Earlier this year, The Rock Universe whisked me away to a mysterious time and place to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. I documented the experience, and now I'm sharing the battles here on the blog. Today we've got the next matchup of the tournament: Black Sabbath vs. Queen. Here's how it went.
A week had passed, and I was back in my seat for the second battle. Despite pushing to be impartial about this whole thing, truthfully I was little bit bummed that the Doors were knocked out in the first round. But Van Halen wasn't going down, and the Doors put on a great show. On top of that, they exited with such style and grace that even the staunchest of Van Halen fans in the audience left the arena with a newfound appreciation and zeal for Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore.
But my time for reflection was over. The house lights went off. And seconds later, Queen's stage was lit up. They broke right into "We Are the Champions".
As soon as I heard the song begin, I uttered one short statement out loud, to no one in particular:
Starting off the competition with a song where you declare over and over that you're the champion is like a boxer stepping to the middle of the ring with his opponent before the fight starts, and instead of touching gloves, he taunts the other guy.
It didn't help that Freddie Mercury was prancing and gyrating around in Black Sabbath's direction.
And with that, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Instinctively I looked over to Black Sabbath's stage. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were turning up the dials on their amplifier stacks. Ozzy Osbourne was walking back and forth with an energy that made me a little nervous. And Bill Ward was just having none of it, yelling out in Queen's direction as their song wound down.
Long before the final note, Black Sabbath burst into "Paranoid". The sheer volume and pace caught Mercury, May, and Deacon by surprise, and knocked them back a few steps. Roger Taylor fumbled his drumsticks.
I figured the 3-minute onslaught was teaching Queen a little lesson, but remarkably, it wasn't. As soon as Sabbath closed out the song and Osbourne thanked the crowd, John Deacon started in with the bass line for "Another One Bites the Dust", and Mercury went right back to his taunts, pointing at the four members of Black Sabbath whenever he sung out the song's title.
The crowd went wild with a mix of cheers and jeers. I shook my head and sighed.
Sabbath punched back heavily with "After Forever", which opens with the line, Have you ever thought about your soul—can it be saved?
I think that was directly aimed at Queen. And it hit them hard. Mercury gathered his bandmates for a discussion. As Sabbath kept pounding out the song, it seemed to me like Queen was having disagreements about which song they should play next.
Sabbath wound down their song, and as the crowd cheered heartily, I looked over at Queen's stage again. They were scrambling to take their places. Visibly rattled, they started into "Killer Queen". A hit song, and a nice song. But I'm not sure it was the right choice. It felt like the crowd had started to lean toward Sabbath's side of the arena, and there was anticipation and energy while they waited for Ozbourne and company to start in on their next song. Sensing a pending knockout, the band went for it.
Bill ward began pounding out steady quarter notes, and the crowd stood up. Once Iommi's guitar started straining, everyone knew what was coming. Iron Man.
By far, this was the loudest and most energetic the audience had been. And the song was about twice as long as the typical rock standard. Occasionally I looked across at Queen's stage, and it was always the same: Mercury, May, and the crew just walking back and forth with arms folded in front of them.
Frustrated, they did the only thing they could once it was their turn again: Break into "Bohemian Rhapsody".
It was their last-ditch effort. Their Hail Mary pass. A 6-minute song to equal the pummeling length of "Iron Man". And performing out of desperation did help their efforts. The excitement among the crowd built up from the intro onward, Brian May nailed his solo, and the entire performance was a true spectacle of rock. The crowd cheered heavily as the song finally ended with all four band members slouching in exhaustion.
But Black Sabbath had the final song of the contest. And sensing a weakened opponent, they not only went for the knockout, but made a statement to all the other bands in the tournament. Geezer Butler laid down another familiar bass line, this time to "Hand of Doom".
The changes in tempo, the heavy drumming and guitar work, the vocals from Osbourne—it was all too much. Mercury tried pushing back by singing something into his microphone, but no one could hear him.
Before the song even ended, May and Deacon frowned, took their guitars off their shoulders, and placed them on their stands. Taylor put down his drumsticks and walked away from his kit. And as a final act, Mercury, illuminated in a single spotlight, fell into a dramatic pile of defeat on the stage. This battle was over. The crowd acknowledged Black Sabbath as the winner, The Rock Universe confirmed, and we all exited the arena.
The quiet environment outside was a welcome thing. I took a breath and spotted some Queen fans nearby walking away from the battle. I heard one of them say, "That ending was so Freddie. I don't even care that they lost."
Here are the set lists:
We Are the Champions
Another One Bites the DustKiller Queen
Hand of Doom
And here's the updated bracket.
Next week it's back to the US section of the draw, where the #2 seeded KISS will take on the #3 seeded Ramones.
Which band are you going with?