Last week the world lost Sir Christopher Lee, a ridiculous badass on and off screen, who also had a late-late career legit heavy metal detour which Fangoria Editor-in-Chief Chris Alexander aptly describes as "one of the most fascinating 11th hour career turns in pop culture history." To honor our fallen fellow metal militiaman Decibel convened an all-star horror-metal panel to discuss Lee's ascent from untouchable horror icon to extreme music frontman...
1973. "THE TINKER OF THE RYE"
CHRIS ALEXANDER (FANGORIA/QUEEN OF BLOOD/FANGORIA MUSICK): What a film! What a score! The songs in The Wicker Man define the film of course and arguably, Lee’s turn as the mad Pagan Lord Summerisle is his best role, one in which he let’s loose of his rigid Hammer-forged persona and creates a portrait of power, authority and eccentricity and a kind of casual evil. Here we can see yet another reason Lee held the film is such high regard, the fact that he was allowed to use that smooth, rich baritone of his. Cheeky track that underscores the horror at the core of the movie.
SEAN FRASIER (DECIBEL/POST IRONIC HIPSTER MASSACRE): I guess this was some ditty that appeared in The Wicker Man that turns out to be a bawdy tale of a maiden and tinker flirting with some old-fashioned innuendo before the titular character "hammers away both by day and by night." But Lee elevates the material from a randy pub song to surface-level sophistication with his rich baritone, sort of like turning "I once knew a man from Nantucket" into an operatic staple.
AARON VON LUPTON (RUE MORGUE): Despite major Hollywood roles in the James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars films, Lee maintained this British pagan horror film to be his best role, and as a pseudo-musical it gave the actor an opportunity to showcase his sonorous vocal talents, notably this track about a promiscuous widow.
VANESSA NOCERA (WOODEN STAKE/HOWLING): Sir Christopher Lee had a great voice for metal as well as the right look and persona which stemmed from his presence in many horror films. When we see his face we either think of Dracula, Lucifer, Lord Summerisle, Count Dooku, Sherlock Holmes, and countless other villains and even a few sympathetic roles here and there. A well-rounded actor with many talents, including the aforementioned singing voice which, like his roles, were all over the place as you could hear on the Wicker Man soundtrack all the way up to his metal albums.
TIM FIFE (DARK SOUNDTRACK COMPOSER EXTRAORDINAIRE): This was one of Lee's favorite roles and some of that is because the part was written for him. He is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and it shows all of his strengths. What's also interesting about this track is that it was written for the film even though it really does feel like is a traditional song.
1994. "FUNNY MAN"
ALEXANDER: I’ve never seen Funny Man. In fact, I had no idea that Funny Man even existed. I feel alternately like a failure as a Lee lover and Fangoria editor and exhilarated at the discovery of such a potentially lunatic piece of entertainment. Sounds like a leftover track from the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory performed at a British Karaoke bar. Lee is barely there, but nice to have him show up for a wee bit of warbling…
FRASIER: The first horrific movie theme I remember leaning on the questionable vocal talents of a throng of children was "Meatballs," and this is similarly difficult to stomach. At least I learned the phrase "tromboning" from this catastrophe. Lee shows up to moan the chorus and sounds like Will Ferrell's Goulet impression. I'm gonna have to go ahead and forget I heard this; there are too many people involved to satisfyingly direct my anger at just one or two individuals.
VON LUPTON: Lee's voice takes a back seat to a children's choir on the closing credits of this violent, twisted comedy about a malevolent jester. Befitting of the film itself, the track is pure irreverent sadism.
FIFE: So Lee filmed his scenes for the movie in one day and it sounds like they recorded his part at some point that day. It's a charming track, it reminds me of Frizzi's theme for Bruno Corbucci's Aladdin.
1983. "NAME YOUR POISON"
ALEXANDER: Before Phillipe Mora went wild with Howling II, he out-Rocky’d the picture show with The Return of Captain Invincible, a low budget, totally unhinged superhero rock musical with Alan Arkin as a Marvel Comics-inspired hero matching wits with the diabolical Mr. Midnight, played by an athletic, fully engaged Lee. I love this weirdo flick and I adore Lee in it. His voice commanding and his sense of play -- again, often covert in his horror films -- in full effect. Wicked flick that still hasn’t quite found its cult.
FRASIER: Now this - and performers like Christopher Lee in general - is why I love villains so much. While the hero slouches like a broken bloke against the bar-top our antagonist flings drinks and sings with mutants and fishnet-clad dancers in tow. I mean, who the hell are we supposed to cheer for here? Captain Sad Sack or the charismatic but ill-meaning gentleman fully-stocked with top-shelf liquor? I got a "Rocky Horror" vibe from this inebriated weirdness and I'm how gonna be shouting "DRINK DRINK" at people through open bar windows all afternoon.
KRISCINDA LEE EVERITT (DESPUMATION): I’m almost positive I’ve had this dream. Christopher Lee, Alan Arkin, lunatic 80s chicks, and a ton of booze. God, I hope it was a dream. This movie just shot to the top of my To See list. I regret deeply that Lee didn’t do a metal cover of this later in life. Also, I’m envious of that woman’s ability to hold that pulsing plie squat like that in those shoes.
VON LUPTON: Before his shocking foray into heavy metal, this song from the superhero parody The Return of Captain Invincible was the legend's best known music work. Totally cheesy, but the genuine emotion in Lee's operatic vocals is undeniable, and would have served any NWOBHM artist in the early '80s well.
1989. "LITTLE WITCH"
ALEXANDER: If Michael Jackson could snag Vincent Price, why couldn’t Kathy Joe Daylor get her Stevie Nicks-esque mitts on Christopher Lee? I’ve never heard this song in my life and I think my life was better off for it. The best thing I can say about Lee’s presence on this dismal dance track is that the man truly did it all in his long life. And man, I hope he was paid well.
FRASIER: If more disco possessed the dark undercurrent that runs beneath "Little Witch" it wouldn't have died so quickly. Well, maybe it would have died and resurfaced along with all the occult rock revival bands of recent years. Lee shows up to lend weight to the witch's powers because he has a voice that sounds like it has conversed with witches aplenty, and his impact is pretty much zero because the song already rules.
LEE EVERITT: This would have been greatly improved if they’d switched parts.
NICK GREEN (DECIBEL): This is the normally the part where Chris Dick, Decibel's very own answer to Matt Pinfield, would step in and offer some obscure fact like, "Oh, this song was produced by so and so, who later went on to play bass in an early version of Cradle of Filth." All I can add is that Kathy Joe Daylor was one of the many aliases used by German singer Katherine Mehrling, who is still performing (and has aged incredibly well). Oh, and this song totally sounds like Stacy Q's "Two of Hearts." So there's that, which is nice.
VONLUPTON: Christopher Lee providing vocals to a 1989 Italio-disco single called "Little Witch" probably seemed like a match made in Eurotrash heaven at the time, though his righteous voice mostly stays in the background, narrating "You have the magic! You have the power! " Oddly calling to mind the spoken lyrics by symphonic metallers Bal-Sagoth.
2010. "REIGN OF TERROR"
ALEXANDER: Another one I’ve never heard, this shredding epic fares far better than "Little Witch" and reminds me of Keith Emerson’s theme for Dario Argento’s Inferno. Lee’s appearance is perfectly over the top in a song that has no top!
FRASIER: A friend of mine who has refused Game of Thrones' charms refers to the books and TV show simply as "dragon garbage." He might say that about this music as well, but that's why he doesn't write for Decibel. Power metal works best when it fully embraces its flamboyant grandeur, and the symphonic leanings here are definitely a weakness of mine. Lee's contribution seems like an afterthought and he's hidden in the mix behind the choir, dizzying six-stringed wizardry, and, yes, the awesomely over-the-top dragon garbage I approve of.
LEE EVERITT: Had Lee never released a metal album, or had anything to do with metal, he’d still have been more metal than just about anyone in metal. Vincent Price never would have traveled 8,000 miles for any of us. But Christopher Lee? Of course. That’s more metal cred than I’ll ever have.
GREEN: WTF? This is the kind of metal that Sir Christopher Lee was into? I feel like even The Great Kat would turn this off after about 30 seconds and be like, "Whoa, this is exhausting." Also: That's Sideshow Mel at the 2:59 mark, right?
VON LUPTON: It was 2010 and Christopher Lee is now entrenched in wizard culture thanks to his role as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series. So it's fitting that provides guest spoken word on this symphonic speed metal song about the wizards of The White Dragon's Order doing battle with the evil Disciples of the Black Order. Bring your 20-sided dice.
NOCERA: I remember seeing footage of Christopher Lee and Tony Iommi thanking each other for their contributions to both horror and metal, so it makes sense that Christopher Lee would make his stamp in the metal world. What was amazing though is that he kept going into his 90's and put just as much passion into his musical performances. Let's face it -- metal may not have taken its eventual form without horror movies. Black Sabbath -- one of, if not the, founding metal band -- took their moniker from Mario Bava's film of the same name So, Lee being associated with both horror and metal not only makes sense, it establishes him as an icon to each fanbase.
2004. "THE MAGIC OF THE WIZARD'S DREAM"
FRASIER: Lee famously played Saruman in the "Lord of the Rings" series, a natural fit for someone who projects shrewdness, nobility, and the capability of great power. I personally would have loved to see Lee play Prospero, from Shakespeare's "The Tempest." I also wish someone wrote a script where Lee played himself but he's secretly ACTUALLY a wizard or warlock or some spell-conjuring entity, and nobody in the movie biz knows. Missed opportunities, friends.
VON LUPTON: Christopher Lee makes his heavy metal debut providing full on operatic vocals on this majestic metal track by the artist formerly known as Rhapsody. The song was done in four different languages (English ,Italian, German, and French) which provided Lee with the second best use of his multi-lingual abilities, after hunting Nazi war criminals in WWII. Lee's image is featured prominently on the single's cover.
2010. "THE BLOODY VERDICT OF VERDEN"
ALEXANDER: This kicks all kinds of ass and makes me wish that the Game of Thrones people had have cast Lee when they could/should have. How fucking amazing would he have been wearing some class of crown. Actually, this clip is way better than Game of Thrones. I’ll be singing of shedding the blood of the saxon man for the rest of the week in the shower. I actually miss Lee a little bit more after watching this.
FRASIER: First off, I was ready to forgive everyone performing in the video because unless you're actually a swordfighter it's difficult to use it an effective prop. Then I remembered every Amon Amarth cover with Decibel, and Hegg looks pretty convincing with a flaming broadsword. But Lee does it god damn right - he does as little with it as possible. He has a lethal blade in his possession, and it's up to you if you wanna make his day and make him use it. Also, the chorus -- "I shed the blood of FOUR THOUSAND Saxon men" -- is the type of brutality only history can offer.
VON LUPTON: Lee's first complete metal album was Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. While the concept of a film legend in his late 80s recording a metal album may seem ridiculous it should be said this is really more stage music with the occasional heavy guitar chugging in background than blast beats and heavy riffs. An embarrassingly cheesy video came out two years later, before this album won Lee the Spirit of Metal award at the 2010 Golden God Awards...How did an 88 year old man with no previous experience in heavy music receive the Spirit of Metal Award? The answers lies in this footage. Hobbling and moving feebly, Lee commands an audience from the pulpit. He is too good for the people in front of him, his authoritative voice envelops everything around him. He is, truly, Godlike.
2013. "LET LEGEND MARK ME AS THE KING"
ALEXANDER: More Charlemagne/Lee mashing, more arse-crushing awesomeness. Must. Buy. This. Album. Today!
FRASIER: This was tough to listen to following his passing. As Charlemagne, Lee questions how long his achievements will be remembered, and how long he has left before he absolutely needs to confess his sins. This was the first single from Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, which Lee introduced to perplexed but supportive headbangers on his 90th birthday. I probably don't have the genes to last 90 years, but if I do I'm blasting this directly into my nearly-deaf ear-hole.
GREEN: If there was a "Hobbit metal" or "Middle Earth metal" subgenre, this would be the poster child. Alas, there is no "Hobbit metal" because ALL metal has been incubated in the spirit of JRR Tolkein, and not just the Ronnie James Dio and the Iron Maiden discographies. Incidentally, "Mordor" is well represented on Encyclopedia Metallum. You know what isn't? "Saruman," one of Sir Christopher Lee's greatest roles. Someone needs to get on that.
VON LUPTON: Charlemagne's sequel The Omens of Death was unleashed in 2013, once again featuring Lee in his golden robes and crown now challenging listeners with a pointed sword to accept his role in a full on heavy metal tune. Though arranged by Judas Priest's Richie Faulkner, the focus of the album is still squarely on Lee's rich operatic voice, with the leads and pummels taking a back seat to the metal god.
2014. "JINGLE HELL"
ALEXANDER: Can’t comment on the video which looks pretty fucking far from legit, but I love hearing Lee’s commanding voice jogging up against this irreverent thrash goodness.
FRASIER: Sure it's a little novelty Lego video, but you can just hear how much fun this guy is having in the studio. His voice bounces like he's wildly gesturing in front of a microphone, his 6'5" frame smushed into some sound booth. He doesn't smile in many of his promo videos, but when you see him accepting his Spirit of Metal award at the Golden Gods - slowly crossing the stage while waving to the crowd and nodding to the scantily-clad Suicide Girls shadowing him - his grin betrays the stoicism he projected in so many iconic roles.
VON LUPTON: Now 91, Lee's sanity was probably called into question by his family with the release of the 2012 EP A Heavy Metal Christmas, but the gimmick worked and the song reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, vanquishing Tony Bennett's previously held record of the oldest gentlemen to chart at age 85. Hey you know what, it's the catchiest and most successful of the legend's metal outputs. Those leads!
2014. "THE TOREADOR MARCH"
ALEXANDER: Lee’s metal career is one of the most fascinating 11th hour career turns in pop culture history and as much as it’s easy to love this stuff with irony, much of it is actually really good. This is really good. Love this epic slab of insanity so much.
FRASIER: Lee showcases his operatic skills on this cover from Carmen that appeared on his Don Quixote concept-album Metal Knight. I honestly don't know much about Carmen, but if the subjects of Lee's other symphonic metal projects offer hints it's about an armored ruler who assimilates/murders pagans into their Christian empire. Or it's a Christmas song.
VON LUPTON: The French opera Carmen was pretty controversial in the 1800s due to its open depictions of immoral behavior and criminal activity - so you know, it was pretty metal for its time. It serves as inspiration for "The Toreador March" on Lee's 2014 heavy metal covers EP. Princely and commanding, "The Toreador March" is for the Lord of the Rings and folk-metal set.
2013. "MY WAY"/"THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM"
ALEXANDER: Lee > Vicious. Forever and always. RIP you warrior of the weird, you Nobleman of nightmare, you Prince of Darkness…
FRASIER: Another one that hits me hard right from his mention about the final curtain. There's still not a ton known about Lee's military career, but given the history of the SAS he was likely involved in some pretty intense shit. Once he beautifully asked an over-eager reporter pursuing details on Lee's Special Forces missions if they could keep a secret. When the reporter exclaimed YES, Sir Lee replied, "So can I." Decades after an oath to remain silent he remained true, following the quest's path without being lead astray by his significant acting success. He absolutely dreamed an impossible dream and carved a lasting, inspiring impression into pop culture. Sleep well, Sir Lee.
LEE EVERITT: These are the two best versions of these songs that exist today.
VON LUPTON: After The Sultan of Swoon if there was one man who could proclaim he did it "My Way," it's Christopher Lee. After all what other Knighted nonagenarian veteran of over 70 films could record metal albums while still claiming status as an A-list Hollywood actor? Though his voice audibly weaker, it remains a fitting aurevoir, one year before his death.