As the first season of HBO's gripping video game adaptation The Last Of Us reaches its finale, fungus - the organism behind the dreaded infection that turns everyone into flesh-eating zombies on the show - has become a growing subject of fascination.
While other recent popular programmes such as Netflix’s Fantastic Fungi and How To Change Your Mind introduced us to the psychedelic and medicinal uses of fungus, the HBO post-apocalyptic zombie drama is proof that these strange organisms have a whole plethora of functions, and some are not so welcome.
The species of mushroom in The Last Of Us were inspired by cordyceps, a type of fungus that in reality can only live on insects (not humans!). Specifically, this organism turns its prey into zombie-like creatures by taking over its nervous system and subsequent use of its body, effectively driving it to insanity as it loses its bodily control. The parasitic species then typically sprouts out of its host like something out of a horrifying sci-fi novel, as it tries to spread its spores as far as possible.
Endlessly baffling, fungus has inspired in many ways, be it opening our minds to entire new psychedelic worlds or by bringing our nightmares into reality. Therefore, we thought we’d take a trip down the rabbit hole to explore what other inspiration these strange organisms have ignited via music. And for even trippier tunes, check out Tarun Nayar, who harnesses the bioelectricity of mushrooms to create his own music.
With all that said, here are nine classic songs inspired by mushrooms, fungus and other such things.
Les Claypool - Mushroom Men (Of Fungi And Foe, 2009)
Les Claypool’s solo output, just like most of his work with Primus, has always been pretty bonkers. And his Of Fungi and Foe album opener Mushroom Men is no exception. Driven by a bass line that could easily be described as what it might sound like if toadstools could talk, this plodding, wibble-wobbler of a song is a bizarre wonderland that’s part acid-trip, part swampy scuba dive.
Of Fungi And Foe is a collection of songs from two soundtracks, one written for the interactive video game Mushroom Men about “a meteor that hits Earth and brings intelligence to the mushrooms within the crash proximity”, and a film called Pig Hunt, which was “about a three thousand pound wild boar that terrorises the marijuana fields of Northern California.” Cocaine Bear, eat your heart out.
Dog Fashion Disco (featuring Serj Tankian) - Mushroom Cult (Anarchists Of Good Taste, 2001)
Before you shout the words “Kombucha mushroom people!”, System Of A Down actually have a far better connection to the world of fungi than their 1998 track Sugar. In 2001, Maryland prog metallers Dog Fashion Disco collaborated with SOAD frontman Serj Tankian on their Anarchists of Good Taste brain-melter Mushroom Cult. Its organ-backed, creepy melody is fittingly strange and shroomy, with a janky rhythm and offbeat lyrics about “floating in a mushroom universe” with a “high priest” of a “mushroom cult” that lives “inside the moon”. Just wait until the hyperactive merry-go-round-like bridge; that’ll certainly get your head in a spin.
Bambi Thug - Psilocybin (Psilocyber, 2021)
What’s the “hidden secret” to life? No one really knows, obviously, but nu gen star Bambi Thug thinks she might have cracked it in this ode to psilocybin, the psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of fungi. As she hallucinates sacred geometry and experiences sound in new ways, an electronic splutter sparks against its dark ambience like electricity sizzling along synapses inside a brain. It’s freaky, and totally out of this world.
Queens Of The Stone Age - Monsters In The Parasol (Rated R, 2010)
Back in 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD, a chemical he synthesised from ergot, a type of fungus that infects grain. Fast forward some years later, and Joshua Homme would use the drug - along with many other musicians - as a mind-opening source of inspiration. Rated R’s Monsters In The Parasol supposedly explores Homme’s first ever LSD trip, as he surrenders to the anxiety of some rather confusing side effects including watching “Paul’s sister” turn into an “alien”. Meanwhile, the song is steered by a hypnotic, see-sawing guitar that perfectly captures Homme’s uneasy mood.
Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit (Surrealistic Pillow, 1967)
Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland may not have purposely been written about drugs, but since the 1960s, the children’s tale has been spun into a psychedelic symbol of sorts. Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 anthem White Rabbit runs with this theme, with lyrics that explore someone’s trip after “chasing rabbits” and eating “some kind of mushroom”. Spurred on by the LSD-driven hippie counterculture movement of the 60s, White Rabbit is an erotic elixir, complete with pattering drums and floaty lyrics that feels very shroomy indeed. Entrancing, yes, but also somewhat jarring.
Leaf Hound - Growers Of Mushroom (Growers Of Mushrooms, 1971)
Leaf Hound may not have made it to the bigtime, but their 1970 debut LP Growers Of Mushrooms is a quintessential record for all fans of early stoner rock and psychedelic blues. Its title-track is an earthy cascading clamber through the confusing nature of hallucinatory experiences, emitted through anxiety-ridden lyrics such as ‘laughing and screaming and clawing and cursing, fighting my way through this unplanned dream’. Sounds like quite the rough trip. The song’s title itself was inspired by a fungal horror story from the Pan Book of Horror Stories, about a woman who slowly poisons her husband with toadstools.
Wildhearts - Liberty Cap (Anarchic Airwaves, 1998)
A liberty cap is the type of mushroom that produces the psychoactive compound psilocybin, the substance explored for its “healing” properties in this 1998 Wildhearts track. While its lyrics portray a sense of calm and ease (‘Misty waters calling down / Surrounding me with healing’ / ‘The breathing corridors around me / Embryo I am my mother smothers me in safety’), its jumpy, punk rhythm - especially on the chorus - exudes an extreme restlessness and intensity. There's a desperate need to cling onto the “high” that’s momentarily conjured a - perhaps false - sensation of safety.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Mycelium (Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, 2022)
It might have something to do with their habit of firing out albums as quickly as buns being baked in a bakery, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s impact on the neo-psychedelic movement remains undisputed. Their peculiar cosmos feeds from an expansive array of sources and otherworldly sounds, aptly exhibited via their eccentrically-titled 2022 album, Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava. Its bouncing opener, Mycelium (which is a network of root-like fungal structures) comes across like a song from the perspective of a mushroom, flourishing in a post-apocalyptic world as it works to spread its spores over a planet no longer foolishly governed by the “dead bald-primates” (AKA humans). ‘What the hell is happening to me? / Spore filled breath / I’ll spread myself over the forest floor and infect the elk / Feasting on decay and sprouting anew / I’ll make my biome part of mycelium’.
Infected Mushroom - Disco Mushroom (Classical Mushroom, 2000)
Alright, so Israeli psytrance duo Infected Mushroom might not technically be a rock or metal band, but anyone that's been to one of their incendiary, chaotic shows knows that they go hard, with the group's co-founder Amit Duvdevani, a lifelong heavy metal fan, often playing guitar to beef up the band's live sound. Plus, when it comes to this list, the clue's in the band's title, with mushroom-themed songs and imagery being a cornerstone of their early albums. This spacey track, taken from the two-piece's 2000 sophomore album Classical Mushroom, is an expansive, futuristic piece of progressive trance that'll take you to the outer limits far faster than any fungus cooked up in your local hippie mate's basement.
The Last Of Us is available to stream through NOW TV (opens in new tab) in the UK and HBO in the US.