Important music is often created to make sense of very real misfortunes. In times of pain and confusion, we turn to art for catharsis and understanding. Here are some examples of incredible songs that were inspired by tragedy:
Linkin Park – Looking for an Answer
In order to process his feelings in the days following Chester Bennington’s death, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda retreated into music. The result of this personal exploration was the ballad “Looking For An Answer.” The song has been performed once, at the Celebration of Life concert for Chester in October 2017. According to Shindoa, the song will most likely never be released.
Filter – Hey Man, Nice Shot
The lead single off of Filter’s 1995 debut album, Short Bus, is about the televised suicide of Pennsylvania state treasurer, R. Budd Dwyer. Having been convicted of bribery charges, Dwyer called a press conference on January 22nd, 1987. Instead of tendering his resignation as expected, the disgraced treasurer gave a speech decrying the media and legal system before pulling a .357 magnum from a manilla envelope, killing himself before in-person onlookers and a large televised audience.
Fear Factory – Controlled Demolition
This track from Fear Factory’s 2010 album, Mechanize, “Controlled Demolition” is a catalog of the horrors surrounding the September 11th terrorist attacks. Beginning with the deaths of over 3,000 people, the events of 9/11 served as the lynchpin for the ambiguous, never-ending War on terror.
Slayer – Angel of Death
An undisputed classic, the opening track from Slayer’s thrash masterpiece Reign In Blood brought the band equal parts acclaim and controversy. “Angel Of Death” summarizes the atrocities overseen by Dr. Josef Mengele. An SS officer and physician, Mengele conducted countless eugenic experiments on prisoners in Auschwitz and sent over 400,000 Jewish people to their deaths in the gas chambers.
Machine Head – ‘Stop the Bleeding’ (feat. Jesse Leach)
Written in response to the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Machine Head’s collaboration with Killswitch Engage frontman Jesse Leach served as an opportunity to fundraise toward legal fees incurred by the families of Floyd, Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Although the music was originally recorded in December 2018, Rob Flynn said of the current lyrics “I wrote and sang the lyrics on Wednesday May 27 2020, the day that four officers who murdered George Floyd were not charged with anything. This day was engulfed in protests and riots across America.
“I drove into Oakland past large demonstrations already happening, and in a fury wrote down everything I was feeling after watching the horrific footage. Within hours what I wanted to say, what I needed to say, had been recorded in the song.”
Manowar – Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)
The seven-minute epic that closes Manowar’s legendary Sign Of The Hammer album, “Guyana (Cult Of The Damned)” is the heartbreaking reflection on the events at the People’s Temple compound in Guyana on November 18th, 1978. Spoken from the perspective of a Jim Jones adherent, this opus imagines second-guessing as the effects of the cyanide-laced Kool-aid take effect. After a disastrous visit from a stateside envoy to the Jonestown compound, over 900 people committed mass suicide on the command of cult leader Jim Jones, who had grown paranoid over governmental interference and feared losing his flock.
Body Count – Black Hoodie
An appropriate final track to Body Count’s devastating 2017 album, Bloodlust, the song “Black Hoodie” is centered around the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin at the overzealous hands of neighborhood watch hack George Zimmerman. The dark-colored hoodie that Martin was wearing became a focal point in the subsequent murder trial, and thousands took to wearing the garment in solidarity. “All these people out here trippin’ off police brutality like this shit is something new, give me a fucking break; I’ve been talking about this shit for 20 years and now you can kill a motherfucker just because of how he’s dressed? Are you fucking serious?,” laments Ice-T as the track begins. As usual, he’s right.
Black Sabbath – War Pigs
One of Black Sabbath’s most popular and enduring songs, “War Pigs” is a firm declaration against involvement in the Vietnam War. Originally called “Walpurgis,” the opening track to the band’s breakthrough record, Paranoid, not only established the tone of the album but laid the menacing bedrock that would dictate the remainder of Sabbath’s career. As explained by lyricist Geezer Butler to Classic Rock in 2004, “Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists, and to me, war was the big Satan. It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was [about] evil. So I was saying ‘generals gathered in the masses/just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought ‘Walpurgis’ sounded too satanic. And that’s when we turned it into ‘War Pigs.’ But we didn’t change the lyrics because they were already finished.”
System of a Down – P.L.U.C.K.
The finale to System Of A Down’s self-titled debut is a heartbreaking slice of righteous fury. An acronym for “Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers,” the devastating track is a plea for recognition of the Armenian genocide at the hands of Turkish forces. As all of the members of System Of A Down are of Armenian descent, the band explains the song in an inscription in the liner notes: “System of a Down would like to dedicate this song to the memory of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Turkish Government in 1915.“
Ozzy Osbourne – Bloodbath in Paradise
Beginning with a backward message (which says “Your mother sells whelks in Hull” when played in the opposite direction), Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Bloodbath In Paradise” is a direct reference to Charles Manson and the events at 10050 Cielo Drive. Lyrics like “You’re coming home / There’s blood on the walls and Charlie and the family made house calls / If you’re alone then watch what you do, ’cause Charlie and the family might get you,” do away with ambiguity entirely.