The Paste Staff On Our Favorite End of the World Songs

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The Paste Staff On Our Favorite End of the World Songs

Humans are fairly resilient. While we face simultaneous crises—climate change, an impending economic depression, a global pandemic, human rights abuses, etc. —we’re not technically expecting a mushroom cloud or the extinction of our species in our very near future. There’s no reason to build a doomsday shelter, stock up on astronaut food or learn how to use a crossbow—at least not yet. But in times when we feel like there’s little hope, it’s immensely cathartic to hear songs from people who also have vague feelings that the end is nigh. Ever since cave drawings were a thing (and possibly even before that), people have been depicting cataclysmic events in their art, so songs about the end of the world are a natural extension of that. While we rounded up some of the most notable apocalyptic songs a few years back here, we decided to poll our staff for their own personal favorites, and given the present circumstances, it felt right.

The Avett Brothers: “No Hard Feelings”

This song, one of the more explicitly serious in The Avett Brothers’ sweeping catalogue, is not about the apocalypse. But listen to it enough times, and Judgement Day imagery will begin to unfold. “No Hard Feelings” is about dying with no regrets, about the day when one’s soul leaves their body and all that’s left to focus on is the joy that defines a life. Or, as Seth puts it, “Holding the love I’ve known in my life.” This is an end-of-the-world song for the faithful folks who just believe everything works out the way it should. It’s about making peace with your “enemies” and learning to appreciate life while it’s happening, in both its “loveliness” and “ugliness.” Do that, and then when the end really does come, all that’s left is “just Hallelujah.” —Ellen Johnson

Blue Oyster Cult: “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”

One of the absolute best classic rock staples might be primarily focused on suicide, but its call to embrace the inevitably of death fits all manner of endtimes scenarios. Also it was used brilliantly (powerfully, even) in the opening to the ’90s miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand, which makes it especially relevant right now. BOC don’t get enough respect for being one of the best and weirdest rock bands of all time, but at least America realizes how beautiful this song is. —Garrett Martin

The Cure: “The End of the World”

Who better to mourn the end of frolicking in the sunshine than The Cure? Jokes aside, they’re far more dramatic than they are morbid. Robert Smith’s songs are full of passionate love, and he unpacks desire with such mastery that it brings people to tears. Smith’s ever-powerful sensitivity certainly comes through on “The End of the World,” where romantic partners falling out of sync with one another feels like a cataclysmic event. But Smith isn’t being hyperbolic for the sake of it. “We want this like everyone else,” he reminds us, and it affirms that the song isn’t mere gothic melodrama—it captures the two universal joys of life: to love and be loved. —Lizzie Manno

Hawkwind: “Damnation Alley”

Obviously Hawkwind’s sci-fi oeuvre was going to include at least true banger of a post-apocalypse jam. “Damnation Alley” is the hit: This psych-rock chugger might be a little low-key compared to some of their other epics, but its lyrics definitely pack an end-of-the-world wallop, detailing a “radiation wasteland” and a “mutation zoo,” and specifying which parts of America got hit the hardest. (Is “no more Arizona” really such a great loss, though?) It’s definitely on the cartoon side of things, without the acute panic of the Minutemen’s “Paranoid Chant” or resigned dark humor of Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War,” but if you want to zone out to nuclear holocaust, you’d be hardpressed to find a better song. —Garrett Martin

Joanna Newsom: “Leaving the City”

Back in the early days of Newsom’s career, when I was a young preteen that stumbled across music far too complicated for me to truly digest, most fans of hers I met online were metalheads. It’s easy to see why—Newsom’s plucking is intense, her songs rigid and her poetry, for lack of a better word, is quite metal, from filling her ears with bees or riding in on a palanquin made of dead women’s bodies. “Leaving The City” from 2015’s Divers might be the only time Newsom has directly been influenced by metal, though—it sticks out in her otherwise placidly arranged works, with the medieval-sounding marxophone leading into propulsive drums and Joanna’s voice combatting itself with folksy adages on the nature of life and death (“The longer you live, the higher the rent”). At its core, “Leaving The City” is a song of escape, an epic on fleeing a place too broken to house you and your lover. The song’s intro is a preclude to that escape, a question on whether the current status quo is worth abandoning (“What do you want to do? Are we leaving the city?”). I just hope, when it all goes to shit, I can feel the romantic liberty of freedom as my partner and I elude death’s grip. —Austin Jones

Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers: “Apocalypse Now (& Later)”

Everything about this song should be cheesy, but weirdly, it’s not. Writing an uplifting, folk-punk-meets-classic-rock tune about being the last two people on earth sounds like a terrible idea in theory, but the way Laura Jane Grace lands on her feet is beyond impressive. This track from Grace’s latest solo album, Bought to Rot, shamelessly leans into the importance of positivity and encouragement in a relationship, and it should be celebrated. It’s essentially an invitation to enter a close, fulfilling bond, but only if you’re both willing to take a leap of faith: to try and conquer your own demons, be there for the other person when they’re battling theirs and be honest with yourself and your partner—only then can you obtain “the bliss of your kiss in the apocalypse.” —Lizzie Manno

Matt Maltese: “As the World Caves in”

Matt Maltese’s apocalypse scene is far more literal and heartbreaking than others in this list. While other songs conjure metaphors about the end times, Maltese fantasizes about the brief wait time after the nuclear button has been pressed. He imagines waiting for annihilation with his significant other, just sitting on the sofa watching TV. Even with the knowledge that it’s their last time together, it hits you straight in the gut that they would take part in something so mundane, but it’s far more tolerable than to go out in a fit of panic. “As the World Caves in” is the penultimate track from his 2018 debut album Bad Contestant, and like much of the record, it sees Maltese wielding his baritone and leaning into swelling, piano-led pop/rock. The idea for the song initially came from a love affair between President Trump and then-Prime Minister Theresa May, but it’s infinitely more beautiful and poetic to envision two innocent soulmates, so let’s go with that. —Lizzie Manno

Minutemen: “Paranoid Chant”

“I try to talk to girls and I keep thinking of World War III” is pretty much the ultimate Minutemen lyric. The Cold War might be over but the existential dread summed up by this anxious crash of a song is still as relevant as ever. Whether it’s Russia, China, a pandemic or the sheer cruelty and incompetence of our own government, it’s hard not to be paranoid that the whole damn world’s about to collapse at any minute, and D. Boon’s frightened, panicked howl is the perfect soundtrack to that fear. —Garrett Martin

Nine Inch Nails: “The Day the World Went Away”

When Trent Reznor sings about the world going away, we can’t totally be sure what he means. The verse alludes to someone being presented with news so horrific that their whole world is turned upside down. It’s the kind of event that triggers a spiral so dangerous that Reznor (or the unnamed narrator) considers self-sabotage and imagines a hellish alternate universe that would still be preferable to reality. Nine Inch Nails have come to the conclusion that abstract, vaguely prophetic songs pair perfectly with hefty, atmospheric drone, and I won’t argue with them there. —Lizzie Manno

Oneohtrix Point Never: “Black Snow”

Daniel Lopatin’s voice rarely appears on his work as Oneohtrix Point Never—his voice is imperfect, husky, breathy, all qualities that make it the antithesis of the airless, arpeggiated sounds, using presets from vintage synthesizers and jingles ripped from old commercials. Once, when listening to “Black Snow” from OPN’s Age Of, my boyfriend asked me, “What is his voice referencing here?” I was stumped. Lopatin’s voice has a feeble urgency here as he sings about black snow falling from the sky—“No information, no harmony,” he notes, offering the opposite of what defines OPN as a project. Contrary to most of his work, “Black Snow” is laden with uncertainty endemic to the end times we constantly seem faced with today (“Nothing but a bunch of unanswered questions lately”). By the end, the wet gas mask exhales and finger snaps give way to a bursting daxophone solo, coupled with a wiry harmony courtesy of Anohni’s robo-siren voice. The end won’t be immediate. Protect what you can, while you can. —Austin Jones

Sun Ra: “Nuclear War”

Sun Ra might’ve been from Saturn, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t care about Earth’s problems. “Nuclear War” might sound surprisingly laidback for a rumination on total nuclear annihilation, but the words defy the sparse electric piano and drums underneath them. The call-and-response chant about nuclear war being a motherfucker that’ll make you kiss your ass goodbye is grimly hilarious—a matter-of-fact statement about what would happen if the Cold War turned hot. Whatcha gonna do without your ass, indeed. —Garrett Martin

Super Furry Animals: “Atomik Lust”

“I’d love to see the end someday,” Gruff Rhys wistfully dreams, “of Citizen Kane.” Which isn’t so much a cinephile’s confession as it is a symptom of someone who knows time’s running out and still has so much left to do. “Fine time to walk on wine,” he adds, an admonition to those willing to dull themselves into believing a miracle will save them, hiding from reality behind minutiae like movies one didn’t see or wine one didn’t drink or people with whom one never got to copulate. In trademark maximalist ease, Super Furry Animals coin the phrase “atomic lust” between loose piano riffs and growing walls of sound. It’s a feeling we are all beginning to recognize: The deeply ineffable urge to embrace all the stuff we took for granted, from classic film to simple physical human connection. It’s unhealthy to stuff all that lasciviousness back down into ourselves, so SFA offer a kind of release, a climax of sorts, squelching guitars and strings and percussion beating back sorrow with sheer force. This happens twice. “Find some atomic lust,” Rhys encourages, “whenever more or less.” Whether that’s optimism—the brightness of the track almost taunting those willing to resign themselves to the apocalypse—or an acceptance that we’ll just have to make due with what we have, “Atomik Lust” is as much a reminder, as we teeter over the precipice of a new world (kinda), of who we are as who we could’ve been. Or maybe it’s just about screwing like there’s no tomorrow. —Dom Sinacola

Tom Lehrer: “We Will All Go Together When We Go”

The enduring appeal of Tom Lehrer’s bitingly satirical songs was apparently once succinctly explained by a friend of the musician, who said the following: “Always predict the worst, and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.” And that is perhaps the most perfect summation of Lehrer’s musical career, which consisted of only a handful of public performances and a few dozen songs, but a rabid following of sarcastic assholes to this day. Fans admire everything from Lehrer’s sheer vocal dexterity to the incredibly morbid, nihilistic topics of classics like “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” or “The Masochism Tango,” all the more taboo for the fact that most were written in the sanitized, Wonder Bread era of the mid-1950s. Whatever he was, Lehrer was clearly never afraid of reprisal—he spoke his mind on any topic, including the extermination of the human race in “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” another ditty that will no doubt be stuck in your head for the next few days after you watch the accompanying video. Although the chief fear here is clearly nuclear war (it was the Cold War, after all), there’s no sentiment present that isn’t equally true during a viral pandemic. It’s the ultimate attitude of fatalistic satisfaction: “Well, I may die, but at least I’ll be taking all of you with me.” Lehrer is still kicking at the age of 91, and you know he must be feeling a little vindicated right about now. —Jim Vorel

U.S. Girls: “Pearly Gates”

Why do we assume that once we die we’re allowed eternal rest? U.S. Girls’ “Pearly Gates” from their still defining In A Poem Unlimited grapples with the anxiety of feminine post-death woes—standing at the gates of heaven, Meg Remy still must deal with bureaucracy and sexual exploitation. Over a smutty funk track and a vein-popping electric keyboard, Remy wonders how even heaven can be safe when all the apostles that run it are men, as raunchy as their more terrestrial counterparts. While not explicitly about Earth’s demise, the track is a grim reminder of the unique struggles faced by vulnerable populations amid crisis and mass death, heralded by Remy’s ever-restless poetry. —Austin Jones

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