Each week, Frequency Rotation probes a different song with a speculative-fiction theme. Genre, musical quality, and overall seriousness may vary.
To a certain generation of science-fiction fans (myself quite zealously included), the 1980s big-screen version of Flash Gordon is a sacrosanct piece of pure, campy pulp. Much of that has to do with Queen’s soundtrack for the film—and in particular, its soaring, glorious lead track, “Flash’s Theme” (titled simply “Flash” when it was released that year as a single). So why celebrate a mutated, mutilated version of said song? Because it’s done by San Deigo noisecore legend The Locust. And if there’s one thing The Locust loves, it’s science fiction.
Even as blinkered by nostalgia as I am now, I realize Flash Gordon is a pretty terrible flick. But when I was 8 years old and saw the movie, oh, 15 times the winter it came out (my grandmother managed a movie theater when I was little), I was entranced. At that age, I was still high on TV’s Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, not to mention The Empire Strikes Back, which ruled the box office (and my imagination) the summer before Flash Gordon’s release. I was no critic back then; if it had spaceships and lasers and aliens, I was in. Plus, the soundtrack to the movie simply slayed. Queen had everything a growing geek could need: smarts, virtuosity, and an underlying pulse of epic grandiloquence that tickled the spine even as it walloped you upside the skull.
Fast-forward to 2002. The San Diego punk label Three One G Records announced that it was releasing a Queen tribute album. My (only barely) grown-up self was stoked. I loved (and still love) Three One G’s brand of avant-garde, chaotic, often surrealist hardcore, an aesthetic best summed up by the label’s flagship band, The Locust (which counts Three One G’s founder Justin Pearson as a member). Titled Dynamite with a Laser Beam: Queen as Heard through the Meat Grinder of Three One G, the album features daring, at times unrecognizable deconstructions of Queen classics—including an electro-noise version of Flash Gordon’s “Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men) that sounds like a zillion defective Nintendos blitzing London. But The Locust—exercising their prerogative as kings of the Three One G roost—saved the best for themselves: “Flash’s Theme.”
Believe it or not, that version is not a joke. In fact, I’d make the claim that The Locust do Queen one better here. Not that I don’t love the original… but doesn’t The Locust’s rendition of “Flash’s Theme” actually sound like the human race’s collective, primal scream in the face of an imminent interstellar apocalypse originating from a mustachioed maniac named Ming the Merciless on the planet Mongo?
Regardless, no one can accuse The Locust of not taking “Flash’s Theme” seriously. From its inception in 1994, the band has dabbled in bizarre, grotesque form of sonic futurism that mixes mathematically precise riffs with robotic synthesizers, all delivered while wearing buglike uniforms that evoke supervillains, alien invaders, and government-mandated biohazard suits from the year 2120. And in addition to their empathy with SF, The Locust’s adoration of Queen is no surprise: Back in 1998, Pearson and crew swiped the art from inside the gatefold sleeve of Queen’s News of the World LP and used it for the cover of The Locust’s self-titled full-length (that is, if you consider 20 songs crammed into 16 minutes a “full-length”).
Granted, The Locust’s method of paying tribute to Queen and Flash Gordon isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I think the band itself would be horrified if the mainstream did like their music. In any case, as a little palate-cleanser, here’s Queen’s original “Flash.” Don’t say I never took it easy on you.
Jason Heller writes for The A.V. Club; is working on a book or three; and will gleefully blast The Locust at top volume from his balcony during whichever apocalypse winds up hitting us first.