Remembering Freddie Mercury, Metal God
On October 17 of this year, the official Queen YouTube channel uploaded a BBC outtake of the band performing their ubiquitous hit “We Will Rock You.” This version eschews the soccer chant mentality of the radio edit. Instead, it sounds like speed metal.
It’s easy to forget that before they were massive pop stars, Queen played the kind of music that forms the bedrock of heavy metal. We pay tribute often and rightly to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Rainbow, but forget that Queen was just one turn of the gain knob away from being a metal band.
James Hetfield never forgot. Metallica recorded a cover of “Stone Cold Crazy”, another proto-speed metal Queen song, and James sang the song with the band and Tony Iommi at the historic Wembly Stadium tribute to Queen vocalist Farrokh "Freddie Mercury" Bulsara in 1992.
Mercury passed away from complications of AIDS a quarter century ago tomorrow. Since then, it’s been too easy for the metal community to forget the role he played in the music we love. Judas Priest opened for Queen. Lemmy covered Queen. Mercury was, if not a metal good in the greek sense, then a titan that preceded them.
In honor of Mercury's passing, we reached out to ask several metal musicians to explain, in their own words, the continuing importance of Queen.
John Bush, Armored Saint
Queen was the second show I ever went to in my life. Touring in support of ‘A day at the Races’. I was 13 years old and the show was at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. Where the Lakers and Kings used to also play. Thin Lizzy was the opening band supporting their amazing record ‘Johnny the Fox’. My mom drove me and my friends to the show (which included Joey & Gonzo) and she always claimed that the security let her in and she watched from the side of the stage. Still don’t know if I believe her.
When it comes to originality I think it’s safe to say that Queen is second to none in the history of rock music. The diversity the band had was about as broad as the Amazon river. They had such an influence on my life as a writer, lyricist, singer and music fan.
Freddie is the man. Possibly the best rock singer of all time. Brian’s style was super unique. The sound that came through the band was unmistakably Queen. Roger (also an amazing singer) and John were an incredible rhythm section.
I also saw them on the News of the World and Jazz tours as well. To this day Queen remains one of my all time favorite bands.
Special love for the Sheer Heart Attack record.
Joey Vera, Armored Saint
Queen had a huge impact on me being that they were my very first concert when I was about 14 years old.
Queen had not only an impact on myself, but also on hard rock music fans all over the world. They were such an innovative band that their appeal spanned across many generations including the Heavy Metal generation. Let's face it, Heavy Metal is guitar driven. And with the great Brian May at the helm, Queen had such an arsenal of styles of music which included some of the most impressive and creative guitar work (and sounds) ever.
“Flick of the Wrist”, “Sheer Heart Attack”, the intro to “Death on Two Legs”. All Heavy! Combine this with the powerful drumming of Rodger Taylor, the melodic bass playing from John Deacon and the masterful and incomparable voice of Freddie Mercury, you had the makings of a band that would prove to be completely
Marty Friedman, Solo Artist, ex-Megadeth
Queen is the one non-metal band that even the hardest core metal fans can agree were amazing. In fact they did the "staple characteristics" of metal better than most metallers did. Queen led the world with powerful vocal performances, impressive and meaningful guitar solos, innovative arrangements, and aggressive stage shows, things that definitely influenced the vast majority of metal musicians, among countless others. When asked to cover "Sheer Heart Attack" and "Play The Game" for tribute albums, I jumped at the chance, as Queen`s music is a big part of my early influences.
Scott Ian, Anthrax
Queen are the most original rock band in my lifetime. There was no Queen before Queen. And Freddie was the greatest frontman of all time.
Mike “Blothar” Bishop, GWAR
I came to love Queen by listening to their live albums at the Slave Pit, where GWAR was born. The slaves of GWAR would listen to Queen on a boom box while they were building the props and costumes. The guys who were building the show were all older than me, and they knew about all kinds of stuff from the 70s that I had never heard of. At the time, in the late 80s, I was a young punk rocker, but I still loved Black Sabbath, and Zeppelin, and of course the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. I only knew Queen from their radio hits, but when I heard songs like "Sheer Heart Attack," and "Stone Cold Crazy," and "Keep Yourself Alive," I was immediately blown away by the heaviness, and the interesting song construction. I was able to hear the influence of Queen on groups that I loved like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Especially, the live records, where everything was fast and heavy and raw. It was just a total package. Queen had heavy fucking riffs, even if the rest of the song was piano and vocal driven, there were usually some points in the song where they would erupt into just the most blistering riffs. The rhythms too, the galloping picking patterns, the heavy accents and huge power chords. And the lyrics, with a base in fantasy, all that was metal as fuck. As a shithead punk rocker, I learned a lot about music from the older members of GWAR, and learning about Queen, and the way they wrote songs, the sounds they made, the way they told stories with music; all that really opened my mind to the creative possibilities of hard rock and heavy metal.
Tommy Giles Rogers, Between the Buried and Me
Freddie Mercury and Queen are the perfect definition of art in music. They brought music to a new level and steered the world with every note. Since day one the group had a "no rules" take on writing and they pushed the boundaries of rock music time and time again. Our current state of music would not be where it is today without them. Thank you for the inspiration.
Charlie Looker, Psalm Zero
I'd say The first things i think of with Queen are grand ambition, mastery, romanticism and theatricality. Those are all components that i value in music in general, and they're all pretty compatible with extreme metal in most of its various forms. Oh and Queen had humor too. That's a little less typical of the music I love, but I'm into it. One of the greatest bands in rock history period. Titans!
Rae Amitay, Immortal Bird
Queen kind of reminded me that music could be heavy but also brimming with enthusiasm. I listen to Queen when I'm mega depressed and it helps more than some of the dark shit I listen to. Also performance wise that band is pretty much unmatched, pop in a live DVD and it's nonstop inspiration and energy. And Freddie is iconic. A 'once in a lifetime' kind of frontman where the only person who I think has ever come close is maybe Bruce Dickinson. His confidence and command of himself was otherwordly. And also I think his undeniable insane talent opened people up to being more accepting of gay/bi performers in "unexpected" settings. I've heard mixed stuff, like he came out via the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” other stuff says he never fully came out as anything, but whatever. He was flamboyant and unapologetic and that was tremendously important for a lot of people struggling to "reign in" their true selves. He just did the damn thing and loved who he wanted to love. Luckily, the world still loves him right back. It kind of surprises me given how rampant homophobia still is, but Freddie is kind of untouchable.
Evan Void, Hivelords, Tombs
Queen was an inspiration to me from a very young age, and Brian May's guitar playing was definitely one of the reasons I picked up a guitar in the first place. I remember reading an article about how he built his own guitar, and that fascinated me. The guitar playing in Bohemian Rhapsody, in particular, was a game changer for me - the soulful leads, and the melancholy colors portrayed with the guitar lines still resonate with me to this day.
Andy Curtis Brignell Caina
My favorite song by them is probably “Princes of the Universe”, which is more Judas Priest than Judas Priest. They're also one of the first bands to explore heavy metal tropes as part of a wider dynamic toolbox as opposed to just 'being a metal band', for example stuff like “Hammer to Fall” or “The Show Must Go On” definitely uses heavy metal as an atmospheric backdrop whilst unashamedly also being pop songs. Oh also I once got into an argument with someone at film school when I referred to ‘Highlander’ as a musical. It’s basically Queen directing a Danzig video.
Cole Jacobsen, Lago
Definitely forgotten. Obviously in pop culture they were juggernauts, with their radio songs.... but man.... Brian May was metal before there was metal. News Of The World came out 40 years ago and that guitar tone is still untouchable.