Arockalypse Now

In 2018 I wrote a very long post entitled “Six Rock Songs about the End of the World.” I’ve been meaning to do a follow-up one, but never found a good reason. Well, now I have. Yesterday, driving between university teaching gigs, I heard a Fleetwood Mac song, “Revelation.” I’m not sure how I missed it all these years; but perhaps it being from 1973, before the band became a household name in the late 70s, is the reason. Also, it was written and sung by Bob Welch, in the pre-Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham days. In any event, this post will cover that song and three others that portray eschatological elements: “Apocalypse Please” by Muse; “Today is the End” by Ozzy Osbourne; and “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash.

A Seven-Headed Leopard-like Beast, Apocalypse 13, Beatus Escorial (Wiki public domain)

“Revelation” was on Fleetwood Mac’s pedestrian Penguin album. It’s an upbeat, acoustic- and electric-guitar driven song, musically–which rather belies its subject matter. “He had all the mountains/under his command/You know that he had all the cities/In his two hands/Yes, and he had control of the four winds/And the hunger of the starving man.” And “He controlled the brimstone/and eternal fire….you know the lord of light is laughing.” The final stanza warns “On a Sunday morning/with a voice that’s cold/the future gives a warning/of the fire that burns below.” But although it purports to be about the final, apocalyptic book of the Bible, Welch’s song is more ambient than specific about Revelation.

Apocalypse Please” is on the English progressive rock band Muse’s 2003 album Absolution. I confess (pun intended) that I had never listened to an entire song by this group until today. The song is almost symphonic, with lots of piano; quite amazing vocals by Matthew Bellamy, too. It’s supposedly mocking “religious fanatics” who wish for the Apocalypse. “Declare this an emergency/Come on and spread a sense of urgency/And pull us through/And this is the end/the end of the world.” Also “Proclaim eternal victory/Come on and change the course of history.” Then we get “this is the end of the world” sung repeatedly. It’s even less specific about the Apocalypse than “Revelation.” Rather disappointing lyrically, albeit impressive sonically. If you want to skip church, or reading your Bible, and try to learn about The End from these songs–get used to disappointment.

We’re on grittier eschatological ground with the revived Prince of Darkness: Ozzy Osbourne. When he was with Black Sabbath, they did a number of such tunes, notably “Electric Funeral,” and “After Forever” (which I covered in my aforementioned previous blogpost). Solo Ozzy didn’t wax overly eschatological, but he started turning back in that direction with his excellent 2020 Ordinary Man album. (Here’s my review of every track on that album.) His latest, 2022’s Patient Number 9, has songs with themes of life, death and religion, but none that are overtly about the end of the world. However, Ordinary Man does: “Today is the End.” Ozzy sings “The sun is black/the sky is red/And it feels like/today is the End/the kids are running/As fast as they can/Could it be that today is the End?” These lyrics are not much more detailed than Fleetwood Mac’s or Muse’s–but coming out of Ozzy, and delivered against a wall of electric guitars, they sound much more ominous.

The fullest rendering of St. John’s vision of the world’s end is provided by Johnny Cash, in “The Man Comes Around” (from his 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around–the last one before his death). This is one of only two songs on the album written by the Man in Black himself. It opens with Cash speaking some of the opening verses from Revelation chapter 6. Then he sings lyrics mixing images from throughout the entire book of Revelation. “Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers/One hundred million angels singing/Voices calling, voice crying/Some are born, some are dying/It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s kingdom come.” There’s more: “‘Til Armageddon, no salaah, no shalom/Then the father hen will call his chickens home/The wise men will bow down before the throne/And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns/When The Man comes around.” The final verses are, again, spoken by Cash: “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts/And I looked and behold, a pale horse/And his name that sat on him was Death/And Hell followed with him.” The music is mostly Cash just by himself on guitar, before other musicians (Mike Campbell of “The Heartbreakers,” and Billy Preston, most famously) come in. Cash’s delivery is much more chilling than even Ozzy’s theatrics, including the infamous oral bat beheading.

This is almost certainly because Johnny Cash was a true believer in the Alpha and Omega Himself: Jesus Christ. I’m not sure the same can be said about Bob Welch, Matthew Bellamy or even Ozzy Osbourne.