Six Damn Fine Degrees #110: A Heavy Metal Christmas with Christopher Lee

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I’m sure we all have it: That odd Christmas album we unearth whenever the Holiday Season comes along, even though we know it’s atrociously kitschy and truly awful by any musical standards. For our family, Roger Whittaker single-handedly put us in a terribly festive mood with his German (!) carols. These days – besides certified classics by Leontyne Price, Joan Baez and Mahalia Jackson – I sneak in the occasional Julio Iglesias or Ivan Rebroff schmaltz onto my turntable.

My Christmas music collection, however, is bound to become a little bigger in the wake of a completely new discovery by one of the actors lending his voice to the Neverwhere audiobook (mentioned in last week’s post by Julie): Sir Christopher Lee’s three incredible Heavy Metal Christmas albums released between 2012 and 2014!

There’s really no need for introductions with this fabulously versatile actor and his record-breaking movie output (the actor with the highest closeness centrality in movie history!). Still, just considering that after playing every possible villain character (from Hammer to Bond and from Fu Man Chu to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars) and gracing even the worst flicks and smallest roles (notably in many Tim Burton movies) with gravitas, it’s still amazing to see that he lent his voice, which The Guardian aptly called a “bottomless baritone” in their review, to yet a different type of project at the venerable age of 90.

Such a voice cuts through even the wildest electric guitars and overpowering percussion with relentless rancour that makes the chosen carols seem like tales from the crypt: “The Little Drummer Boy” rather appears to join a black mass at the king’s castle, and there’s also nothing particularly quieting about “Silent Night” on the first EP released in 2012. Demand for more heavy metal Christmas, however, seems to have been high enough to ensure a second one, “A Heavy Metal Christmas, Too”.

On it, strangely enough, only one of the two tracks deals with Christmas, the aptly titled ‘Jingle Hell’ that picks up from the dark theme of the original album and gives it a repetitively frantic twist. The second track is a deliciously maleficent rendition of that Sinatra classic “My Way”. And even though there was even a third and final release from the same production team in 2015 (“Darkest Carol, Faithful Sing”), it’s really that particular track that sums up this wonderfully self-referential project altogether. The iconic cinematic count of darkness would celebrate Christmas exactly like that, revealing a warm heart under his at times hellish exterior.

Christopher Lee had ventured into the world of song before, successfully releasing two albums around Charlemagne and one called “The Metal Knight” and he had of course honoured many a spoken word event and recording, as well as audiobooks with his magnificent voice – even dubbing films in one of the many languages he spoke.

An entire blog post series could and should be dedicated to the life, work and legacy of this ultimately charismatic star, but for now, let the man speak (and sing) himself: this was the Christmas message he put out together with his EP releases in 2013, just two years before his passing. With fond memories and the best of all Christmas wishes (hellish or bright)!

The full Heavy Metal Christmas playlist can be found here.

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