Tremble, You Weaklings, Cower in Fear: The Ten Best 80’s Thrash Metal Songs About Nuclear War

While the threat of nuclear war is still a very real thing today, it doesn’t weigh on my mind the way it did when I was just a li’l guy back in the 80’s. The nightly news talked about it a lot, and it used to terrify me, and then Nancy Reagan’s grandpa made Old Man Gorbachev tear down a wall, and it kind of faded out of the public eye, and life was fucking peaches and cream all the time, and no one wanted to hurt us, until Saddam Hussein threatened our freedom, or whatever. These days, not much airtime is given to the topic, save for an occasional report about Iran or North Korea and their uranium enrichment attempts, because terrorism is the new nuclear war. I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except to remind you that the media should not be trusted, because they only tell you what they want you to know.

Anyway, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a mixtape about nuclear war for a while now, but to be perfectly honest, the topic can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many metal songs about nuclear war and its aftereffects that I just didn’t know where to begin, so I never bothered. Then one day last week, my buddy Sean suggested I put together a mixtape about nuclear war, and I decided to give it some more serious thought. To make it easier on myself, I settled on the requirement that the songs be of the thrash metal variety. What follows is the result, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, there are likely to be no surprises. Thrash metal is my lifeblood, and I make no apologies about it. Maybe I’ll make another nuke-themed mixtape some other day where being a thrash metal band isn’t a requirement for the list…maybe not.

As with my previous entry about thrash metal ballads, I don’t necessarily believe these are the the ten very best nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs. Rather, they are ten nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs that I love dearly; I just gave it the title and numbered it from 10 to 1 to see how many people read the intro. It is, in fact, chronological.

Onward to mayhem!

10. Voivod – “Nuclear War” (from War and Pain – 1984)

“Storm, the only weather
Start the directives assassins
Warm inside the under shelter
Wait and fell your broiling skin…”

I’ve written about Voivod extensively, and there’s still more to come, eventually. I love them so hard. This is the last song on their debut album, and while it’s technically a part of the Voivod saga, it also perfectly reflects the air of paranoia and unease that permeated everything in the mid 1980’s. The broken English and the plodding, marching feel of the first almost-five minutes of the song work together to add an extra layer of complexity and fear.

9. Exodus – “And Then There Were None” (from Bonded By Blood – 1985)

“Wars coming, start running, eyes blinded by the nuclear blast
Hearts beating, retreating, all around are bodies burned to ash
Children crying and people dying, no salvation from this holocaust
Bodies burning and now they’re learning, in war painful death’s the bloody cost…”

This is one of my favorite Exodus songs. That main riff is the shit. So, full disclosure: I woke up at like 2:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got out of bed and started putting this together around 3:30 AM. I wrote the intro, then started filling in track info at the end and worked my way toward the top. It is now almost 7:00 AM. I’ve grown very sleepy.

8. Anthrax – “Aftershock” (from Spreading the Disease – 1985)

“Blinding our eyes as the sun turns to black
A world full of hatred and fear
All are committed, there’s no going back
There’ll be no one left to hear…”

I still have lots of Anthrax-related things to write about. I’ll get around to it some day. I love this song, and this album. Also recommended, “One World”, from 1987’s Among the Living.

7. Dark Angel – “Falling From the Sky” (from We Have Arrived – 1985)

“Watch the sky
Death is near
You are falling
The final day is near…”

The first Dark Angel album is a glorious, cacophonous, thrashy mess, and “Falling From the Sky” is a perfect example of what the rest of the album sounds like. Not recommended for the faint of heart, or the delicate of ears.

6. Nuclear Assault – “Nuclear War” (from Game Over – 1986)

“No one wins
In this game
Both sides have lost
Who has won
When all are dead
Except for the machines…”

If I didn’t already know, I would be willing to bet that Nuclear Assault were born in the long shadow of the Reagan years. Everything about this band is steeped in nuclear paranoia, government corruption, and environmental destruction. Also, it goes without saying, but Dan Lilker fucking rules.

5. D.R.I. – “Oblivion” (from Crossover – 1987)

“The day has come, the time is near
For all to end. It’s true, it’s here
It’s all over now, no way to stop
The button’s been pushed, the bomb’s been dropped
The city is melting, the sky burns red
The ocean is boiling, we’ll soon be dead…”

I never got around to writing a review of the D.R.I. show at the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis back in September, but it was fucking awesome, and so is this song.

4. Sodom – “Nuclear Winter” (from Persecution Mania – 1987)

“Slow death is what we can expect
Strike will have just this one effect
Condemned to capital punishment
By the nuclear sword of Damocles…”

The opening track from the Tuetonic thrash titans’ second full length album is a master course in Thrash Metal Riffery, and like the Voivod song above, Tom Angelripper’s slightly broken English makes the lyrics even more unsettling. Side note: I found this album on cassette in a pawn shop in Bedford, Indiana circa 1989. I bought it, along with Jimmy Page’s Outrider. I didn’t really appreciate either album at the time, but one of them made a notable impact on my impressionable brain – an impact that would manifest itself in a super hardcore fashion 4 or 5 years later. The other one was Jimmy Page’s Outrider.

3. Death Angel – “Final Death” (from The Ultra-Violence – 1987)

“Dogs of war, for your blood they lust
Radiation turns your body to dust
Watching fallout as it fills the sky
Now it’s time for this planet to die.”

From all the way back when some of the members Death Angel were still growing pubes, “Final Death” is a lean, mean bastard. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s still better than most other songs in existence, and Mark Osegueda’s blood-curdling air raid siren wail at around the 2:35 mark sums up the fear in the lyrics perfectly.

2. Metallica – “Blackened” (from …And Justice for All – 1988)

To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Color our world blackened…”

I hate …And Justice for All because of the way it sounds – Newsted’s nonexistent bass guitar, Lars’ steel trashcan drums, generally non-good sound quality – but I goddamn love …And Justice for All because of the songs, and because of the place it occupies in my nostalgic heart. Metallica is dead; long live Metallica.

  1. Megadeth – “Rust in Peace…Polaris” (from Rust in Peace – 1990)

“I spread disease like a dog
Discharge my payload a mile high
Rotten egg air of death wrestles your nostrils…”

That chorus hasn’t left my head since the first time I heard it. The final track on what is arguably Megedeth’s finest hour is a masterpiece of nuclear paranoia and terror. Mustaine’s vocals are perfect, and in a fresh twist, the lyrics are from the point of view of the Bomb itself. Rust in Peace is Dave Mustaine’s dragon, and he will probably chase that beautiful motherfucker until his final breath. Megadeth is dead; long live Megadeth.

That’s all I got for now, heavy people. Do you have any favorite nuclear war-themed songs? Let’s discuss it, why not? And don’t forget to stay heavy!



Here’s to Future Nostalgia!: A Rambly Thing About Metal T-Shirts

To the nonbeliever, metal t-shirts might seem odd, foolish, scary, wasteful, or some other silly shit – I don’t know, I’ve been a Metalhead for over 75% of my life, so I don’t really know how those types think. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that I fucking love metal t-shirts, and if lack of disposable income and space were not a hindrance, I would own all of them. I will continue wearing them when I’m an old man, and some people will continue to regard me with disdain, and those people can continue to fuck off.


Anyway, I was thinking about metal t-shirts last night, and I was struck by how different the t-shirt buying experience has become. Shirts are so easy to get now, from countless internet purveyors, including the bands themselves. It’s easier than it has ever been for me to own a shirt by literally any band I can think of, and yet the experience is lacking. It might just be nostalgia talking, because nostalgia is much chattier than I am, but I really miss going into a music store and looking through the t-shirts, often finding truly badass t-shirts.

Like this one, for example. Why the fuck did I get rid of this t-shirt?

Like this one, for example. I used to own this t-shirt! Why the fuck did I get rid of this t-shirt? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER AM I?!

I should point out that I currently own some of my favorite metal t-shirts I’ve ever owned, thanks to the internet and to my increased ability to attend shows and buy them in person, but I think maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt that I miss. There was a pretty significant portion of my life (during which I was mostly unable to drive myself anywhere) when I could go into any one of 5 or 6 different music stores within 30 minutes of my house and browse their ever-changing t-shirt selections. Progress has done its thing, and music stores are a much rarer breed these days, but even the few that remain in my town don’t sell t-shirts (or at least not metal t-shirts). My only option for finding metal t-shirts in an old-school real-life browsing fashion is to visit Hot Topic, and sweet baby Jeebus, do I ever hate going into Hot Topic. Sometimes I need it, though, and I’ll brave the muddy waters of whatever befuddling mallcore horseshit the bondage-panted clerk is blasting over the sound system so I can look at the shirts, but I almost always leave without buying anything, because the music seriously gets to me.



Quick tangent: years ago, before we had a Hot Topic here (before I had even heard of Hot Topic, really), I was visiting a friend in St. Louis, MO, and I went into what I later realized was a Hot Topic in a mall there, and bought myself a super-sweet Agnostic Front t-shirt. I wore the fuck out of that shirt, and I still owned it until recently, even though it had severe pit stains, and was much too large for the significantly less chubby me. A year or so later, I was in the mall here (still pre-Hot Topic), wearing my Agnostic Front t-shirt, and I passed a dude who said “hey man, that’s a sweet AF shirt, where’d you get it?” and I said “oh, thanks, I got it at a mall in St. Louis” and he looked at me as if I’d suddenly transformed into a feces-covered kiddie diddler and said “oh”, because he apparently forgot that we were in a mall right at that moment. People sure are dumb.

This is one of the first images that came up when I googled the word "dumb".

This is one of the first images that came up when I googled the word “dumb”.

Anyway, I was talking about the thrill of the t-shirt hunt. It doesn’t really exist anymore. I can no longer spend a lazy afternoon browsing t-shirt selections, narrowing it down to 4 or 5 choices, agonizing over whether to get another Anthrax shirt or a Corrosion of Conformity shirt. Note: I used to own 6 different Anthrax shirts, now I own zero. A significant part of that is the fact that their newer t-shirt designs just don’t speak to me the same way, but it’s also partly because I’m extremely unlikely to just find one in my hands.

I used to own this one, too. I accidentally left it in Texas when I moved back home. I was very sad when I first realized that.

I used to own this one, too. I accidentally left it in Texas when I moved back home. I was very sad when I first realized that.

I don’t really know where I was going with all this; I’m kind of just thinking out loud, and you’re following along. Lucky you, right? I guess the point is that I’m getting old, and my nostalgia is way cooler than today’s reality.

Stay heavy, y’all.