Circle Pit, Vol. VI, June 2016: “What is ‘Good’ Metal?”

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This month’s questions came to us from contributor and fallen angel J. Andrew. It reads:

“If you could create a single CD worth of metal that represents what “Great Metal” means to you, what would you put on that CD? Remember, a standard CD is limited to 1 hr and 17 min. Don’t worry too much about covering all types, just be comprehensive enough to cover your definition of quality metal music.”

Manny-O-War: I thought about this for quite some time. I even tried to make some lists that make me look really awesome and diverse. It was hard. Like metal? You should listen to one hour and seventeen minutes (which I nailed ON THE FUCKING NOSE) of Darkthrone.

Corey: This was, as I’m sure you can imagine, an arduous task. But at the end of the day, when I sit back and reflect on what makes metal so great, and what it is that I appreciate most about it, it really boils down to diversity and acceptance. The boundaries of what we consider “metal” are endlessly expanding, allowing the genre to offer a little bit of everything through the infinite number of subgenres that exist. In turn, my list represents a wide variety of metal songs that have all struck a personal chord with me over the years. The organization of these tracks is as diverse as the music they cover. Oh, but don’t worry, it’s also mostly black metal and melodic death metal. Because I’m me. Obviously.

Josh: One playlist of my definition of “great metal” and within hours my brain melted. Obviously i figured out very quickly that my definition cannot be properly identified in 77 minutes but rules are rules and who knows, one of you might just want to burn a CD of one of these. This list represents many of my highlights through the years, and many that I return to on a regular basis. Some I am absolutely attached at the hip to due to a life event directly tied to it and some are just favorites of mine. I’m a fan of all kinds of music and metal is no different as you’ll see with my many jumps through genres. These are ordered chronologically by album year and after reviewing the order it actually lines up with how I initially found each one of these bands. Maybe not by year but definitely in order. Bottom line is, if I had to go to a deserted island with one playlist of metal for the rest of my life I would be happy with this one and hopefully you can find something here you’ve never heard that can be a future favorite as well. After all that’s what it’s all about — exploration and discovery. By all means read through all of these as I know we will all have some extremely great picks to sift through, enjoy.

Schuler: Some of my favorite bands aren’t on this list. A couple bands on this list, even though they’re monumental for me, they’re only listened to on rare occasions. If you asked me a year ago, it’d be different. Odds are that it’d be different a week from now, too. I think these songs mostly grasp at ideals, try to disprove them, or try to disregard them. That’s what heavy music does for me… it either champions, aims to destroy, or distracts through embracing carelessness or exploring despair. And in a few cases, it does all this shit at once. The set starts with conviction and ends with nihilism. Because that how each day works, and that’s ultimately what life is.

*Note: Acid Bath was supposed to be the third song in this playlist. But since Spotify can’t seem to get their shit together, here’s another way to listen to it:

Dan: Hat’s off to Mr. Zalucky, as this topic actually proved to be a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Putting together a “great metal” playlist? Hell, I could do that shit in my sleep. But actually defining “great metal”? That’s a different ballgame — a far more difficult one, in which you’re constantly getting beaned by inner devil’s advocates and definition holes.

I thought long and hard, and in the end… I mean, I don’t know if I’ve pinpointed the definition completely. How do you articulate a completely natural human response — liking a song — across a genre with so much diversity of styles, sounds and artistic visions? Ultimately, I think I’m going to define great metal as “metal that I can revisit anytime, any place, and still be as affected by it as I was on my first listen.” Sure, the exact effect of the music will be different on me, depending on the genre, but ideally, the song will still move me in the same way as it did when I was introduced to it.

Is this a correct definition? Probably not. An educated definition? Not even remotely. Are folks going to include the same songs on their lists? In most cases, I strongly doubt it. But it’s what I’ve got, and the only thing I can think of that’ll cast a wide-enough net to cover all of the songs I want to include on this list. Check out my list below!

J. Andrew: What’s the point of even asking “What is good metal?” It’s all relative, right? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that trying to establish some standards of quality is unnecessary. Think of the exercise as the metal equivalent of Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: our time on Earth is limited, so we are forced to prioritize what to read and listen to, because we can’t possibly listen deeply to every single metal release in existence. Broadly speaking, great metal has a sense of power and glory to it, but without being a cheesy parody of itself. It explores (or even embraces) extreme and upsetting subjects, without resorting to just being gross or “controversial” for its own sake. Finally, it displays musical talent and proficiency, without just showing off. In short, the devices of aggression, extremity and technique must serve some meaningful artistic purpose.

However, these principles can be stretched to include bands that move them in interesting directions. This would explain my including Killswitch Engage and In Flames. But these qualities should at least be fully developed, which is why I didn’t include Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest –– as much as I adore all three. This also explains the inclusion of The Black Dahlia Murder, representing an highly-enjoyable culmination of death and black metal sounds. Of course, there are plenty of other bands I’d like to include, but chose (like Bloom) to leave as the “extended canon.” These bands still fit my criteria, but may be unbalanced in one area or another that made me prioritize them less. In other cases, they reside too close to the hardcore universe to fit strict classification as metal. If you like the below, here are some bands for disc two: Carcass, Deicide, Marduk, Agalloch, Ulver, Beherit, Amorphis, Sentenced, Suffocation, Anaal Nathrakh, Converge, Nails, Sodom, Sacramentum, Unanimated, Angelcorpse, Samael, Down, Despised Icon, Sepultura and so on.

And that wraps up Volume VI of the Circle Pit. Have a any thoughts to add? Of course you do. Hit us up on Twitter (@_NineCircles) or leave your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, feel free to drop Circle Pit suggestions at us at


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