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24 of the Best Compact High Gain and Metal Style Distortion Pedals - Updated 2019 Edition

Abasi ConceptsAiris EffectsAleks K ProductionAmptweakerAMT ElectronicsAnarchy AudioBlackhawk AmplificationBossDistortionDOD EffectsFriedman EffectsKeeley EngineeringKHDKLone Wolf AudioMESA/BoogieMetal DistortionRedbeard EffectsREVV AmplificationThropyFXWamplerWeehboXIX Tech FX+-
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This is an update to the feature I wrote back in March of this year. I now have more of this selection in my collection - 18 of these 24, and there are 3 pedals that are new to this updated roundup - the Airis Effects Nemesis PreAmp, Blackhawk Amplifiers Balrog Distortion V3, and of course the Redbeard Effects Red Mist MKIV.


The 6 here that I’ve yet to acquire for my collection but which are of course all on the wishlist are the aforementioned Airis Effects Nemesis PreAmp and Blackhawk Amplification Balrog V3, the Amptweaker TightMetal JR, Boss Heavy Metal HM-2, KHDK Dark Blood Distortion, and MESA Engineering Throttle Box Distortion.


For the HM-2 I already have a number of very suitable alternatives including two here - in the guise of the Keeley Filaments and XIX Tech HMD-1, but also the superb miniature replication that it the Decibelics Angry Swede. I am still patiently waiting for Boss to reissue a hopefully Waza Craft version of the HM-2.


I believe that the Nemesis, TightMetal JR and Blackhawk Balrog are the next likeliest acquisitions. This is of course my preferential selection and I like all of these - with the REVV G3 and Redbeard Red Mist being the two currently active in my pedal-chain along with the Empress Heavy and MI Effects Megalith Delta horizontal medium format varieties. Those two compact enclosure high gain slots in my chain see a lot of rotation where the second slot is usually set to a higher more extreme gain, and has had the REVV G4, Aleks K Red Scorpion, and now the Redbeard Red Mist as principal pedals. In the past I had assigned different ones of these to different priorities across the two slots - but nowadays rotate these pedals fairly freely between those slots.


There’s a range of different tonalities here - some more focused, mid-pushed and modern, and some more saturated, saggy and vintage. You have some with slightly more cutting tones, and others which are more doomy and sludgy. There are a lot of high gain distortion pedals out there - but these are my current 24 favourites - as always I’m probably overlooking one or two, some I may not be aware of, others that I may have already discounted. Generally I am very satisfied with this selection and believe it holds up very well against any other of this kind.


Different pedals here will no doubt appeal to different players - but these are all excellent really and worthy of your consideration.


Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual:

Abasi Concepts Pathos Distortion - £169


This was a weirdly stealthy release last year - it came into Thomann totally unannounced and I acquired it from there a few days before it was up for sale at Andertons. This is Tosin Abasi's current signature pedal and a collaboration with Brian Wampler as can be seen by the enclosure style - I really consider this a Wampler pedal and file it with its siblings. It has 3-band EQ and 2 modes - Smooth and Edge. I tend to stick entirely with the more biting 'Edge' variety where you get some fantastic modern mids-forward metal rhythm tones. This pedal gets rotated on the same pedal-chain slot alongside the REVV G3, Friedman BE-OD, Keeley Filaments, Wampler Dracarys, Weehbo Bastard and LWA F.O.A.D. - where the G3 currently seems to get the most love - but each pedal is sufficiently distinct to warrant rotation and they all get their time in the spotlight.

Airis Effects Nemesis PreAmp - $189


I have been following Canadian brand Airis for a while but have yet to hit the trigger on an acquisition - although that day will surely come. Airis is one Rick Seidlitz - who has picked up quite a reputation for his metal-centric range of pedals and has the very intriguing Nebula Advanced Overdrive forthcoming. The Nemesis is a classic modern high gain distortion with plenty of push and gain on tap - with that typical 5-knob control topology and featuring 3-Band EQ. The core tone is rich and tight, and I've seen many compare it in the ballpark of the REVV G3 albeit its tonal profile is somewhat different. I really like the sound of this, and as I've stated already will no doubt be adding at some stage in the not too distant future.

Aleks K Production Red Scorpion Mega Distortion V2 - $259 (Direct)


I've mentioned a couple of times on this site that Aleks K pedals could do with some more publicity and support (I've done my bit!) - these are superbly well crafted pedals from Canada, family-made! I really like the bark of the Red Scorpion - particular for rhythm tones, and it is one of the many pedals listed here high on my wishlist. Possibly I prefer Aleks K's Maple Leaf Royal Overdrive a touch more - but that pedal is not in this category. This pedal has been in the collection for a number of months now and sees significant rotation on the slot otherwise mostly occupied by the Redbeard Red Mist and REVV G4.

Amptweaker Tight Metal Jr - £149


James Brown's Amptweaker pedals have been on my radar for a long time - and I've just recently decided that for certain of my Metal pedals I much prefer the more compact enclosure sizes - so I will likely be adding the Tight Meal in the Jr format rather than the somewhat more richly featured Pro version. Part of me really wants / needs 3-band EQ - but Amptweaker gets around this by providing plenty of EQ-shaping options via other switches. This is another pedal that is highly likely to be added to the collection before too long.

AMT Electronics R2 PreAmp (Rectifier) - £130


Russia's AMT pedals are often overlooked, but some of them - like this MESA Rectifier inspired R2 are just too good to be ignored. Very reasonably priced and available from Moscow courtesy of - this is definitely a pedal that I will be adding to the collection (added actually!) - it has a lovely combination of bark and bite with just the right degree of tone-shaping to get the most out of it. Many players ask me about viable MESA distortion options - and at this size my picks are this R2 PreAmp, and MESA's own Throttle Box q.v.

Anarchy Audio Deadwoods Fuzzstortion - c£140 (


This one arrived at the start of the year from Australia - after a few weeks of transit - mostly courtesy of crappy UK customs delays. I included the Deadwoods in my HM-2 overview as it is a monster high gain fuzz hybrid based on a crossover/mashup/evolution of the Boss HM-2 and Shin-Ei FY-2 circuits. It has a pretty vast range of tones - and although not exactly HM-2, it puts you very much in that ballpark.

Blackhawk Amplifiers Balrog Distortion V3 - $200


Headed up by Brooks Blackhawk this Portland-based mostly high-gain amplifier workshop has a number of appealingly sizzling pedals on its roster too - including a number of high gain fuzzes and this superb high gain distortion. The latest iteration of Balrog comes somewhat 'weathered' or relic'd which I've yet to make up my mind about - looks-wise - I'm not the biggest fan of artificial ageing. In any case you get 6 knobs here in the following current V3 configuration - Volume | Mids | Gain | Treble | Bass | Depth. I really like the doomy sludge potential here - it's a slightly different flavour to these others and one that's definitely on my imminent acquisitions list.

Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer : discontinued - c£100 lightly used (


Anyone who knows their modulations is aware of how delay and chorus in particular can add 'juice' and depth to distortions. I use chorus, flanger and phaser variously to shape my distortions - obviously for EVH-style sounds but for much more besides - also the TC Electronic Mimiq Double for extra texture and dynamics. Boss, in recognising this - built a combination pedal back in the day (early 90's) which has a wonderfully biting analog distortion at its core in SLO mode, but then adds 3 Digital Delay Doubling and 2 Digital Chorus effects options to get progressively heavier flavours of distortion. This pedal is very much within HM-2 and MT-2 territory, so may be too fizzy for some - while for many others it's a sort of secret weapon. It's long since discontinued, but can be had for a pretty reasonable price on - some of these are obviously battered - so make sure you find one in sufficiently reasonable condition. I've recently added one of these to the collection in near enough the condition I wanted.

Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal : discontinued - c£150 lightly used (


The long-discontinued and still very much in-demand Boss HM-2, the core of the Swedish Death Metal Sound and a tone much loved by metal aficionados the world over - note that several players like to further juice this pedal with an upstream Tube Screamer boost. I did a piece on alternatives to this discontinued pedal - as sometimes the going price for a pristine second hand version is verging on the ridiculous on - but good buys can still be had if you're careful. Right now I consider the XIX Tech HMD-1 an excellent improved alternative for this - there are several larger pedal options too - as well as the fantastic mini pedal version Angry Swede from Decibelics - which came out earlier this year. Many are hoping - as am I that Boss will eventually see its way fit to creating a Waza Craft edition of the HM-2 with the same kind of tone options as the recent Wazacraft MT-2w.

Boss ML-2 Metal Core Distortion - £96


Boss's other often overlooked metal pedal alongside the MZ-2 - this is actually many player's favourite Boss high gain distortion (including Rob Chapman) - as it has a more rounded and significantly less fizzy frequency profile than the HM-2 and MT-2. It is also significantly the lowest cost option in this listing - and is actually a really great underrated pedal - although I would of course still prefer to see it with an HM-2 style 3-band plus parametric mids tonal arrangement! This pedal always tends to perform well in metal pedal blind tests, but as with every pedal on this page - it really depends how well the pedal is tuned in and how well it sits within your rig! I've acquired one of these pretty recently for the collection.

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Keeley 'Twilight Zone' Mod - c£140 lightly used (


The wrongly much-maligned but still well-loved Metal Zone pedal is nevertheless much improved in its Keeley Modded 'Twilight Zone' edition. I acquired mine from a Japanese vendor on and really like the nips and tucks Robert has done to the default frequency character. The Keeley mod gives you a 3-way mode selector with Stock, Ultra Tube and Triple Diode - the stock version has a much more even and slightly beefed up tonal profile - particular in the mid-range - while the Ultra and Treble Diode modes both give you different degrees of additional frequency boost. The Keeley Mod is a definite upgrade on the stock Boss pedal and provides a slightly different voicing to both the original and new Waza Craft Boss editions - all are perfectly viable choices. I always think it's amusing to know that despite all its detractors this is Boss's second most-sold pedal of all time after the DS-1.

Boss MT-2w Metal Zone Wazacraft Edition - £119


Even though I have the exceptional Keeley-modded original Metal Zone - I still want this new Waza Craft edition which achieves a fantastic improved tone - in particular on the custom switch option. Boss have very evidently 'tidied' up the mid-range frequency register somewhat, albeit in a slightly different manner to the Keeley mod. The custom setting in particular sounds especially balanced and richly detailed. There is still plenty of frequency range on tap here though, and you still need to be somewhat careful how you apply the parametric mids - which are still rather sensitive, although not nearly has sensitive as they used to be. The parametric mids has always been the greatest strength as well as weakness of the Metal Zone as too many players did not / do not know how to dial it in, and the relatively small dial is so sensitive that tiny movements can make huge differences. I have quite a number of 'Sensitive' pedals where they need a little more patience and due care and attention - but if you're prepared to put in the time - you can often get stellar results! I feel this pedal will go a long way towards redeeming the Metal Zone's reputation amongst all players - even though many of us supported it from the start - and there will of course be detractors regardless. This is however by any measure a really great modern metal pedal in its latest incarnation, and well worth a look-in. This has been recently added to the collection too.

DOD Boneshaker Distortion by Black Arts Toneworks : discontinued - $150 when new (


This is an even crazily more sensitive pedal than the Metal Zone as it has a trio of parametric controls for ultimate tonal flexibility. Much like the Metal Zone - several players fail to get on with this pedal - but this Black Arts Toneworks collaboration can also yield rich rewards if you're prepared to put in the time. I personally could have done with a little more gain onboard, but you can't quibble over the versatility of this pedal. It's a touch sad that so many failed to get on with it which resulted in its discontinuation - there are still a few pristine examples that crop up occasionally on - which is where I got mine.

Friedman BE-OD Distortion - £177


I almost forgot to list this option for the REVV G3 slot - where this is/was the actual original incumbent - for a long time this was my sort of lower higher gain end metal pedal of choice - but a larger number of new pedals have been launched / added since, and the REVV G3 is probably the overall favourite on that slot currently. I really want this pedal to pick up the new changes introduced on the BE-OD Deluxe - i.e. Tightness becomes a toggle selector switch on the side of the pedal, and the former Tightness dial gets given over to a much needed Mids frequency controller. This is a pretty great sounding pedal which many love - but the middle frequencies are so important for so many modern players - including myself. I am hoping for an improved V2 release of this within these next 12 months or so.

Keeley Filaments High Gain Distortion - £179


This pedal was on my wishlist for the longest time - I initially considered it versus the Wampler Dracarys when they both originally came out - but ended up going with the former, and making all manner of priority decisions along the way - while the Filaments was probably superior and more versatile to many of the pedals I initially acquired in its stead. Doing the HM-2 alternatives article finally sealed the deal when I discovered that the Filaments could get you well into that territory alongside a number of other really appealing but generally more dark-side tones. This really is one of the most versatile high gain pedals out there, but it does have quite a distinct core tone and timbre which lends itself more towards those darker and doomier tones! It's in no way an HM-2 clone, but does get you pretty nicely into that territory if you so wish.

KHDK Dark Blood Distortion - £189


Kirk Hammett's signature pedal for sure has a lot of fans - while I still feel it could have done with 3-band EQ and a little more gain on-tap. It nevertheless sufficiently captures his core dynamics and with 'Doom' voicing dial and Hi/Lo gain toggle-switch it delivers sufficient versatility for most of his fans. I currently have this as a nice to have pedal rather than a metal pedal essential - but for many it will do the job just fine.

Lone Wolf Audio F.O.A.D. Distortion - £189


Lone Wolf Audio is much more famous for its large and medium-size pedals like the Left Hand Wrath HM-2 clone. This compact edition though is the signature pedal for Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone and suitably captures that rather mid-pushed modern tonality. The four dials on offer are the classic Volume, Gain and Tone plus an EQ Shift which acts as a sort of low pass filter to remove bass frequencies for a punchier attack/tone. This pedal gets a fair amount of rotation on the REVV G3 slot - it has a slightly different timbre to it, but it could probably overall do with some more tone-shaping options as an updated future version.

MESA Engineering Throttle Box Distortion - £185


As mentioned for the AMT R2 above - that and this pedal are the only proper compact edition MESA Rectifier style pedals that I'm aware of. As always I would have preferred 3-band EQ, but we do have a the Lo/Hi gain mode selector alongside Mid Cut control to give you most of the voicing options you would want. This is a decent if not quite stellar replication of the much loved MESA sound - because of the greater tone-shaping abilities I feel I would more likely side with the AMT R2. There are several pedals here that give you a MESA-eque tone, but only two properly dedicated original source varieties - would be interesting to know here if I've overlooked some other notable alternatives. I feel that MESA could probably do with an update of this pedal with a few more tone-shaping options - particularly in light of much improved competition of late.

Redbeard Effects Red Mist MKIV Distortion - £185


I've already waxed lyrical about this Mikey Demus Signature Pedal / Thorpy collaboration - and it's of course gone straight into my chain on the principally REVV G4 / Aleks K Red Scorpion slot. This is a lovely fuzz-edged sizzling high gain distortion based largely on Mikey's signature Orange Rockerverb 100 sound. It has the classic 5-knob control topology with 3-Band EQ. What sets this one apart is just how finely it has been calibrated - you get great tones right across the range of every dial - and this is most definitely one of my favourite high gain distortions - well worth the investment.

REVV G3 Distortion - £199


And so to the first of the REVV Amplification pedals - this was quite the revelation when launched around Easter of last year - a genuine modern amp-like heavy-hitter metal style pedal which received almost uniformly rapturous applause - and was very quickly added to my chain. Obviously it pretty faithfully captures Channel 3 of the very highly regarded REVV Generator Amps - and runs that pretty close in dynamics and richness of texture. It is currently the principal choice on the next-highest level of gain saturation in my pedal-chain. This is just a really classic modern mid-pushed amp-like metal pedal that should be high on everyone's wishlist if you don't already have it.

REVV G4 Distortion - £199


Announced in the run-up to Christmas, and in my hands on January 10th - well in advance of NAMM, this REVV Generator Channel 4 pedal gives you even more metal oomph than the well-received G3. I had been running my Wampler Triple Wreck in the typical Diezel VH4-2 slot and quickly decided that the G4 could really sort of replace both of those - for a more full-frequency style of metal - with more of a low end push and significantly more gain saturation than the G3. Those 2 pedals actually really complement each other and give you the perfect range of modern metal tones with a particularly dynamic and texturally rich amp-like delivery. It's hard to say which I prefer more - the G3 or G4 - each has its moments on any given day. These are currently my preferred 'Metal' pairing at the higher levels of gain - but I do also accompany those with a MI Effects Megalith Delta and Empress Heavy - so a variety of metal tones all-round. I feel that the G4 can deliver MESA Rectifier style tones pretty well too - so if you're looking for that kind of tonality and want the most versatility currently out there in this form factor - then this is a very good choice for that too.

Wampler Dracarys High Gain Distortion - £189


Back at the time when both this and the Keeley Filaments were released in short succession I went with this over the Keeley - being a fan of Ola Englund and his core tone and with GOT at its height - it kind of fitted that the Dracarys was the one selected - while in retrospect the Keeley Filaments is the more capable and versatile pedal. That's not to say that the Dracarys doesn't do its job well - as an Ola-style modern chug tone - this is a pretty good match, but overall the pedal doesn't have a huge degree of variety even with its 3-band EQ, and I always felt it could do with a touch more gain. I still like this pedal, and it still features in my rotation, but feel that this pedal could have been even better executed than it was with just a couple of minor tweaks.

Weehbo Bastard Low End Distortion - £179


This is totally an under-the-radar and under-appreciated pedal - weirdly classified as a Low End Distortion - because of how much low end frequency it preserves in its core tone. As Brett demonstrate above though this pedal has plenty of bite and aggression and would make for a perfect modern sort of Metal tone - not quite as dark and doomy as some here - but really with plenty of range on tap. This may well be my next acquisition. Update - I did get one of these and it sounds pretty much as expected - I find that it could do with a little more volume onboard - I've tried running at both 9V and 18V - but I still feel it could do with a notch or two more. Most of my other Metal style pedals are pretty fantastic in the output and gain department - but there are some here too that could do with just a little bit more - still a great core tone here - and of course it sounds best on the most open / middle setting of 3-way toggle. Lots of people gave got those details wrong - the 3 modes here are - Dark, Modern and Old School going from left to right.

XIX Tech HMD-1 Distortion - £167 (


And last but certainly not least we have the excellent HM-2 clone from Russian outfit XIX Tech - I have (had) been chasing up Dmitry for when more of these are going to be available (Acquired!) and he says there is a new batch coming in March (I've already reserved mine - got even). This was the surprise winner in my HM-2 alternatives feature - where with its very unique Focus control - which offers increased separation of the twin peaking frequencies in the mid-range character which are so instrumental in the HM-2 sound. With far superior tone control, internal voltage increased to 22V and more gain on tap - this is a considerably beefed up version of the HM-2 which most fans of that sound should love - it's also very fairly priced - but do note that there will be customs import charges added to the displayed total.

Final Thoughts

I will reiterate once more to state that these are very much my own current favourite varieties - there are obviously plenty more out there - most of which I know about, but some no doubt that I've overlooked. Some of those I will have discounted for a variety of reasons, while others I might just not have got to yet. This is a pretty dynamic selection and I will chop and change as new information comes in. If you feel I've overlooked a significant variety - then by all means send me a copy for trial.


I feel this selection stands up well to scrutiny and gives a very balanced overview of what is currently out there. I aim to have the entirety of this selection - which currently means 6 more to go as mentioned in the intro. I will definitely be acquiring the Airis Nemesis, Amptweaker TightMetal JR and Blackhawk Balrog V3 next (early next year most likely) - while I wait for Boss to reissue the HM-2 in some guise, and am not as pressed to add the KHDK Dark Blood and MESA Throttle Box yet - in fact I'm sort of waiting to see if MESA do something with their pedals soon as it's certainly time for a refresh there.


I still feel there is space for yet more varieties in this category - I would like to see more doomy, sludgy sustaining distortions with a sort of shimmery wall of sound impact, and more pedals with saturating gain and punch which are tight but sort of liquid too (at least up to the cut-off point)!


As mentioned there is a huge variety of tones here vintage and modern and some obviously appeal more to certain types of players / genre players. I am not afraid to say that I am an eclectic and love all these varieties.


All these things seem to be cyclical and currently my higher compact pedal high gain slot is occupied by the Redbeard Red Mist - with the REVV G4 and Aleks K Red Scorpion on sometime rotation. While the lower gain high gain slot is mostly occupied by the REVV G3 - with several Boss varieties in the current rotation - but the 2 Wampler's and Keeley too - in fact quite a lot of rotation on the mostly REVV G3 slot!


Hopefully you will find something here that appeals.

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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