David Goggins delivers his most famous quote, “Who’s going to carry the boats?” in the middle of a punishing, 25-rep set on the incline barbell bench. It’s an invigorating question even without its backstory as a motivational slogan he shouted at other Navy SEALS during training. While there are a plethora of workout playlists that use this quote, nobody is asking the real question – who’s going to be the boat?
Transforming your body from a bony, Gumby-like apparatus into a hardened barge is a long and arduous process. You have to eat like cattle, train like hell, and empathize with fictional characters and their monstrous anatomies. More important than that is consistency, which is a strange brew of motivation, goal setting, and tough self-love. You have to tell yourself that somebody has to carry those boats. You need something that gets you in the gym and there’s no better motivator in the heat of the moment than music, which is why some coaches stress that you reserve certain songs for your most daunting sets. Metal is perfect muscle-building music for reasons that needn’t be explained. Notice the usage of “muscle-building,” not simply “weight-lifting” or “exercise,” because although metal is certainly suitable for those activities, that’s not what we’re talking about.
Metal has been gracious towards meatheads this year, so let’s hail the music that will turn you from a being of flesh and blood to one of steel and steel-cut oats.
Creeping Death (feat. Corpsegrinder) – “Intestinal Wrap”
Cannibal Corpse are gym playlist royalty, but Chaos Horrific is still a month away. Thankfully, Corpsegrinder stepped up to the plate early with Creeping Death on “Intestinal Wrap.” For a death metal song that’s barely long enough to cover a set and a rest period, it strikes all the notes necessary to fuel a PR. Its tempo syncs with the appropriate weight-lifting rhythm (controlled yet powerful); its vigor alone will give you a bicep pump, and its bass solo, regardless of brevity, makes you want to throw a medicine ball through a wall.
Most importantly, the track’s final minute is the cure for inter-set fatigue. With almost supernatural precognition, Creeping Death knew someone would listen to “Intestinal Wrap” on an AMRAP leg press set, so they step on the gas pedal to reduce the lactic acid build-up. The song is the group’s dedication to those who do the work they don’t want to do—calf raises, neck curls, weighted crunches. It’s for the folks who know that an RPE of nine on the hack squat machine is further away than it seems. “Intestinal Wrap” is for those who are mad they can still fit through doorways.
Trespasser – “The Great Debt Strike I: A Pillar of Smoke”
Is lifting weights praxis? That’s a question you shouldn’t be asking yourself in a workout because the only question that matters is, do you want to look like a genetically modified organism? Of course, the answer is yes. Praxis is relevant to Trespasser, as the anarchist band mobilize through sheer ferocity. Their energy is potent enough to light a fire in your gut and, in turn, use that fire productively. That is, if class warfare gets your adrenaline pumping. If not, Trespasser’s black metal that’s equal parts violent and vital, in a sense that’s not dissimilar from hardcore punk, will slap some meat on your bones.
Bonginator – “Blunt Smoke Suffocation”
Lifting light weight to “Blunt Smoke Suffocation” feels like heresy. Not only is Bonginator’s strain of 100% THC death metal infectious, but it’s ridiculous. It’s about killing someone with weed, yet the Boston group performs it like an open challenge to meet in the octagon. When Erik Thorstenn growls, “Cough up blood, start to choke, suffocate, from the smoke,” he does so with the same energy of a 60-year-old former powerlifter whose competitive spirit has blown his knees to smithereens, and now he needs you to squat the weight he never could. Inhale the smoke, soldier. You’re going to war.
Rannoch – “Threads”
As mentioned in the premiere for Rannoch’s newest album, “Threads” is weight-slamming music. It’s what your soul hears when the plates rattle on a heavy squat or the cables creak as you run them through the largest range of motion your delts have ever felt.
Progressive metal isn’t everyone’s go-to when they’re terraforming human muscle, but “Threads” certainly could be, as it’s the most digestible track from Conflagrations. Its stimulatory effects come from its tonality and groove. Saying the guitars conjure nu metal comparisons isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, though Rannoch are leagues above that genre. They succeed where most nu metal fails by journeying beyond simply imitating danger. They push a demanding pace on “Threads,” jaunting between grooves, riffs, and rhythms like a training partner egging you on to do one more rep. And, be honest, you wouldn’t forgive yourself if you didn’t get one more.
Ascended Dead – “Ungodly Death”
As fitness and mental health have become inseparable, so much so that “lift heavy weight make sad head voice quiet” isn’t just a meme but an example of cutting a sentence down to its fundamental core, one fictional character has risen as an example of the emotional, jacked ideal – Guts from Berserk. Beyond hosting one of the most aspirational aesthetics in fiction, Guts represents the need to hone one’s craft and turn it into their strength to connect with the greater world.
Now, anyone with voluminous horse legs will tell you how many friends they can make just by wearing shorts with three-inch inseams. Getting big and beefy isn’t just a way to kill a few hours; it’s also an avenue to repurpose life’s stressors and push against resistance that pushes back as hard as you need it to. When the rest of the world is chaotic, the weights are controlled.
“Ungodly Death” is both the closest death metal has come to capturing Berserk’s feel in 2023 and the necessary chaos we need to rile against in the weight room. The track is anything but tame, rhythmic, or encouraging. It’s a firefight against demons who want nothing more than to see you tear your pecs on a bench press. Ascended Dead motivate you through fear, conjuring images of a lake of blood beneath an eclipse. With them, there is no sink or swim -—There’s only survival.