Charlemagne: 88-year-old Christopher Lee’s Metal Project

That Sir Christopher Lee, the British 88-year-old actor, is a living legend is beyond question. In his long career he has played some of pop culture’s most iconic characters: Dracula, Saruman and Count Dooku in Star Wars.

His voice is unique, vibrant, strong and ominous, and he has provided the voice for several games like Lord of The Rings: Battle For Middle Earth, Kingdom Hearts, and animations such as Valhalla, The Last Unicorn, The Corpse Bride, Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Years ago he has already contributed with the bands Rhapsody (Magic of the Wizard’s Dream) and Manowar, and Inner Terrestrials, now, he has a new Symphonic Metal project, Charlemagne, in which he, accompanied by a group of talented musicians and a presenter, tells the story of one of the world’s most important historical figures.

In an interview on You Tube, Sir Christopher Lee says that: “It's fascinating for me, that at this stage of my life, I suddenly find that people are beginning to look upon me as a Metal singer... And judging... from the huge number of hits on the internet… everybody is very excited about this, I certainly am, but it's very unexpected."

"So to my surprise and indeed great pleasure, I suddenly found that there seems to be another string to my bow, and now we shall wait and see.”

Sir Christopher Lee says that he descends from Charlemagne through his mother’s family Carandini, but that’s just a coincidence and not the reason he has decided to start this project.

As far as what is already on the internet, the songs are powerful and well done, and the work is reminiscent of another music & storytelling album, the Rick Wakeman’s classic King Arthur & The Knights of The Roundtable. As for Sir Christopher Lee’s act, he’s amazing like always, with his singular voice and his decades of theatrical experience.

If you like Symphonic Metal bands like Leaves’ Eyes, Battlelore, Blind Guardian and others that mix legends from the past and great heavy melodious sounds, check it out.

For the record, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was a revolutionary king. He ruled the region that now comprises Germany, France, North of Spain, Belgium and Netherlands, for 46 years, between 768 and 814CE.

He had a great importance in the history of Europe, not only because he unified several regions, but because he tried to bring back some of the Ancient wisdom, by recovering Greek and Roman texts, he promoted the exchange of knowledge between cultures, scholars from all over Europe went to work for him, and at a time when most noblemen were illiterate, he himself studied and had his children and grandchildren study as well. His greatest frustration was that he never actually learned how to write.

Because of all that, the period of his reign is known as Caroligian Renaissance.

To know more about Christopher Lee’s project, Charlemagne, watch these videos, one with an excerpt from the album and the other of his interview, and visit the MySpace profile.




Phillip Straub: Pushing The Limits Of Concept Art

Phillip Straub is a very talented illustrator, with over 16 years of experience in the games, film and publishing industries. Presently he has been working as concept artist for Warner Brothers, and he has already worked for other big companies such as DC Comics, Mattel and EA.

As one of the founding members of the CG Society, Phillip Straub is responsible for judging in illustration competitions. He said that when he does that “the most important aspect in an image to me personally is originality in concept. I’m drawn to images that have a strong idea/story and images that play with metaphors or symbols. Now, with the advent of digital technology technical proficiency has new meaning- and while there are myriad of technically rendered images out there because of the great range of tools, many have little soul.” [1]

And that’s one of the things he tries to accomplish in his works, Straub focuses on invoking an emotional response from his images through composition, color, light and subject matter.

He takes inspiration from several different artists like “the Hudson River School painters - Church and Bierdstadt, orientalists like Gerome, Alma Tadema, and Bouguereau, and Michael Whelan.

As a Concept Art teacher, Phillip Straub says he gets “a great joy sharing the knowledge I’ve tried to gather over the years with others. Really, there are very few things that I find more rewarding than helping someone grow as an artist or even as an overall individual.“

He is the author of an amazing graphic novel called Utherworlds, whose pages can be viewed here. In a recent interview Phillip Straub has described it:

“The basic idea is – All thought is alive – each hope, fear, and memory is a part of the whole we call the universe. Every living creature contributes in their own unique way to the balance of positive and negative energy in the world. This energy is channeled to the Realms of Nightmares and Dreams, a visual manifestation of all thought energy that is located far in the depths of the universe.

“For eons a balance has been maintained between the positive and the negative but, the balance has shifted and the natural order has been disrupted. Sentient beings have lost their way and have given into the temptation of negative thought. Hope, empathy, and truth are being challenged by the growing forces of greed, hatred, and lust. War, global climate change, and industrialization grow with each passing day unchecked. It is true – the universe has reached a tipping point. A time of no return is nearly upon us all. Those who are open – those with true presence and a belief in hope are called upon to reclaim and restore the balance.”

Below there is a selection of his works, the first two are from the Utherworlds novel. Check his site for more.



Echoterra: Progressive Melodies

Echoterra is a great Symphonic Metal band formed by Avian’s guitarist Yan Leviathan and Jonah W in 2008, in the US.

Their music has the beats and melodies of other female-fronted bands like Nightwish and Imperia, but with a Progressive Metal twist, and both the former vocalist Suvi Virtanen and the new one Melissa Ferlaak have beautiful, if not very potent, voices.

They have only one album, The Law of One, and one EP, In Your Eyes, released to date, but they have announced a new release by early 2011.

In a recent interview, Leviathan talked about his reasons for forming Echoterra. He said that:

“I enjoy many kinds of music and I wanted a different outlet for the songs that I had written that didn’t quite fit Avian’s style. Jonah W and I are very good friends and I think that we make a very good writing team and the debut Echoterra CD is a good reflection of that.

“Unlike Avian where I write all of the music and the majority of the lyrics, Jonah composes the symphonic versions of the songs and I then re-arrange them a bit and write the guitar, bass and drum parts. It also allows me to write lyrics that I would not write for Avian; in fact, I make a conscience effort to write from a female’s point of view since we have a female singer.”

Talking about what moves him to make music, he said:

“My goal is for people to really listen to the music and get inspired to go out and find the truth; unfortunately, most people rely on the media and schools to tell/teach them the truth but in fact they are just being programmed with lies.”

Below our usual selection of videos and links. Enjoy!



Goth Classical Music: Franz Liszt

Some of the main successful Symphonic Metal bands of later years are deeply influenced by classical music, and besides the undeniable technical quality and complexity of it; there are some compositions that are darkly fascinating, and I don't mean those from some Horror movie soundtrack.

For this reason, this is the first of a series of articles on classical music composers, who have influenced many Goth Metal bands.

So let's start with the Hungarian genius Franz Liszt, who was a prodigy child, the first showbiz international star, a controversial and admirable personality. Born in 1811, in Hungary, dead in 1886, in Bayreuth, Franz Liszt lived a long and productive life. With both his grandfather and his father as musicians, he started playing for the Esterhazy family, owner of the land in which his family lived, when he was 9 years old.

At age 12, Liszt was already composing and playing concerts, and from that he progressed in a vertiginous speed, through becoming a virtuose concert pianist, a much requested tutor, a versatile and daring composer, and a captivating conductor.

He was considered by his contemporaries as the most technically advanced pianist of his time (and maybe of all time), which his compositions of the period known as Years of Pilgrimage can confirm. The Marche Funebre is particularly interesting for us, Metal fans, as it has both the raw power and the introspective melody we like.

His playing was described as having "abandonment, a liberated feeling, but even when it becomes impetuous and energetic in his fortissimo, it is still without harshness and dryness. [...]

"[He] draws from the piano tones that are purer, mellower and stronger than anyone has been able to do; his touch has an indescribable charm. [...] He is the enemy of affected, stilted, contorted expressions.

"Most of all, he wants truth in musical sentiment, and so he makes a psychological study of his emotions to convey them as they are. Thus, a strong expression is often followed by a sense of fatigue and dejection, a kind of coldness, because this is the way nature works."

His performances were particularly known for being intense and emotional. Franz Liszt not simply played but expressed the emotions he was trying to convey through it in his face, which showed anger, sadness, joy, according to the melody and in the intensity of his playing, which could become quite energic.

His main influences were Beethoven, the idol of his childhood, Paganini, the eccentric violin master, who had a Jimi Hendrix-like impact on the musicians of his time, Berlioz, who pushed the limits of orchestra concerts, once playing with 1000 musicians and Chopin, whose moody and seemingly simple compositions fascinated Liszt.

Though some purists may cringe at my comparing classical composers with a Rock stars, this is inevitable. Liszt was probably the first international celebrity, who had a rabid fanbase of screaming, fainting, hysterical women chasing him, collecting his cigar stubs, tearing at his clothes, wearing locks of his hair in bracelets.

Interesting that Liszt would have female adulation even in his late years, regardless of him being in his 70's.

This period, which began in 1842, was nicknamed Lisztomania, and affected not only Paris, where he lived at the time or even France, but most of the countries where he toured in Europe.

But Liszt's musical prowess and fame are far from being his only qualifications. His generosity towards fellow musicians and his dedication to charity were other important traits.

Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Gried and Alexander Borodin were only a few of the many composers he helped in all ways, including financially. And if you think that charity concerts are a recent trend, know that Liszt was one of the most dedicated musicians to humanitarian causes.

He played numerous concerts to raise money for charities, contributed to the fund that helped the victims of the Hamburg fire of 1842, to the raising of the Beethoven statue at Bonn, the building of the Cologne Cathedral, and others.

Always unpredictable, he took minor orders in 1865, becoming Abbot. In the next few years, he would compose many sacred choral works, but would never lose his nerve in challenging the status quo. Though a Catholic and abbot, he experimented with some “devil’s chords” or some sounds that the Catholic Church had forbidden to be used, in his compositions Dante Sonata, Csardas Macabres, among others.

After his years traveling the Northern Hemisphere, he finally settled down in Weimar, with his unofficial wife Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who he never could formally marry, then years later, as an abbot, he spent periods of the year among Rome, Weimar and Budapest, despite his old age.

Probably because of several losses and worries he had in his later years, as the death of his son and daughter, and of many friends, the problems caused by his daughter Cosima betraying her husband with Richard Wagner, the struggle he faced to promote his innovative music and that of others, he became increasingly introspective and even depressive, and his thoughts on death and despair can often be found in his later works. He told his biographer, Lina Ramann that he carried “a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound.”

A couple of interesting quotes by Franz Liszt:

“Life is only a long and bitter suicide, and faith alone can transform this suicide into a sacrifice.”

“Real men are sadly lacking in this world, for when they are put to the test they prove worthless.”

Now that you know about the man, here are some of his music. For more information, visit the links at the bottom of the post.




Arnold Böcklin: Gothic Paintings For Inspiration

Arnold Böcklin was a Swiss painter; known for his symbolistic paintings with gothic themes.

He was born in Switzerland in 1827; and had to stand up to his father in order to chase his dream of becoming a painter. After attending art school in 1845; he went on a grand tour of Europe; as was the custom then; visiting Brussels, Antwerp, Switzerland and Paris.

Arnold Bocklin lived in some of the most important cultural cities of the period such as Weimar; Florence and Rome. He was keen on Greco-Roman art; and took most of his inspiration from it.

He had strong opinions about his craft; such as:

"Just as it is poetry's task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music..."

"Painting should pervade the soul in the same way, and as long as it does not do this it is nothing more than a brainless handicraft."

I've selected three of his pictures, which you can see below. For more, visit the sites devoted Arnold Bocklin's work mentioned at the bottom of the post.