Much like rock and sex, rock and war has been a common theme in many songs. The following songs cover the full breadth of all things war; from anti-war to the experience of a soldier, to mourning the aftermath of combat.
Here are the 10 best rock songs about war to get you well, soldier, through the day.
1. Cranberries – “Zombie”
This haunting war song is about the IRA/Warrington bombings that took place in 1993 and is considered the height of the grunge era. “Zombie” was reissued in an acoustic version in 2017.
For me “Zombie” is one of the hardest hitting war songs. The Cranberries wrote it in response to the deaths of two young boys (ages 3 and 12).
The songwriting is self-described as “anthemic”. The heartbreaking music video depicts a child with dirt on his face and people with golden skin. Overall, the song is about images of war that cannot be invisible, turning the witnesses into veritable walking zombies.
2. 30 Seconds to Mars – “It’s War”
This clear, anti-war song by LA native rock band 30 Seconds to Mars was released in 2009 as part of the album of the same name, It’s the war.
The entire album was released by Flood (which includes U2 and Depeche mode), which means it got the U2 seal of approval (I’ll get to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” later, don’t worry! ). According to lead singer Jared Leto, the song is about the conflict as a whole.
3. Iron Maiden – “The Soldier”
This English heavy metal band has released several war-themed songs. “The Trooper” is my favorite. It’s off the album Peace of mind and was first released in 1983. This sassy and visceral song is about the breath of horses, thick smoke and Russian guns. “The Trooper” is about the Battle of Balaclava, which took place in 1854.
The Battle of Balaclava was a battle of the Crimean War (Russians, Ottoman Empire). After the Russians failed to capture Balaclava, the charge of the Light Brigade took place. A man named Lord Tennyson led the charge. It was a real suicide mission.
Tennyson wrote a poem about the charge, which later became the main inspiration for the song. Iron Maiden has written several rock songs about war, but the lyrics to this one landed a spot in the top 10 rock songs about war – at least in my book.
4. One Down System – “Soldier Side”
I like “Soldier Side” because it starts with such a tricky intro – Violin and guitar picked out, then crescendos in distress. The lower harmonies are strange and satisfying. “Soldier Side” is about young men and sons who leave their families and never come home. This moving war song is about young men standing over their own graves.
Nu metal band released this heartbreaking in their album Mézmeriser in 2005.
The song is actually about the war from a mother’s perspective. The loneliness of letting your child/son go knowing he may never come back. I think “Soldier Side” is especially scary coming from this powerful female perspective.
5. My Chemical Romance – “Mom”
I love how this one starts off with an unsettling quazi-Italian beat *boom chick*. Similar to “Soldier Side,” “Mama” deals with the subject of mothers and songs when it comes to war. However, this song seems to be about a son who is about to be deployed, singing for his mother.
The soldier begs his mother not to blame the sons who go to war and declares that he will never really let (the love for her) go. The song features the sound of explosions near the end of the song and ends with an eerie violin and accordion duet out of tune.
6. Black Sabbath – “War Pigs”
I can’t call this list complete without Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” This iconic song is about the Vietnam War. According to bassist Butler, “War is the real Satanism”
This song is satisfying in part because of its slow 6/8 time signature. This is the first song from the 1970 album Paranoid. Originally titled “Walpurgis” after Walpurgis Night, which is a Christian holiday celebrating a saint, which takes place at the end of April. But before it was a Christian holiday, it was a pagan holiday “Night of Witches”
Black Sabbath Compares generals to gatherings of witches, death wizards. It’s a brazen statement about how the rich profit from war and the poor get the small end of the stick, and details the death, hatred, and ensuing brainwashing.
This protest song is still popular and is still frequently covered today.
7. Rise Against – “Heroes of War”
This heavyweight of a song begins when a young man joins the army with the promise of seeing the world. All he has to do is see the world, carry a gun, and get paid. “Hero of War” is full of painterly descriptions, like short hair, shiny boots, and camaraderie.
This is one of the first on this list to make me cry. The main character expresses how much he loves the flag and would do anything for it, but also details the atrocities of the war and the seriousness of the involvement. The song is based on the experience of a soldier who served in Iraq.
At the end of the song, I get a complicated combination of emotions. It’s easy to sympathize with the main character while hating him. The mixed emotions it elicits are magnificent, earning it a solid spot on the Top 10 Rock Songs About War list.
8. Sabaton – “To Hell and Back”
Sabaton has spent his entire career writing songs about war, so I had to include them. “To Hell and Back”. This one sounds a lot like pirate metal or nautical metal, but was actually intended to be a country-western-metal fusion.
“To Hell and Back” is about Audie Murphy, one of the most famous soldiers of World War II, buried in Arlington Cemetery. The clip is supposed to talk about what could have happened to Audie Murphy throughout his life.
9. U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
For all the hate U2 had for putting this album on everyone’s Apple device, I’m still here for this one. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is about the conflict in Northern Ireland.
This Irish band drum hit from their 1983 album War. I enjoy this one because of how they infused electric violin. Lyrically, they plead “How long, how long do we have to sing this song?”
Bono once repeated during the band’s 1983 tour that the song was not about rebellion, but rather about the troubles in Northern Ireland as a whole.
10. Bob Dylan – “Masters of War”
While Bob Dylan did a bit of everything, this song is considered rock for its time. He talks about people hiding behind walls and masks, but how he sees through them.
Bob Dylan sings about playing with worlds and destruction. This 1963 song was written in opposition to the Cold War. What I find really interesting about this one is that Dylan borrowed the melody from an old folk song, Nottamun Town.