By Lauren Lopez
What comes to mind when you hear the name Christopher Lee? Is it his roles as many onscreen villains, like Count Dooku from Star Wars, Count Dracula, or Saruman the White from Lord of the Rings? Maybe it’s his knighting in 2009? Or that he wrote several books? Or the fact that he’s a World War II veteran? These might all be things that pop into your head, but what you may not know about Lee is that he released multiple metal-inspired albums.
Lee has worked with a variety of artists. He sang Paul Giovanni’s psych folk composition “The Tinker of Rye” on The Wicker Man soundtrack. He also sang the closing credits song of the horror film Funny Man. Performed a song and dance number called “Name Your Poison” in the musical The Return of Captain Invincible. And provided vocals on pop artist Kathy Joe Daylor’s song “Little Witch.”
His first formal experience with metal music came in 2005 when he sang a duet with Fabio Lione, lead vocalist of the Italian symphonic power metal band, Rhapsody of Fire, on “The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream.” From there, Lee went on to become the narrator on the band’s next four albums, portraying the Wizard King. He also worked with heavy metal band, Manowar, while they were recording a new version of their first album, Battle Hymns. He took the place of Orson Welles, who was dead at the time of the re-recording. Lee had actually worked with Welles before his death in a production of Moby Dick.
His full move to metal came on his ninetieth birthday when Lee announced the release of his new single, “Let Legend Mark Me as the King,” from his upcoming album, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. Richie Faulkner, from the British heavy metal band Judas Priest, arranged the music, which features World Guitar Idol champion Hedras Ramos.
It is a symphonic metal concept album, which tells the story of Charlemagne, the First Holy Roman Emperor. The album features fifteen tracks separated into nine sections, like acts of a play. It was composed by Marco Sabiu and features guests, such as Lee’s daughter, Christina, as the narrator. In 2010, Lee received the “Spirit of Metal” from Tony Lommi of Black Sabbath during the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Ceremony.
In 2012, Lee released an EP of heavy metal covers of Christmas songs called A Heavy Metal Christmas, which he followed with A Heavy Metal Christmas Too the next year. One song off the album, “Jingle Hell,” entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number twenty-two. After media coverage, it rose to number eighteen. At ninety-one, Lee became the oldest living performer to enter the music charts (a title previously held by eighty-five-year-old Tony Bennett). He released a third and final Christmas album in 2014, which features “Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing,” a playful take on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
To celebrate his ninety-second birthday, Lee released an EP of covers called Metal Knight. In addition to a different version of his cover of “My Way,” which was originally featured on A Heavy Metal Christmas Too, he also included “The Toreador March,” inspired by the opera, Carmen, along with “The Impossible Dream” and “I Don Quixote” from the Don Quixote musical, Man of La Mancha.
Shortly before his death in June of 2015, Lee made his last appearance on a music record, narrating “The Last Vampire” from the debut album of the Hollywood Vampires, a celebrity supergroup containing Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, and Joe Perry.
Regarding the release of his third Christmas EP, Lee remarked, “‘at my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy. I do not know how long I am going to be around, so every day is a celebration and I want to share it with my fans.”