Scientists Reveal What Made Freddie Mercury's Voice So Incredible

It's tempting to chock Queen frontman Freddie Mercury's ear-shattering four-octave vocal range to divine intervention; to consider him a sort of rock 'n' roll Chosen One and call it day. But a team of European voice researchers attempted to dispel the mystery and magic in 2016 when they carried out an acoustic analysis of the singer's impressive pipes. What the study found — as well as what it didn't — reveals just what makes Freddie Mercury's voice so incredible to listeners of all ages.

What they were specifically able to explain was that inimitable growl that stands all the hairs up on the back of your neck when Freddie sings, "Don't stop me now!" The technique requires use of the "false vocal cords" — the two folds of mucous membrane in the larynx also known as vestibular folds, which are to thank for that snarl in iconic lines like, "Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth."

Vestibular folds aren't normally used when singing, but those who can activate them produce a rare vocal marvel called "subharmonic vibration." In layman's terms, it's that shiver running down your spine when Mercury's voice gets rough and raspy.

The mystery of Freddie Mercury's vocal range

A 2013 linguistic study out of Canada's University of Victoria attributed the harsh voice qualities of quintessential blues singers such as Muddy Waters and the aptly named Howlin' Wolf — even of modern rappers like Lil Jon and Busta Rhymes — to subharmonic vocalization of the vestibular folds.

Metalheads will recognize this technique as the death growl that scares the faint of heart away from the grisly genre. According to Metal Injection, the death growl was born in 1966 on the album A Quick One by English rockers The Who. Bassist John Entwistle is credited with the sinister growl on the chorus of the hallucinatory "Boris the Spider."

All growls aside, the European vocal scientists were ultimately unable to explain that special something in Freddie Mercury's voice that keeps songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Will Rock You," "Killer Queen," and so many other hits rocking the radio waves: his spectacular vocal range. The possibility remains that those four scientifically inexplicable octaves really were "A Kind of Magic" sent by the gods of rock to grace us with their presence for a short while before leaving our world as legend, like a "rage that lasts a thousand years."

Of course, Mercury also left behind a life full of love, tragedy, and fun anecdotes (like the time he snuck Lady Diana into a gay bar), and the science behind the growl in his voice is just one of the many things we learned about Freddie Mercury after he died.