Metal tones are deceptively complex. It might seem like you just dime the gain and rock yourself into oblivion, but carving out an exceptional high gain sound is no small feat. Distilling this degree of raw power and tonal articulation into a pedal format, then, is a tall order. This week we ask one of the most timeless questions of stompbox history: does it metal?
Starting in the 1980s, there was a surge of pedals that emerged on the market with the term “metal” in their title. While metal evolved in multiple directions out of this decade, the library of compact effects that played to these interests only grew. So where might you go to toss a bit of metal on your pedalboard?
Here’s a Riff City roundup of our top five favorite and forgotten “metal” pedals.
Boss Metal Zone
No metal madness listicle is complete without the Boss Metal Zone, so we might as well pay homage at the outset. Initially released in 1991, this pedal in fact followed on the heels of another metal pedal, the Boss HM-3 Hyper Metal. The Metal Zone is both loved and loathed, yet the scales tipped toward the former as Boss recently re-released the effect in their boutique Waza Craft series.
Since no modern high gain sound is indebted to fuzz, this Big Muff offering also capitalized on the sonic and marketing hook of a metallic title. So what makes this pedal metal? Unlike most Muffs, you’ll find even more tone sculpting for the fuzz-type drive with a three band EQ as well as a switchable 10 db boost for when you need to drop kick the audience with a blazing solo.
Digitech Metal Master Heavy Metal Distortion
This one gets bonus points for including the word “metal” twice in the title. Like all others, there’s no shortage of gain on tap. However, the unique contribution here is a “morph” knob, which essentially blends the sound between three separate metal distortion sounds. Much like the famed Boss offering above, this pedal too comes from a deeper pedigree. In this case, it’s the legendary Digitech Death Metal Distortion was released around the same era. One feature common to both is the split outputs for dividing the signal between an amplifier and direct to mixer sound.
Ibanez MSL Metal Screamer
Though Tube Screamers are known for their gain stacking applications in metal genres, Ibanez went straight to the source with this one. As part of their cult classic ten-series lineup from the 1980s, the Ibanez Metal Screamer offered the company’s made in Japan take on modern metal… or so it seemed. The stompbox comes with three knobs: “drive,” “level,” and “metalix.” But don’t let the clever marketing and hot pink trim deceive you: the metalix knob is basically a tone control and the pedal is essentially a hopped up Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer!
DOD Metal X
No gimmicky name roundup would be complete without an entry by DOD, the masters of creative and outlandish effect and knob titles. In this case, the DOD Metal X deserves a nod. To be fair, honorable mention also goes to the DOD Death Metal FX86, DOD American Metal, DOD Super American Metal — because one is not enough — and DOD Metal Maniac. Already from this list, it’s clear that DOD was staking their claim in the metal market and did so with a fairly stable recipe of three or four knob designs that offered up variations on similar tones. The Metal X is arguably the most straightforward with controls for “level,” “low,” “high,” and “distortion.” Though the pedal ran from 1993-1996, it was retired and resurrected in short order. In 1997, DOD launched the Corrosion pedal which is the Metal X once-gently-over without the genre specific name drop in the title.