June 13, 2014
Christopher Lee, legendary actor/Saruman, releases heavy metal album inspired by “Don Quixote” on his 92nd birthday; or we can all go home now
by Sal Robinson
That’s it, it’s over—the world’s greatest nexus of unlikely elements has been created. It will be not equaled, it will not be surpassed, it may in fact constitute a new life-form, it is so unparalleled and unique and yet also perfect.
British actor Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series, has released a heavy metal album entitled Metal Knight on his 92nd birthday, an album of covers inspired by the character of Don Quixote.
The album consists of seven tracks: two are from the musical Man of La Mancha, and then there’s Lee’s cover of “My Way” and “The Toreador March” from Carmen, which he sings in French. Not since I first heard recordings of MC Solaar in fifth grade French class at the tender age of 10, with the scents of replicas of the Arc de Triomphe carved out of Dove soap bars and crystallized glue sticks adding their chemical dramas to the air has sung French sounded so supremely mind-addling.
This is not Lee’s first heavy metal outing: he’s also put out the albums Charlemagne: By the Sword and Cross and Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. One track from the former, “The Bloody Verdict of Verden,” has an accompanying music video in which Lee appears, mostly pointing a sword and singing threateningly about Saxons. He is also responsible for “A Heavy Metal Christmas,” a single in which he performs versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” (essentially very metal, it turns out) and “Silent Night,” and “A Heavy Metal Christmas Too.” The new album, Metal Knight, is a collaboration with the Italian metal band Rhapsody of Fire, with whom Lee has worked in the past.
When asked why he chose the Quixote theme, Lee (who is an actual knight of the British Empire, honoring his long film career playing, among other characters, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes) explained that, “As far as I am concerned, Don Quixote is the most metal fictional character that I know. Single handed, he is trying to change the world, regardless of any personal consequences.” Metal fictional?? Where has literary criticism been for the past forty years, that it did not occur to anyone to make this pun before?
Not only that, but Lee is clearly also an acute analyst of pop music. On “My Way,” surely one of the most queasy-making anthems in the pop canon, Lee says that “My Way is a very remarkable song… It is also difficult to sing because you’ve got to convince people that what you’re singing about is the truth.” Lee’s version goes full Saruman on it and replaces Sinatra’s terrifying false humility with unapologetic, operatic bombast.
Lee is promoting Metal Knight with a seven-and-a-half-minute trailer where he gives extended context for each song while sitting in an extremely yellow room. To which I can only say, Fuck yeah.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.