Even though Donald Trump is running for president, we made it another year without the world imploding. It wasn’t that long ago when people didn’t think we’d make it to 2016. Whether it was nuclear war, Y2K, the Mayaen calendar, or Judgement Day, people felt the world was going to come to an end sometime soon. Still, it remains a topic of interest, especially for musicians. Several of artists envision what the end of the world will actually look like and it’s usually pretty scary. Here are a handful of songs about the apocalypse to remind you that not everyone thought we’d make it this far.
“Apocalypse Please” – Muse
Muse are no strangers when dealing with the end of the world. Many of their songs and videos reference it, but this track from Absolution does it best. The music comes marching in and sounds like it’s crashing down on you. Everything sounds like damnation before anything has started. As always, Matt Bellamy sounds sweet as he sings such fateful lines like “And this is the end/the end/this is the end/of the world.” As the music swells and Bellamy keeps pounding on the keys, the vibe gets steadily dramatic counting down to the moment where everything disappears. If there was a soundtrack for the apocalypse, this would be the first track.
“London Calling” – The Clash
Perhaps their most popular song, The Clash maps out the nuclear apocalypse on this single where they reference hiding in cupboards, the ice age, an enclosing sun, and “nuclear error.” The title itself is a reference to the BBC World Services identification during World World II. According to Joe Strummer the song came about from the events of Three Mile Island, which left him concerned about the state of the future. The track is also about the disintegration of the band. During this time they struggled with high debt, no management, and inner band disagreements. This is where the line about “phony Beatlemaina” comes in; they felt the punk rock bubble would burst at the end of the 70s. Unfortunately, they were right.
“Last Day on Earth” – Marilyn Manson
Like most of Manson’s songs, this one probably isn’t as cut and dry as we think, but it does have a lot of references to the apocalypse. In the track Manson finally finds his love, yet realizes it’s too late since the world is about to end. Featured on the excellent Mechanical Animals, the song is one of his most somber, depressing, and sentimental. Listening to the slow, echoing guitar riff and the swelling music gives you this sense of hopelessness. It also makes you think how would you spend the last day on earth with your lover. Though it is one of his best songs in his catalog, it does leave you shaken and isolated.
“The Final Countdown” – Europe
Whether you love it or hate it this song is one of the most ridiculous and overblown of the 80s. And it’s so much fucking fun to listen to. That iconic synth riff you sing out loud, shouting “it’s the final countdown!,” and the simple hook all make for an unforgettable song. Even though it has a party vibe, it’s actually about leaving behind an Earth that’s spent and finding life on another planet. Frontman Joey Tempest described the song as being both optimistic and apocalyptic. It’s exciting to be starting life on a new planet, but also sad to leave Earth behind, especially if loved ones were still there. This is one song that won’t ever die and has now found new life in a hilarious Gieco commercial. Thanks for that, Europe.
“Babylon’s Burning” – W.A.S.P.
Frontman Blackie Lawless was heavily inspired by the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the book of revelations for the band’s fourteenth album. This imagery pops up all over this song with references to clopping hooves, the number of the beast, and pale riders making the vision of the end clear in your head. Lawless said he was inspired to write the song and the album during the 2008 financial meltdown. He says this song is “an overview of what we allow ourselves to become and the consequences that befall us for the poor choices we make.” Also note that Lawless is a born-again Christian, which have a lot to do with this song’s themes. Why is it that most shock rock artists get religious as they get older? Alice Cooper, anyone?
“It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – R.E.M.
This is probably the first song you thought of for this apocalyptic playlist. Sung in a rapid style where everything starts blending together, Michael Stipe claims everything is going pretty well even though he knows the world is ending. He offers a speedy rant on everything from Leonard Bernstein to overflow of the population. Inspiration for the song came from various sources, including Stipe’s dreams and what he saw while channel flipping. Despite it’s bleak title, the song is upbeat, energetic, and really catchy, which is why people love it so much. Even if you don’t like R.E.M. you at least know this song and probably even like trying to sing all the lyrics, even though it can be challenging.
“Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell” – Bad Religion
This punk band takes a different approach when it comes to the apocalypse. The lyrics reference the devout scorning others for being bad and hoping they can plead with God once the end finally comes. The band retort they don’t need to wait for Armageddon because the world they currently live in is hell alone. Violence, pollution, and hypocrisy are some of the reasons that make life so shitty according to Bad Religion. They end the song by proclaiming “Life is such a curse!” Bad Religion seem like they’ll be able to just shrug off the end of everything.
“Electric Funeral” – Black Sabbath
Apocalyptic themes can be found all over the band’s second album, but they come out strongest on this track. Ozzy sings about the destruction of homes, cities, and people all brought on by nuclear warefare. The images get pretty gruesome, especially during the bridge when the Prince of Darkness sings “Buildings crashing down to a cracking ground/Rivers turn to wood, ice melting to flood/Earth lies in death bed, clouds cry water dead/Tearing life away, here’s the burning pay.” If that wasn’t enough doom for you, the wavering wah-wah guitar riff itself sounds like it’s bringing on damnation. It may be bleak as hell, but it’s still one of Sabbath’s best songs.
“The Four Horsemen” – Metallica
If you couldn’t tell by now heavy metal and the apocalypse go together like spikes and leather. This track, originally written by former member Dave Mustaine, is all about the damnation, death, and misery that the four horsemen of apocalypse bring. Not only does it talk about the oncoming end of the world, it also deals a lot with the passage of time and how “you have been dying since the day you were born.” The origin of the song has an interesting history. Mustaine brought up the song to Hetfield under the original title “Mechanix.” Once he was fired, Metallica released the track under its current name. Mustaine also released the song under the original name and with different lyrics, but the music is very similar. Screw Guns N Roses. Anyone think Mustaine and Metallica should have a reunion?
“Countdown to Extinction” – Megadeth
Though this one doesn’t have strong apocalyptic themes, it still deals with the world coming to an end and it’s all our fault. The song was inspired by Mustaine’s concerns about the planet and environment. The title itself was ripped from a Time article speaking about the same issue. In the song, humans are referred to as an endangered species that is not only killing the planet, but also killing itself. The only thing left is to countdown how little time we have. What’s eerie about the song is it can still be applied today even more so than when it was written in 1992.
“2 Minutes to Midnight” – Iron Maiden
Is it a surprise Iron Maiden has a song dealing with impending doom? This popular Maiden track is more about the beginnings of nuclear war rather than Armageddon, but it’s still closely related. The title itself is a reference to the Doomsday Clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to countdown global catastrophe. The lyrics actually talk about how war is often romanticized. Even though we find it repulsive and awful, a part of us are fascinated by it as well. Since its release in 1984, it has become a fan favorite and a staple at their live shows. Maybe it’s because Bruce Dickinson makes the most awful topics sound kick ass with his soaring vocals.
“Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones
This Rolling Stones classic is pretty bleak and grim. Written during the time of the Vietnam War, the song is about the chaos, violence, and destruction war brings about. Though it does have overarching themes related to war, Jagger himself says it’s an end of the world situation and looking at the lyrics shows you why. Trying find shelter away from the murders and rape is closely tied to trying to find protection during the end. During the time of these events many people did feel like the world was coming to an end, so it makes sense. This song is a haunting reminder of the violence and destruction that divided the nation not long ago.
“The Sky is Fallin'” – Queens of the Stone Age
While there are some interpretations of the song out there that suggest the song is about something deeper and personal to frontman Josh Homme, you can’t deny the references to doomsday in the lyrics. The opening verse alone sounds like it’s about the sun crashing into the Earth and realizing how much of your life has been wasted: “The sky is falling, human race that we run/It left me crawling, staring straight at the sun/Only a moment I notice, every dog has his day/I paid attention, cost me so much to today.” Also, the phrase “the sky is falling” usually has apocalyptic notions attached to it. It’s a hypnotizing track full of swirling guitars and Homme’s sweet cooing vocals. That man can make any disaster sound good.
There are a ton of apocalyptic songs I didn’t include, so which ones are your favorite? What did I miss? Let me know in the comments!