So hopefully you have already read my High Gain / Metal Style Pedals article - as this really is a follow-up to that. I determine ’Extreme’ as the more modern metal tone with mid-push and super tight percussive sound. A number of these pedals are highly capable and versatile though - so it really depends how you set them up and how much gain you have dialled in. In any case these are typically the ones at the higher end of that spectrum.
There’s not too much between the Mooer 011 and 012 in terms of overall distortion gain - while they do have a distinctively different core tone - as per each of their respective inspirations - namely the MESA/Boogie Dual Rectifier and Friedman Brown Eye respectively. They sound very faithful to the originals and have quite evidently captured the relevant tonal spectra - and some may simply prefer one to the other. The 011 Cali-Dual is more mid-pushed while the 012 US Gold has a lot more low-end response. My main actual ’extreme’ metal pedal in my chain is the rather larger Diezel VH4-2 - which I determine as a more extreme type of high gain in its frequency profile. For the mini pedals I also really rate the Mooer Rage Machine (DigiTech Death Metal clone) which you might prefer over the two aforementioned. For me though the 012 Cali-Dual PreAmp is the right one for this category.
Many agree that the REVV G3 is currently cream of the crop of the current compact-sized ’metal’ pedals and this one is pride of place for me to right now. It’s 3-way Mode / Aggression switch gives you a whole heap of versatility and the 3-band EQ and really tight delivery allows you to really hone the pedal to your needs. I have mentioned other alternatives for this slot - and some might prefer the new Waza Craft Metal Zone or XIX Tech HMD-1 - or Friedman BE-OD even. For me though the two most versatile modern compact high gain pedals are the Keeley Filaments and the REVV G3 - which I assigned to each of these High Gain categories.
I’ve mentioned before that the Wampler Triple Wreck and Rock Fabrik Mind Abuse are my favourite medium-sized High Gain Pedals - and the Triple Wreck sits more naturally in the Extreme slot - which the Mind Abuse can also do - particularly in its Modern setting - but overall I felt that each suited the placements I made for them.
In the larger pedal category you have a significant number of options. I really like both the Diezel pedals - the VH4-2 and Herbert, as well as the new Horizon Devices Apex PreAmp. The Seymour Duncan Palladium is excellent to, as is the Mesa Boogie Throttle Box EQ. Another favourite is the superb Megalith Delta from MI Effects - and you have a slew of excellent large format HM-2 style clones as I covered previously. I selected the Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro in the end, as I feel it’s probably the most capable and feature-rich overall in this area - with no less than 3 different FX Loops on the pedal, but a number of other really clever detail choices - the smaller Level and Gain Boost dials, and the various Tone-tweaking switches which are in addition to the 3-band EQ. In some ways I prefer the more diminutive Megalith Delta and Apex PreAmp pedals, but I think the Tight Metal Pro can rightfully sit in this slot.
Pedals are listed in order of enclosure size - from small to large.
Even though Ola Englund much prefers the 012 US Gold 100 (Friedman BE-100) which I included in the previous category, you can get great tones with the 011 Cali-Dual too (MESA/Boogie Dual Rectifier) - it just depends how you set it up. The above German Musiker YouTube Channel video shows off the best of this pedal towards the end of the demo. As mentioned before - these are highly dynamic digital replicas of the original inspiration amps - within a tiny 2-channel format which includes 3-band EQ and cab simulation. So popular have many of these Mooer PreAmps becomes that several players are now choosing to use them for their core tone - which makes for an incredibly slimmed down and lightweight yet heavy sounding rig!
This is currently widely accepted as the best of the compact modern high gain pedals. It is super tight and versatile - with 3 gain / voicing or 'Aggression' modes as they call it, plus the usual 3-band EQ. This ousted my Friedman BE-OD as the principal pedal in that specific slot. I've really got nothing bad to say about this - it really delivers. Do note that on certain tunings there does not appear to be a vast difference in gain structure between the Blue and Red Aggression modes. Otherwise if you are looking for a really high gain modern metal pedal - you probably won't be disappointed with this. There are of course several different directions you can go in - more towards the Fuzz / Sizzle side - with the various Boss Metal pedals for instance and the clones and alternatives thereof. Do note that the new Waza edition Metal Zone is generally considered exceptional now too - particularly in the tighter Custom mode. There really is a wide selection of alternatives available and you need to decide exactly which of those tonal profiles you have a preference for. That said there are several pedals with a high degree of versatility that lend themselves more easily towards certain types or all types even.
I really need to hurry up and get one of these - it's been the pedal on my rolling wishlist for the longest time - pretty much since I started conceiving my very first pedalboard / pedal-chain. Yet for whatever reasons it has been pipped to the post by various other pedals - and still remains currently outside my collection / rotation. It also seems that Brian Wampler may be on the brink of announcing the retirement of this pedal as it has been out of stock on the Wampler website pretty much since the start of the year. There are lots of great demos of this pedal - including the That Pedal Show episode featuring Rabea Massaad, and the above Ola Englund demo. This is a classic full-throated and full throttle thick distortion which most should enjoy playing with.
Again, this was superbly demo'd in the That Pedal Show episode with Rabea Massaad - probably the most full-featured of metal pedals currently available. It does not do the 2 Channel thing the Empress Heavy so cleverly does, but does give you all manner of different EQ, Mids, Tightness and Noise Gate settings - alongside smart Boost controls, 3 FX loops and 3-band EQ of course. I'm not really sure why I haven't acquired this one yet - possibly because I so love my current crop of Extreme dialled large pedals - the Diezel VH4-2 and the superb Megalith Delta from MI Effects - I use those alongside the Empress Heavy and REVV G3 for my full complement of Higher Gain pedals in my current pedal-chain. I still have a number of key metal pedals to acquire and this is definitely one of those. Note that this is voiced more for tight and percussive modern style metal, and if you want the more traditional slightly Sag-y vintage or classic styles you need the Fat Metal Pro version - so something like the Megalith Delta - which is more suitable for those voicings. If you want something with a slightly smaller footprint you might also consider the new Apex PreAmp from Misha Mansoor's Horizon Devices. Generally this is a sort of 'horses for courses' thing - and some players are much more narrow in their high gain metal preferences and very much just go in one or two directions.
Just like I've broken the overdrive down into various categories and types - there are indeed very much equivalent distinctions for High Gain and Metal pedals - Early Metal, Death Metal, Sludge, Trash, Grind, Djent etc. As many as 20 or 30 different variations if you track every distinct genre. Each of those has its own flavour of High Gain Distortion - with a distinct frequency profile and overall texture. Some more specialist pedals will only feed directly into those types - while generally I look towards more versatile pedals of a High Gain persuasion. There are also a huge number of essentially fuzz-originated high gain circuits - which are the root of many of those more sizzly types of metal.
You may have read several times that proper high gain players get all their distortion from their amps - but for that you need high noise levels which just aren't practical for the majority of players worldwide. I always try to select pedals with a higher degree of versatility, but there are several metal pedals that just do one thing very well. There's also been all that backlash stuff against pedals like Boss's Metal Zone and DOD's Boneshaker - where players just weren't sufficiently capable of using those parametric EQ controls. Some of these pedals are more finely tuned than others and can easily be dialled into disharmonic territories - so it matters how much due diligence you apply towards your choice of pedal, and how much effort you are willing to spend to get the most out of it.
Note that if I was choosing the most versatile Metal Pedals in each of those slots, I would likely choose differently to what I have done for this context. In any case if you are seeking out more extreme higher gain tones - hopefully I will have propelled you a little further down the road. As previously reported, I have a number of high gain pedals still to acquire - in fact including the Triple Wreck and Tight Metal Pro featured in this article.