I’ve never been star-struck while listening to an MP3. That changed while experiencing Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, the new concept album featuring legendary actor Sir Christopher Lee (Dracula, Lord of the Rings, everything good and amazing in the world of genre film) on vocals. Playing the first Holy Royal Emperor, Lee commands the entire 50+ minutes with a charismatic voice that decapitates any expectations of age-related frailty. This sequel to Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross was released last month (May 27th, 2013) to commemorate his 91st birthday. I’ve never been to a 91st birthday party, but if they were heavy metal record releases I would make a (potentially creepy?) habit of it.
The listening experience is similar to a heavy metal teleplay or extreme audio book, with a cast of vocalists and performers playing historical figures while classic power metal and symphonic metal accompanies the proceedings. It contains all the high drama and bloodshed of Shakespeare’s royal tragedies, but has the muscular backbone of Iron Maiden-inspired riffs and steady rock drumming. From the Guns N’ Roses-esque ballad “Dawning of a New Age” (featuring great supporting vocals from Lydia Salnikova) to the fittingly eerie supporting dirge of “The Betrayal,” this is an album of grand scope and considerable vision.
The haunting, existential conclusion of “Judgement Day” ends the story on a formidable note, raging with some of the most aggressive hooks on the album. Hedras Ramos Jr. is a dynamic guitar prodigy, displaying the ability to shred with ferocity and lift songs into the red sunset with dazzlingly emotive solos. While his father, Hedra Ramos Sr., provides solid rhythm support with drummer Ollie Usiskin, Junior is the real star here. I’ve looked into my glowing crystal ball and he’s a musician whose career will be well worth tracking.
Not every creative stroke works (the celebratory “Charlemagne!” choral blasts are never less than jarring, and at worst feel silly), but this is still a project that dwarfs every lame re-enactment scene on the History Channel with its dedication to narrative structure, a grave tone, and the majesty of classic metal. It’s also a deeply inspiring album to me, considering before Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was recorded Sir Christopher Lee hadn’t yet heard Black Sabbath’s pioneering doom. It just proves that heavy metal is there to be discovered at any age, and if I can be one tenth as open-minded and welcoming to new experiences as Lee, well then I will be one bad ass head-banging 91 year old.
Charlemagne: The Omens of Death is now available of iTunes, and you can find more information here: http://charlemagneproductions.org/