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A Dark and Brooding Tour de Force...,
This review is from: CHARLEMAGNE - BY THE SWORD & THE CROSS (Audio CD)
I'm going to mention a name--Sir Christopher Lee. What does that bring to mind for you? Legendary British film icon who terrified us in the infamous Hammer Films' productions, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Dracula, and The Devil Rides Out? The charismatic Lord Summerisle from the legendary cult film The Wicker Man? James Bond's nemesis, the assassin Scaramanga, in the 007 film The Man With the Golden Gun? Perhaps his memorable roles in the Tim Burton films, Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most recently Alice in Wonderland? Would it be his role as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel films, or as the wizard Saruman the White in The Lord of the Rings films? Maybe it would be his masterful performance of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistan, in the film Jinnah?
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is his remarkably distinctive voice; a deep baritone that rings with the authority and gravitas that could make a mere mortal man tremble in his shoes. His is a voice so distinctive that you know exactly who it belongs to as soon as you hear it, even if you cannot see his face. In fact, it could easily be the voice of a noble king on centuries past. And that would be his latest and intensely intriguing performance.
Sir Christopher Lee portrays one of the most important men in the development of Western Civilization, the King and the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, on his new cd, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. His performance and rich singing voice and an outstanding symphonic metal musical score combine to produce a powerful concept album that tells the tale of Charlemagne as a ruler and a warrior king, and as a man who was haunted by bloody decisions made in battle, as recounted in "The Bloody Verdict of Verden" in which 4000 Saxon men were beheaded in a single day by order of King Charlemagne. We see the steely-eyed warrior as a young king, but we also see the older, wiser man seeking to make peace with his God, seeking redemption and validation as he lies dying. Sir Christopher's performance as an older Charlemagne looking back upon his past with a mix of regret and resolve is remarkable, bringing depth and humanity to a long-dead historical figure and allowing us to connect with the character in a very intimate way.
The music that swirls and surges around this story is what is being called "symphonic metal," and it is a truly interesting medium upon which to paint this tale. The music is indeed symphonic, being performed by the European Cinematic Symphony Orchestra & Choir as arranged, orchestrated, and conducted by Marco Sabiu, and it engages the senses wonderfully as it not only serves as a backdrop to the story, but sometimes seems like a participant. Swelling strings mix with electric guitars, bass, and drums to exceptional dramatic effect, guitar arpeggios fade as the orchestra rises and huge bells toll. The mixing of such instruments, however, has been done with great care, skill, and craft--for each complements the other, and neither overwhelms.
Musically, it is an adventurous endeavor. While there are certainly aspects of classical music, it is not classical. While operatic and theatrical, it is not opera. And while there are the charging, heavy rhythms and soaring guitar solos of heavy metal, it is not heavy metal. For me, in places, it recalls Pink Floyd's magnum opus, The Wall. It ambitiously mixes and integrates various styles to convey the moods and passions of the conceptual story, and it succeeds quite well.
All in all, this is something new and different, and it works very well. The vocal performances are remarkable, and the voice of Sir Christopher entrances and enthralls in a tale that spans the life of a remarkable king who led Europe out of the Dark Ages, and harkens back four centuries that preceded him. Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross will appeal to fans of progressive and art rock, and is a treat for those rock fans who may want to challenge themselves to taking on something a little different, yet still somehow familiar.
Brent A. Soileau ~ aka "Baton Rouge Brent"
Deep Purple Hub