Well, this is certainly a timeline we’re living in.
It’s not like the situation between Russia and the rest of Europe has ever been particularly stable – but starting 2022 with explicit threats and preparations to invade Ukraine is not exactly great news for anyone.
While it is tempting to just say “War, huh, what is it good for, absolutely nothing, say it again” and be done with it (and I am about the biggest Pacifist I know) it feels like that is a gross oversimplification and liberal way of looking at things.
For one, it doesn’t really acknowledge that war is often forced upon nations – and implying that both sides are in the wrong for fighting ignores instances where a country is being invaded and attacked and defending itself.
One could argue that there are cases where that is the right thing to do, and as someone who’s basically the polar opposite of anyone who’d be in the military, I’m not going to pretend all instances of war could’ve been avoided if we’d all just tried a bit harder to be diplomatic. Fascism is rarely defeated by diplomacy. Saying that, Fascism is rarely defeated by Anti-Fascists – more often than not it’s a different subgenre of fascist who disagrees with a particular Nation’s approach to their fascism.
I’m not going to pretend to understand all the nuances and motivations behind the inevitable Russia/Ukraine conflict. I am by no means even remotely educated in this topic, let alone an expert.
But one thing that is clear when it comes to War and Diplomacy is that corrupt governments absolutely love it. It is a huge source of profit for many top companies and political beneficiaries, it can be played as good PR and used as a divide and rule tactic. And it’s a terrific distraction from any other problems a nation may be having. Not to mention it’s a great way to strip countries of their natural resources to benefit their home country.
I’m not about to claim that wars are manufactured purely to benefit the 1%. But it is an undeniable fact that the 1% benefit the most from conflict and are affected by it the least.
And that is the theme I was aiming for this month. Not “War bad, let’s all get along” but “Governments’ routinely abusing their citizens and manipulating their Armed forces to shed and spill countless drops of blood is fucked up actually, and maybe we can acknowledge that and the horrific acts that take place whilst also not solely blaming the working classes who’ve fallen victim to decades of governmental propaganda out of a misguided sense of patriotism on behalf of an elite class who couldn’t give a shit if they died.”
But that’s a mouthful, so “Anti-War” is the broad theme. Just know that I’m approaching this with a more nuanced angle, that detests war but also doesn’t blame individual soldiers for the activities they’re being forced to do more than the powers that use them.
“Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor, yeah
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait till their judgement day comes, yeah!”
To the surprise of no one we are kicking off the list with probably THE most iconic anti-war song of all time (apart from the previously mentioned War, huh, what is it good for, absolutely nothing, say it again). This was by no means the first Anti-War song, but it is the one that anyone who likes Hard Rock music will think of before any other.
Black Sabbath’s War Pigs was meant to be the leading single and indeed title of their second album, before they wrote and release Paranoid which became their defining hit – and was a lot more accessible to a mainstream audience.
But War Pigs, is still a phenomenal track. Seven minutes of pure Metal, few but blunt lyrics, making the eternal point of the poor being made to fight the convenience wars of politicians who would never get their hands dirty, accompanied with a simple yet heavy riff that is so epic it actually brings Boomers back to life.
The song is over 50 years old now, but the message rang true at the time, and still rings true today. Next song.
“Soldier boy, made of clay
Now an empty shell
Twenty-one, only son
But he served us well
Bred to kill, not to care
Do just as we say
Finished here, greetings death
He’s yours to take away”
Ooh boy, yet another 7+ minute song to follow – this is a pattern with 70s and early 80s protest songs.
It can be hard to remember that there was a time when Metallica were a highly respected and regarded forerunner of what was at the time a fairly underground and extreme metal scene.
Today, Master of Puppets has a legendary status which many consider to be the greatest thrash album of all time. I disagree. I don’t even think it’s the best Metallica album of all time, but there’s no denying its influence.
Disposable Heroes isn’t a song I found myself revisiting a lot. But when researching for this list I figured I’d give it another go, having not really appreciated the theme of it beyond a slightly edgy 80s Metal song, and ooh boy this song doesn’t hold back. Possibly one of them fastest to date, and this onslaught lasts for nearly 10 minutes.
Lyrically the song is unambiguous, detailing the plight of the soldiers who are treated as nothing more than resources to throw at an enemy until either they run out or win. The song shifts perspective from the internal monologue of the soldier in the midst of a battleground, a third person description of the same scene, and the Commander/Elite commanding the soldier to head back to the front lines, abusing them in the process.
Metallica may be a bit of a cringe joke these last 20 years, but this song still holds up. It has a darkness to it that many of its contemporaries at the time on the same theme did not. Riffs wise, it’s not the most memorable of their work – but its fast pace and kind of jumpy riffs do well to recreate the anxiety and dread of the atmosphere commonly associated with war zones. There is a reason Doom was heavily ‘inspired’ by this genre, band and album for its soundtrack to its intense horror shooter.
“You’ve gotta die, gotta die, gotta die for your government?
Die for your country?
Jumping forward a bit now to the 90s, Die for the Government is from Anti-Flag’s very first album and delivers what you’d expect from that title. There are more lyrics to the song, but the intros and choruses are just a repeat of this refrain: Die for your government? Die for your country? That’s shit!
Can’t really argue with that. It’s pretty fucking shit. Dying is shit. Your government is also shit, and so is your country. They love to abuse the shit out of you then call you a hero when you’re dead. Absolute shit.
“The enemy of man is his own decay
If they’re evil now, then evil they will stay
If they will try to push you far away
Would you stay and take a stand?”
Ooh boy, this was a tough one. So, System of A Down have a huge back catalogue of songs about War, both waged by American administrations, and impacting their homeland of Armenia.
Some of you may have noticed that despite being one of my favourite bands of all time, I’ve been generally less willing to put them on these playlists recently – partly due to John Dolmayan’s weird Q-Anon phase – and also Serj Tankian’s more recent foray into NFTs.
But when we’re talking about Anti-War songs from the point of view of a country being invaded and oppressed by a corrupt power, Armenia’s biggest alternative band are a shoo-in.
SOAD shocked everyone in 2020 by dropping their first 2 new songs in 15 years as a fundraiser for the Aid for Artsakh Campaign. The governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey stepped up the genocidal efforts on the people in Armenia as an attempt to claim the land as their own. The Armenian genocide has been going in for over 30 years, but really stepped up around this time.
The band have obviously always been outspoken on this, especially as it’s a conflict that we in the west don’t really hear anything about. This song was originally actually written for Daron Malakian’s other band, Scars on Broadway. But he decided to release it with the original SOAD band early when it became apparent it was needed and would for sure draw much more attention than if it had been released under a different name.
This song is what I was referring to when I said I wanted to approach this difficult topic with some nuance. There are ways of reading this song as glorification of the military defenders of the nation, which many anti-war activists might be uncomfortable with.
But here’s the thing – Anti-War doesn’t necessarily mean condemning those who fight. When faced with a combined and corrupt force, it is hardly fair to condemn the people of Armenia and those who fight when they are the only thing standing between their existence and these people who will wipe them out if it gives them more geopolitical power. You can be against a war happening, but critically analyse the balance of power and, for want of a better word, “Who started it” and rather than trying to act like the mediator, hearing out both sides and coming to a compromise that harms the oppressed.
You can realize that actually, conflicts like this have very clear villains. While, in an ideal world, they’d stop doing one of them there genocides they’re so fond of in favour of a diplomatic and respectful solution for the people of Armenia, that is just not going to happen.
While I wouldn’t blame anyone for being upset that this song can be interpreted as recruitment propaganda to the Armenian defence forces, you should take the context of the situation into account and realize that this isn’t a government sending its poorest to fight an unjust war abroad – this is a nation defending itself against those external governments.
War still sucks, but we don’t need to blame the victims for defending themselves.
But yeah, solid song, and exciting to hear new System of a Down music for the first time since 2005. Probably won’t ever happen again, but it’s a nice addition to their catalogue for sure.
“Yeah, manmade powers
Stood like a tower, higher and hi ya, hello
And the higher you go, you feel lower, oh
I was close to the ant
Staying undercover, staying undercover
With a nose to the ground, I found my sound”
Another artist with origins in a war-torn country, M.I.A. has Sri Lankan heritage, living there for some of her childhood but moving to England during the Sri Lankan civil war. This is another war that isn’t really talked about in the west – but more than that, actively ignored.
Before this song’s release, M.I.A. repeatedly tried to bring attention to the plight of Sri Lankan people to the west, but all anyone ever wanted to talk to her about was her music and celebrity status. “Stick to Music, stop talking about politics” is something that most musicians have to deal with, but especially when it comes to women, and even more so women of colour.
I’ve made it no secret that I think this attitude to music is toxic, as music has been a tool for political upheaval and revolution for longer than our lifetimes. Most modern music stems to a greater or lesser extent from Blues – literally slave music. Telling a Tamil, female rapper to stick to music and stop talking politics is so insulting, that I’m impressed she’s never punched anyone for it.
Born Free was an explicit and very clever way to force people to listen, releasing as a single and creating one of the most impactful music videos at the time.
M.I.A. used actors to recreate some of the horrific sights she’d experienced in Sri Lanka and in footage that was circulating on the internet, but used White, red-headed people instead. This was a genius move that not only makes white people care about something by depicting themselves in situations of torture, abuse and cold murder, but it also left a very striking and memorable image that quickly went viral before YouTube removed the video.
It is now back up and age restricted, but M.I.A. used this opportunity to call out her video being taken down despite it being all fabricated, but real-life footage of the same stuff happening in Sri Lanka and being broadcast had no such complaints.
You do kind of need the video to fully appreciate the song. The song itself is less explicitly anti-war and more anti expectations on her not to talk about these things that matter to her and people should care about – talking about the privilege of being “Born Free” in an environment comparatively safe, and refusing to acknowledge the plights of other nations – going so far as to make war torn nations prime holiday destinations. She doesn’t want to go on TV to talk about her money and success, she knows what she wants to talk about, but no one will let her – so she’ll find a way to do it through her art that the media can’t ignore. Whip up controversy and use that to deliver the message.
M.I.A. is a treasure, and I honestly believe one of the greatest artists of her generation. She has a skill to say so much using so few words, and we need more people like her in today’s world.
“It’s the same old theme, since 1916
In your head, in your head, they’re still fightin’
With their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns
In your head, in your head, they are dyin’”
I tried to mostly pick artists who have connections and experiences to countries that have dealt with war first-hand more recently – and I absolutely couldn’t leave off this track. You’ll all know this song. Most of you will know it’s about the war in Northern Ireland, and widely applicable to conflict in general too.
Zombie is probably one of the best-known Alternative Rock songs of the 90s. In its slow grungy riffs and the late, great Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive melancholic melodic voice conveys the despairing situation in Northern Ireland at the time, which was a consistent conflict spanning for nearly 100 years.
It seems fitting to include a song about how bleak these times really were for the region, especially as Brexit has already invalidated several aspects of the Good Friday agreement, and we are dangerously close to reigniting the troubles that plagued both England and Ireland for so long.
You all know why this song is great. I don’t need to tell you more, but if you hadn’t considered the meaning and context of the song before now and just thought it was a cool Alt-Rock song, I’d implore you to take a deeper listen.
Not only is it a perfectly crafted song – it’s saying a lot in its few words.
“Long vanished is the age of blows with a club
Wholesale murder guarantee
Soldiers within the meaning of law
Decimate the dregs of society
Where’s man’s dignity and human nature?
Disarmament and combination
Fit in with the needs of present
Peace not revelation”
There’s a lot of anti-war and anti-militaristic songs to come out of Germany. I wonder why?
A lot of people listen to German metal and assume because of the accent, language, and general vibe of the music that it’s very pro-military, but this couldn’t be further than the truth.
Germany has a long history with war, and probably understand the dangers and consequences of fascism more than most other European nations.
Sodom do write a lot of songs with military imagery, but it is always from a place of “This shit is horrible and terrifying, we need to stop”. Shellfire Defence has a particularly striking verse that brings attention to just how much war has changed with 20th century technologies. Solving things with violence is never the ideal solution – but there is a huge difference between fighting your opponent with a stick of sharp metal on an even level, in which political leaders, even when not on the front lines were by no means safe from the conflict – and all the gruesome, and destructive heavy artillery tools we have today to fight and kill with.
Even small battles can have death tolls matching some of the longest and most brutal wars of the past within days. Even if War is a viable solution to political problems – it’s not like this.
We will wipe out our species and the planet all over nothing – and it will all be short tempered and careless politicians at fault. We need to disarm.
“I’ve got more in common with the Bugger on my Bayonet,
Than the Toff, who’s telling me to stick it in his guts”
This little ballad from everyone’s favourite Victorian Punks is a story of a soldier being put to war and realizing that his real enemy is not who he’s been sent to fight, but the ones sending him to fight.
Starting with a short but sweet recollection of the hypocrisies of the church, condemning stealing and killing – and then immediately asking them to go to war and pillage in the name of God once it became politically desirable to do so – and ending with a revelation that no matter who you fight for, soldiers have more in common with each other than with those in power of their country.
A more succinct tale of class solidarity over political warmongering I have not heard, a must listen, underrated gem.
“Protest songs in response to military aggression
Protest songs to try and stop the soldier’s gun
But the battle raged on”
This was quite a last-minute addition to the list, and I unfortunately had to cut many worth contenders to fit it.
But White People for Peace is a perfect penultimate song – not only as an anti-war song, but as a self-aware admission that it’s all well and good us white people speaking out against war in song (and indeed, we absolutely should) but ultimately it achieves nothing, and it is important to appreciate the severity of a situation, not just write a hippy love song about how love is stronger than hate and we should all get along.
Possibly a depressing note to include, although I’m not sure how many uplifting and inspiring tracks you expected on this anti-war playlist, so get off my dick about it.
“Time to take a look at the nature of your design
Numb the youth to the bullets and bombs that fly
In desert lands watching genocide
At the age of nineteen watched his best friend die
Let it all build up till it overflows inside
Then this teenage Rambo, his life gets done,
by the barrel of his own gun
ONE YOUTH DOWN!
A shot to the head, another victim to this war profiteering complex”
And to close off this list a track from my favourite Oi-Skacore band Faintest Idea.
I don’t think people realize that Ska is actually, historically a pretty dark genre of music. It sounds like a lot of fun, but many bands incorporate political and highly personal lyrics – and Faintest Idea do not shy away from exposing Tory cruelty and its effects on society.
Youth is, as you may expect, predominantly about the way young people are treated by our governments, and not just limited to the ones who are recruited for war purposes. But that is still a heavy theme.
Since Blair, if not before, young people have been continuously desensitised to war and violence, but it’s not because of Call of Duty games. We are living through times of intense global conflict, that we’re either actively involved in, or profiting off of by supplying weaponry to corrupt rich powers. Before soldiers even go to war, they will be passively exposed to war and violence just by existing, and this makes a generation of kids very easy to recruit and take advantage of in the military.
In my town, the Army reserve centre is literally next door to the Scouts. As a former Beaver myself who gave up at Cubs, it’s jarring to think that the whole institution of Cubs and Scouts is a thinly disguised way to feed kids, particularly disadvantaged kids, to kill and die for us.
And throughout all of this death, abuse and neglect, the politicians are still getting richer and richer, whilst the youth see none of this extra wealth.
This song is capped off perfectly with a famous George Carlin routine talking about America’s affinity and talent for war as the riff fades out, and hollow laughter rings out after these deeply disturbing observations. What a way to end a track. What a way to end a playlist.
And those are just some of the Anti-War anthems we’ve chosen to represent a nuanced but ultimately opposing attitude to the wars we’ve been fighting, funding, and profiting from for our entire history.
Loads of great tracks didn’t make the cut. One of the many downsides to the Vietnam war is that it took place right in the golden age of Psychedelic and Progressive rock, meaning there’s no shortage of anti-war songs to choose from, but the average length is 8+ minutes. Comparatively not the worst thing the war has done, but for a sheltered millennial westerner such as myself it’s thankfully the closest I personally will ever come to experiencing the true horrors of war in the modern age. Touch wood.