A painful reality among headbangers is that many of us suffer from the disease of addiction.
In these cases, music often serves as a means to either exorcise these demons or at the very least to relate to someone who understands.
Here are the most powerful metal songs about drug addiction.
Alice In Chains – Sickman
The existence of Alice In Chains’ masterpiece Dirt is born out of a sad paradox. To make a record with this kind of emotional depth, a lyricist must know what it’s like not to simply walk through hell but to make it their home. Nowhere is that more clear on the record than in the hallucinatory anguish of Sickman. The despondent hopelessness of vocalist Layne Staley is nothing shy of heartbreaking in lines like, “What’s the difference, I’ll die in the sick world of mine.” Sadly, those words proved to be prophetic.
Saint Vitus – Dying Inside
Our culture remains rather guarded about it, but the fact is that alcohol is one of the most dangerous and physically addictive drugs on the planet. From Saint Vitus’ legendary Born Too Late album, the hopeless remorse of alcoholic doom is palpable on “Dying Inside.” It is a lyrical snapshot of someone who desperately wants to change but knows that they can’t, expressing the limitless depths of despair with disarming clarity. When Wino says: “Drinking has wasted my life,” you can’t help but believe him.
Black Sabbath – Hand Of Doom
Although most people don’t think of Black Sabbath as activists, the fact is that their early work is distinctly political by design. Having observed the lives of American soldiers who had come to the band’s hometown of Birmingham after Vietnam, Geezer Butler took note of their inability to access mental health resources, turning to heroin to numb the pain of ptsd. “Hand Of Doom” is a candid exploration into the concept of self-medication and the lasting psychological effects of war. The song is a harrowing journey through hell.
Nine Inch Nails / Johnny Cash – Hurt
It is exceedingly rare for a cover song to improve on its source material, but Johnny Cash’s interpretation of the Nine Inch Nails classic “Hurt” took the track to unimagined literal, poignant heights. A blunt examination of self-harm and self-medication, Trent Reznor’s lyrics were painfully personal to begin with. In the hands of Johnny Cash, it becomes a sorrowfully reflective journey through the harrowing, grief-stricken life of one of music’s most treasured icons. Frankly, the cover blows the original out of the proverbial water.
Pantera – Suicide Note pt. 1 & 2
The Cowboys from Hell have never been shy about their demons, often leaning into dark lyrical topics that are as conceptually heavy as the music itself. Pantera make good use of that formula on the two “Suicide Note” tracks, lamenting how cheap cocaine and pills will not be enough to keep suicidal ideation at bay for very long. With the mournful acoustic guitars of “pt.1” and the frantic trip through hell of “pt. 2”, the combined tonal shifts make this combo one of the most harrowing pieces of music in Pantera’s entire catalog.
Ministry – Just One Fix
No pop-culture figure flaunts his demons quite like Al Jourgensen, who reduced himself to a junkie caricature long before the internet could make him a meme. “Just One Fix” is perhaps Uncle Al’s most explicit take on physical dependency, featuring samples from films such as Frank Sinatra pleading for drugs in the Man With The Golden Arm and Chloe Webb’s warning to “Never trust a junkie” from Sid and Nancy.
Metallica – Master Of Puppets
One of Metallica’s most recognized songs and a staple of their setlist, “Master Of Puppets” is about the nature of hard drugs and the addict’s inability to exert control over them. In a 1988 interview with Thrasher, James Hetfield said: “Master of Puppets” deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing its drugs controlling you. Like, I went to a party here in S.F., there were all these freaks shooting up and geezin’ and this other girl was real sick.” With lyrical content the likes of “chop your breakfast on a mirror,” I think we all get the point.
Guns N’ Roses – Mister Brownstone
Although a byproduct of the pop-oriented hair metal boom of the 1980s, Guns N’ Roses were as outwardly raw as their peers were saccharine. A somewhat deeper cut from Appetite For Destruction, “Mr. Brownstone” speaks to the realities of opiate dependence like few songs of the era. A chronicle of the daily activities of a junkie, the lyrics don’t pass judgment or glamorize the use of heroin. Instead, “Mr. Brownstone” is a diary of a user with an ever-increasing tolerance who is just trying to make it through the next 24 hours.
Motorhead – Dead Men Tell No Tales
It might seem ironic coming from a band like Motörhead, but as open as Lemmy and company were when it came to their love affair with amphetamines they were consistent about their disdain for opiates. With a lyrical focus on dependency and death, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a song that makes no bones about Mr. Kilmister’s feelings towards heroin and the inevitable heartbreak it causes.
Tool – Sober
If you talk to enough alcoholics and drug addicts who create art, you’ll soon notice a running theme. For many people, the fear that drugs and alcohol are inexplicably tied to their creative output keeps them from ever attempting to get clean. As guitarist Adam Jones once said of Tool’s breakthrough hit, “Sober”: “The song and video are based on a guy we know who is at his artistic best when he’s loaded. A lot of people give him shit for that. I don’t tell people to do or not do drugs. You can do what you want, but you have to take responsibility for what happens. If you become addicted and a junkie, well, that’s your fault.”