough as a standalone, but the added insult of Lee not even doing so much as recording new vocals or writing new lyrics for a vast majority of the album is just absolutely ludicrous. Yeah, after all he's done, he's earned the right to relax a little bit, but I retain my right to call him out on it when it results in a shitty final product. At the very, very least, Hedras Ramos does a great job with what he's given, and his solos are generally very cool, but they aren't enough to save the album. In fact, Ramos couldn't save a game of Final Fantasy if the entire game took place within a save point and the only command in battle was "save" and the game was called Final Fantasy: Save Point.


Originally written for Lair of the Bastard

Do not pass judgement until you have listened... - 76%

Immortally_Insane, June 12th, 2013

Charlemagne: The Omens of Death is the follow up release to Lee's 2010 album, By the Sword and the Cross, both concept albums about the Holy Roman Emperor. As a memorable feature on legendary Rhapsody of Fire and Manowar tracks, the classically trained operatic vocal style of Lee is one that is sure to send chills down your spine. To top it all off, the album features the award winning guitarist, Hedras Ramos, and showcases arrangements by Richie Faulkner (Judas Priest). This high and mighty heavy metal pedigree matches the promise from Lee himself that this album is 100 percent heavy metal. Previous albums flirted with the classic heavy tone, but still remained in the symphonic rock realm. The Omens of Death, however, is straight out of the eighties in tone and riffs, and haunting in vocal styles and melodies. The tale of Charlemagne has never been taught so well.

The intro track, “The Portent” is absolutely enthralling. Lee's stern voice resides over a wonderfully orchestrated keyboard accent, introducing the omens of death experienced by Charlemagne. The songwriting continuing throughout the song is absolutely perfect for the image created by the spoken words, and still holds to be one of the strongest moments on the album. As the album kicks into gear throughout the next few tracks, you get a better feel for what the album will bring to the table. The music behind the vocals remains strong, well played, and wonderfully arranged. The vocals and surprising choral arrangements (“The Siege” features a great example) are unforgettable and moving. The fact that Lee can belt out these powerful lines is nearly unbelievable. The songs are long in length and despite the beautiful vocals, the lack of movement in them makes some songs slightly drag along. While the novelty is powerful and intriguing at first, it does wear off in some moments. That being said, the album quickly regains its strength thanks to songs like “Massacre of the Saxons” and “The Betrayal” (which is mostly spoken storyline but features killer music throughout). The finale, “Judgment Day” is a great reprisal of what the record was all about both in concept and lyrical content, and musical arrangements.

The album as a whole is a wonderfully written, produced, and executed release. It is a solid example of what I have been trying to tell my teachers since freshman year... all that I need to know about history, I can find in heavy metal. From Turisas and the tales of the Varangian Guard, to Sabaton and world wars, Christopher Lee has added another fantastic example of a metal album that is not only entertaining, but educational at the same time, whether we know it or not. It's not perfect, and in parts may have you skipping a track or two, but it is definitely worth your time ... even if it is just to pay respects to the greatness that is Christopher Lee.

[Originally written for MetalWani.com]