Thursday, June 13, 2013

Christopher Lee - Charlemagne: The Omens of Death

Let's not yank each others' chains here


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".


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.

RATING - 15%


  1. What a ridiculous and ignorant sounding review. He sound like an old man because he is an old man playing the role of an old man.

  2. Some people like to gain notoriety by going against the grain with their reviews, If only they did some reteach before talking about a subject they know little about, they would avoid making a fool of themselves.

  3. These albums DO suck, guys. I laughed my ass off reading this becaue it's entirely true..."I shed the blood of the Saxon man" is a running gag not just between friends and I, but within my own FAMILY. The hilarity upon first listen was infectious. It's all a joke. The important thing as far as respecting Lee's contributions, performance, and passion for the art, is in either being of the opinion that it sucks and accepting it for what it is, or doing so while under the impression it's somehow worth listening to.

    I'm trying to find a download for this one, but am having some trouble...knew it would suck but hey, it's the legacy of Count Dooku and Dracula. It's about the novelty, not the quality...clearly, it's impossible to enjoy if quality is your concern.