“Drugs are still life; they are as boring as life.” — Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
Life is too short to try to make it even shorter by abusing drugs and alcohol. That said, over the years, metal has graced us with several powerful songs about addiction. The medicinal power of music can act as a potent supplement to any recovery plan, and while it’s rarely easy to kick old habits, there’s no use “waiting for the turning point.”
Since today is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, get out your boxing gloves and enjoy these 16 kickass songs about experiencing, struggling with, and confronting addiction. Meanwhile, if you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‘s hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Pantera, “Suicide Note Pt. I” (The Great Southern Trendkill)
“Suicide Note Pt. I” begins with what is arguably the most haunting intro of Pantera‘s career. In his distinctive cadence, Phil Anselmo then sings about, “Cheap cocaine, a dry inhale, the pills that kill and take the pain away.” This slow, agonized song challenges listeners to stare into the dilated pupils of nihilism: “Would you look at me now? Can you tell I’m a man? With these scars on my wrists to prove I’ll try again…” The fire-breathing and impossibly brutal “Suicide Note Pt. II” that follows continues to cut to the bone while remaining cut and dry: “What’s done is done and gone, so why cry?”
Pantera references substance abuse in many of their other songs: “Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks,” “Medicine Man,” “Psycho Holiday,” “Goddamn Electric,” “Death Rattle,” “Uplift,” “You’ve Got to Belong to It,” “It Makes Them Disappear,” and “Living Through Me (Hell’s Wrath)” (“Drop the needle and stop what you’re changing into”). The band have made confronting one’s demons one of their most prominent topics.
Saint Vitus, “Dying Inside” (1987)
“Dying Inside” has appeared on several of Saint Vitus’ releases, but it debuted on the band’s third studio album, Born Too Late (1986). The song begins, “I have got to change my ways.” Vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich later laments, “I can’t control my addiction/I’ve tried time and time again/I’m losing all my friends and lovers.” By the end, the speaker has indeed lost everything: “Drinking has wasted my life.”
So many songs by this legendary doom metal band are either explicitly about drugs and the pain they cause. In “White Stallions,” Saint Vitus warns: “Only time can ease the pain the stallions left behind/Tiny hoof prints on my arm, strung out in a line/Wish that I could start again and change my evil ways.”
Exodus, “One Foot in the Grave” (Force of Habit, 1992)
“One Foot in the Grave” can be found on Exodus‘ 1992 record Force of Habit. The moral of this all-American thrash metal story is that needles should be used for sewing and spoons for stirring tea: “Why do people sell their souls away just to ride the horse another day? They’re all slaves to the heroin. But it’s a war that they’ll never win. They’ll never live to see the error of their ways.”
Catamenia, “Gallery of Fear” (Location: COLD, 2006)
On Catamenia‘s “Gallery of Fear” from 2006’s Location: Cold, the band explore addiction with a particular mindset: “The more I search for answers, the more addicted I get/Trapped in my confused mind, no way out from gallery of fear.” If you tend to find relief and peace in Finnish extreme metal, plugging into this superb song will make you heave a sigh of relief. The great Catamenia has been killing it since 1995, yet this veteran band truly deserves more love for everything they do.
Kat, “Delirium tremens” (Ballady, 1993)
“Delirium tremens” is a surprisingly poignant track about alcoholism from the legendary Kat. This poetic song actually turns into a prayer before returning to heavy metal mode. This Polish-language gem first appeared on releases such as Ballady (1993); the version found on Ballady was performed by the late vocalist Roman Kostrzewski, whom we unfortunately lost this year to cancer.
Hypocrisy, “Chemical Whore” (Worship, 2021)
“Chemical Whore” is the second track on Hypocrisy‘s latest album, Worship (2021), and takes aim at the pharmaceutical industry: “We got everything you want so you don’t have to think again.” Later, frontman Petr Tägtgren continues, “You’re the chemical whore. They make you beg on your knees for more.” Although the song title is obviously amusing, this is truly an important song considering the number of deaths caused by the misuse and overprescribing of painkillers and psych meds.
Meshuggah, “Gods of Rapture” (None, 1994)
“Gods of Rapture” first appeared on Meshuggah‘s 1994 EP None, though you can also find track on releases like 2015’s Contradictions Collapse. The song opens with the lyrics, “I feel torn apart/A vile misfit fallen deep into affliction of my hollow mind...” The speaker even suffers the loss of his common sense. Jens Kidman barks a chilling warning about the inevitable end that comes with losing one’s self to addiction: “…submerged into the flow/The rapids of addiction/Too weak to push it back/A worm without defense/My flesh fading, undressing the bone/Behold me naked, cadaver exposed/This, my abuse, I can’t take it no more.”
Down, “Rehab” (NOLA, 1995)
Former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo has been incredibly candid when speaking about his struggles with substance abuse; the vocalist has even helped others recover at his home. Down’s Nola (1995), which reflects Phil’s struggles, features several songs about drugs and his relationship with them, including “Hail the Leaf,” “Temptation’s Wings,” and “Stone the Crow.” But if we had to pick just one song for this list, the questions posed by “Rehab” hit us right in the chest: “But what I’ve got to know is have I wasted time? My eyes are blind to almost everything…” Phil later asks: “Is it worth the risk to be revived?”
In the Woods…, “Substance Vortex” (Cease the Day, 2018)
Avant-garde prog-metal band In The Woods… hail from Kristiansand, Norway, formed in 1991 by members of the death metal group Green Carnation. “Substance Vortex” is the final track on the band’s 2018 album Cease the Day. Although the music certainly gives you the feeling of being trapped in a solipsistic whirlpool, the lyrics offer encouragement: “Take a walk outside your substance vortex/Outside, the world turning/As you wither deep inside/Caught in a cycle, self-inflicted/You’re in there somewhere/The shell you’ve become/Third eye dilated, your world’s become one.”
Black Sabbath, “Killing Yourself to Live” (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)
We simply don’t have the time today to name all of the songs by Black Sabbath that relate to substance abuse and addiction. A few worht mentioning are “Sweet Leaf,” “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Snowblind,” and “Hand of Doom.” “Killing Yourself to Live,” meanwhile, deals with the frustration and helplessness that come with addiction: “Open your eyes! And see the lies! Oh yeah! Smoke it! Get high!”
This song was written for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, which was recorded at a time when the music industry, copious amounts of drugs, the demands of touring, and other facets of the rockstar life had left the band disillusioned and exhausted. Tony Iommi recalled in his 2011 autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath: “Everybody was looking at me and I couldn’t get into the vibe at all. It was totally different. I just couldn’t function. I got writer’s block and I couldn’t think.”
Carach Angren, “There’s No Place Like Home” (This Is No Fairytale, 2015)
“There’s No Place Like Home” is the first track proper on Carach Angren‘s fourth studio album, 2015’s This Is No Fairytale. The beautifully-executed Hansel and Gretel-inspired record is set in a modern hell: “Once upon a time there stood a house of ill fame/A drug property associated with violence and crime./here lived a family in despair, sorrow and tragedy.” An alcoholic father abuses his wife, who consumes heroin, wine, and pills: She commits suicide in the next song, “When Crows Tick on Windows.” By the time “There’s No Place Like Home” ends, the “sadistic motherfucker” of a father has sexually abused his daughter. Whereas some listeners might perceive this incredibly tragic story as distasteful, it
Apati, “Likgiltighetens slutstation” (Eufori MMXVIII, 2018)
A depressive black metal/rock band from Sweden, Apati‘s work is so intoxicating that it will make your head spin like a top. The “Kemisk kärlek” (Chemical Love) outfit gives you the feeling of falling head over heels into the “Tides of Despair,” as Nocturnal Depression calls it. The experience is oddly cathartic. Unfortunately, Apati’s co-founder, Fredrik “Obehag” Wolff, passed away in 2011 soon after he exited the band.
Eurfori‘s protagonist (if we can call it that) tries his hand at sobriety but fails. He drinks to replace the many shades of gray in his tragic town with color. The title track describes the desire to escape from reality by any life-shortening means necessary: pills, powder, butane gas, injections. “Likgiltighetens slutstation” (The End Station of Indifference) follows “Eufori” and constitutes the album’s midpoint. The song begins: “Drömmar och mål bytes mot piller och sprutor…Du känner inte längre någon ångest. Ingen kan längre skada dig (Dreams and goals are being exchanged for pills and needles…You can no longer feel any anxiety. No one can hurt you any longer.)” The song concludes: “Ditt lidande har nåt sitt mål. Nu närmar du dig likgiltighetens slutstation. (Your suffering has reached its goal. Now you are approaching the end station of indifference.)”
Bullet for My Valentine, “The Last Fight” (Fever, 2010)
The Last Fight” is one of those rare songs that feels genuinely capable of transferring strength to its listeners. Making the decision to heal has never sounded so awesomeL “Can you see me through bloodshot eyes? Should I fight for what is right or let it die? Now I’m choking on force-fed lies. Do I fight or let it die? I will fight! One more fight!” The track includes a guitar solo that is guaranteed to get your blood pumping, as does the song’s pugilistic music video. If you’re craving even more from Bullet For My Valentine, you won’t be disappointed by “Rainbow Veins” from their 2021 self-titled album.
Psychonaut 4, “Antihuman – Drug” (Have a Nice Trip, 2012)
A well-liked DSBM outfit from Tbilisi, Georgia, Psychonaut 4 performs in Georgian (of course), Russian, and English. “Antihuman – Drug” is the penultimate track on their debut album, Have a Nice Trip; in Russian, “drug” means friend, thus fueling Psychonaut 4’s pun. This extreme song captures the raw brutality of a certain kind of drug-addled mentality. Psychonaut 4 has many more substance-laced songs that will scare you away from vice if you are even halfway sane.
Forgotten Tomb, “Adrift” (…And Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, 2012)
Though their English may be slightly broken, Italy’s Forgotten Tomb truly break our hearts. “Adrift” follows the popular “Love Me Like You’d Love the Death” (also partially about substance use), on 2012’s …And Don’t Deliver Us From Evil. An acoustic version was unveiled even earlier on the two-song EP Deprived. In “Adrift,” the speaker describes how drugs have destroyed him, saying, “Your judgment won’t affect me. I already sentenced myself to death.”
Another important track along these lines is Forgotten Tomb’s “No Rehab (Final Exit)” from 2007’s Negative Megalomania. You might assume that this song will romanticize addiction, but it actually does the contrary, with lyrics like, “I know they’re going to bury me in some fucking hospital. Dead onto a mortuary slab. My skin turned blue. Too late for rehab.”
Linkin Park, “Breaking the Habit” (Meteora, 2003)
The late frontman Chester Bennington revealed that “Breaking the Habit” was his favorite Linkin Park song. When Mike Shinoda handed him the lyrics in the recording studio, he began to cry. Bennington told MTV in 2014, “I felt like he was writing about my life.” The text was actually inspired by a friend whom Shinoda had seen struggling with addiction before he even met Bennington. This timeless song from Meteora (2003) has since become an inspiring classic.