11 of the best albums inspired by drugs
For good or bad, drugs are an inherent part of rock’n’roll’s development. From Elvis chowing speed, to Lemmy being paid by Hendrix in hits of acid, to Slash drinking so much Jack Daniels his tongue turned black, rock’s taste for mind- and mood-altering substances has long been its driving force. In fact, many of our favorite albums were recorded for little more than the acclaim and financial backing required to buy the next bottle, baggie, or fix.
Obviously, it’s not all fun times. Drugs have also ruined the lives of countless rock stars, and many of the most famous hard-partiers in music history will now urge you to stay clean. But it is undeniable that even those more horrible addictions have helped push artists to create some of the most powerful pieces of music ever known to man.
Here are 11 albums that, for better or for worse, owe their unique sound to the drugs that fuelled them…
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)
Trent Reznor doesn’t harp too much on heroin in the lyrics of 1994’s The Downward Spiral, but the influence is tangible from the get-go. The water-damaged cover, the move from dark dance music to nihilistic industrial, the world-ending hopelessness, all speak of of smack’s deadly hold. But it’s on NIN’s Hurt, when Trent describes how ‘the needle tears a hole’ and he feels ‘the old familiar sting’ that one understands the black, bubbling heart of the record. Few drugs offer the sheer level of turmoil that heroin does, and this album is proof.
Black Sabbath – Vol. 4 (1972)
To identify the muse behind Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, one need only listen to Snowblind, on which Ozzy Osbourne literally whispers, ‘cocaine’. The album’s icy riffage and dreamy interludes definitely sound like they’re trying to imitate the high of good blow, losing the apocalypticism of Master Of Reality’s weed worship. Where the devil’s dandruff is perhaps most audible, though, is Bill Ward’s drumming, which feels frantic and jazzy while given a starker production sound than ever before. Like any coke high, Vol. 4 also signalled a peak in morale for the band, leading to spiral of excess and bitterness that would eventually tear them apart. The baggie always runs out.
The Descendents – Milo Goes To College (1982)
If you don’t believe caffeine is truly a drug, then you’re not drinking as much coffee as The Descendents were in the ’80s. The Californian punk act’s speedy overdrive was fuelled by an overdose of java, which included the invention of the Bonus Cup (1÷3 cup instant coffee, five spoonfuls of sugar, hot water). Their debut, Milo Goes To College, not only introduced the world to their wide-eyed mascot, but also their short-form over-caffeinated punk rock. Their sense of boundless drive would go on to influence bands like NOFX, Pennywise, and The Offspring, whose almost-thrashy riffs were like a hot cup of Joe for the weary punks of the ’90s.
Sleep – Dopesmoker (2003)
Plenty of bands smoke marijuana; only one of them wrote a sprawling concept album about weed-worshipping space monks wandering the desert. San Jose’s Sleep were always dedicated to smoking more ganja than any other doom band, and have never deviated from that path. But with Dopesmoker, they gave their passion the scope it deserved, forsaking typical pothead humor or veiled references and instead examining the exodus of Lungsman heading to the smoke-filled land of the Hasheeshian (or something – it makes more sense if you’re very high). It may feel silly to get this serious about weed, but reach a certain point of earnest love for the sweet leaf and the resulting art might be this transcendent.
Metallica – Ride The Lightning (1984)
It’s amazing that the first three Metallica albums ever got made, given how much the Horsemen were drinking back then. But Ride The Lightning came about after the band’s first taste of success, and as such saw the boys going hog wild on the sauce. Fade To Black was written after drinking a liquor cabinet dry, while touring back in the day was a non-stop beer-guzzling competition. “When we came to Europe in ’84, we’d go to the pubs in England and have 10 pints,” Lars Ulrich told the Chicago Tribune. “We’d go around Germany and drink pilsner and in Holland we’d drink Grolsch or the OG Heineken.” However, the drummer was also quick to mention, “There were financial constraints in the early days, so when I say ‘anything we could get our hands on’, it was really pretty much anything.”
FIDLAR – FIDLAR (2012)
With FIDLAR’s self-titled debut, the hard part is picking which drugs most fuelled the record. The band’s music is all about poor choices with everything from dirt weed and pharmaceuticals. But the trinity on FIDLAR is most definitely beer, weed, and coke, as evidenced by tracks like Cheap Beer, Wake Bake Skate, and the absolutely crushing Cocaine (whose video features Nick Offerman starting a new career of pissing all over everything). The beauty, of course, is that unlike some of the artists featured here, FIDLAR’s drug use doesn’t feel horribly depressive or life-destroying – they’re into the same shit most people are on the average ill-advised weekend. Don’t worry, we’re all terrible here.
Rwake – If You Walk Before You Crawl You Crawl Before You Die (2004)
The penchant for pounding Robitussin by Arkansas sludge forefathers Rwake is so deep, it’s branded on their name – that’s what the ‘R’ stands for (for the record, it’s just pronounced ‘wake’). If You Walk Before You Crawl You Crawl Before You Die, the band’s third full-length album, is where their lush, grotesque sound seems to truly hit its stride, and couples with the dreamy and sometimes terrifying effects of the Robo-trip. A song like Sleep And Forget Forever could be about any drug, but the band’s relationship with the sizzurup gives it that extra blast of pharmaceutical menace. Sometimes the medicine and the sickness are indivisible.
Alice In Chains – Dirt (1992)
Occasionally, drugs make an album feel edgy and sexy; other times, they can make it absolutely heartbreaking. Dirt is a pained cry from late Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley, on which he effectively casts of the warrior poet identity people assigned to him with hits like Man In The Box. The foot-dragging drawl of Junkhead and the unsettling warble of God Smack sound as though the vocalist wanted to show the world just how ugly his track marks looked. “I didn’t want my fans to think that heroin was cool,” Layne told Rolling Stone in 1996. One listen to Dirt is proof that anyone who thought AIC were glorifying drugs simply wasn’t listening.
Korn – Korn (1994)
Substance abuse has chased Korn throughout their entire career, but their self-titled debut has an especially sharp edge due to the crystal meth usage that went into it. Ball Tongue and Helmet In The Bush are specifically inspired by Jonathan Davis’s gak habit, though in madcap, JD-appropriate ways – the former song’s furious scatting is in imitation of the band’s friend and former manager, while the latter relates to how one’s penis looks while tweaking. While Jonathan and the rest of the band have since forsaken their hard-partying ways, it’s undeniable that the most pernicious of uppers lent their first studio release a terrifying crackle.
Ween – The Pod (1991)
The legend, long-since refuted by the album’s makers, is that The Pod was created while Ween were huffing the carpet cleaner Scotchgard. The band have since said that they only came up with that rumor because it was “the most slime-bag thing they could think of”. But the fact that so many fans believed them says something about what one hears on The Pod. The electrified production on tracks like Dr. Rock and Sketches Of Winkle is utterly unhinged, while the barking, aimless pace of The Stallion (either part, really) feels like the sweaty blatherings of the most poisonous of drunks. While the band’s entire catalog screams ‘We’re on drugs’ at the top of its lungs, this record has the most proof in the pudding.
Prince Daddy And The Hyena – Cosmic Thrill Seekers (2019)
While several of the other albums on this list just sound like the drugs that inspired them, 2019’s release from Albany pop-punks Prince Daddy & The Hyena is Kerrang!-certified. Frontman Kory Gregory told us at the time, “Something weird clicked during that acid trip and I definitely fucked up my brain a little bit. Every little thing I do is more calculated now because I feel unhealthily self-aware. Everything feels a lot more intense – even the stuff that doesn’t really matter at all.” Sometimes, all you need is a sharp poke in the third eye.
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