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Boss High Gain and Metal Distortion Pedals Past and Present

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In advance of the arrival of the OD-200 I thought it would be good to do an overview of Boss’s own various Drive and Distortion pedals. In my recent ’Yellow Means OverDrive’ feature I covered off all of those particular Boss pedals, so this article is at the other end of the scale of gain - the High Gain and Metal Distortions. I will then follow up with a 3rd article covering those drives and distortions that sit between these and the 9 OverDrive pedals covered already.


I would think that as a group of pedals, Boss’s Metal Distortion Pedals are some of the best-known anywhere - in particular the Heavy Metal, Metal Core and Metal Zone variants - but there are a few more you should be aware of too:


Pedal Chronology

  • 1981 - HM-2 Heavy Metal (discontinued 1992)
  • 1987 - MZ-2 Digital Metalizer (discontinued 1992)
  • 1991 - MT-2 Metal Zone
  • 1993 - HM-3 Hyper Metal (discontinued 1999)
  • 1996 - XT-2 Xtortion (discontinued 1998)
  • 2001 - MD-2 Mega Distortion
  • 2007 - ML-2 Metal Core
  • 2017 - JB-2 Angry Driver
  • 2018 - MT-2w Metal Zone Waza Craft

I’ve been meaning to get more of these myself actually, as I have quite a significant number of high gain distortions in my collection, but only a Keeley Modded Twilight Zone Metal Zone and Angry Driver to date from this selection.


Most of these are still in the current range - that is to say the original Metal Zone, Mega Distortion, Metal Core and recent Angry Driver and Waza Craft Metal Zone. While the Heavy Metal, Digital Metalizer, Hyper Metal and Xtortion have all been discontinued for a while now.


I keep meaning to get the trio of Mega Distortion, Metal Core and Metal Zone Waza, but simply haven’t got around to doing it yet. I’m not sure either about the point of maintaining the original Metal Zone in the range - the newer Waza Craft version is just £33 more, and is significantly a better pedal all-round with a tighter more usable standard mode, and a fantastic further improved custom mode.


I am also surprised that the cult HM-2 Heavy Metal pedal is not back in the range in some format, as pristine examples of this legendary Swedish Death Metal pedal are still in very high demand. I’ve yet to find one of those with the right ratio of condition to price - nearly all the properly lightly used ones are too pricey, and there are a lot of rather worn HM-2’s also at far too high a price point. I’ve indicated that I thought Boss might bring this back as a Waza edition, but there is no sign of that yet - possibly they have some algorithm that calculates it’s not worth doing so - I feel they would sell quite a few though as there are still armies of Swedish Death Metal touring bands and fans which still use these as their main tone-generators!


In recent years Boss’s Metal Pedals came in for some unfair criticism - in particular the Metal Zone which was a joke meme for the longest time - even though it is Boss’s second best selling pedal of all time supposedly. Recent revivalism and playing these pedals through an amp effects loop has largely managed to restore the reputation of these pedals which are all very decent high gain tone machines - some just require more due diligence when dialling in. As you can here from the various below demos there is no ’bad’ sounding pedal amongst these - that is unless of course you don’t like this genre of music. But generally the Boss High Gain Pedals server up very decent chunky soundstage which server most types of metal. You may not like some of the sub-genres, and possibly have other pedals whose core tones and features you prefer, but that doesn’t discount these 9 pedals in the slightest - and the newer ones will hold their own against mosts of what else is out there.


I have always liked the Metal Zone - in my case in its Keeley Modded variation, and I find the Angry Driver sounds exceptional when both circuits are combine in parallel. I feel I will certain add the 3 current ones I don’t yet have, and will look to snag one or two of the others - probably the Digital Metalizer and Xtortion if I can find good condition versions at the right price. I already have several HM-2 clones, and will patiently await the reissue of the original - hopefully with more of a Metal Zone style control topology.


If there is one criticism that could be levelled here - it is that most modern Metal Distortion Pedals rely on pushed-mids to a degree, and a Mids dial is notoriously absent from many of these.

HM-2 Heavy Metal Distortion - discontinued - c£200-250 for pristine MIJ edition -


There's very little that needs to be said about the HM-2 that's not already out there - it's the pedal that defined the Swedish Death Metal genre as first witnessed on Entombed's 1990 Album 'Left Hand Path' - where the HM-2 was 'juiced' by a DS-1 into a Peavey Studio Pro 40. Several players use it with a Tube Screamer overdrive instead - but generally overdrive into HM-2 into an amp (not effects loop). You of course crank/dime all the dials to the max to get that raspy almost fuzz-like buzzsaw. I've never encountered an HM-2 in the wild in a sufficiently pristine state for the right sort of money - near mint MIJ version can go for a lot. For now I have at least 4 HM-2 style clones / alternatives and have sort of given up on getting an original version unless Boss reissue - hopefully as a Waza Craft or otherwise somewhat evolved.

MZ-2 Digital Metalizer - discontinued - c£150 for pristine edition -


This is a totally underrated and under-the-radar distortion which is by default thick and rasping in its SGL stock mode - you then have 3 Doubling / Double Tracking Delay and 2 Chorus modulation modes which significantly boost and thicken the tone. The distortion circuit is analog, the modulations are digital, and it actually sounds tremendous. I actually really want one of these, but there are no suitable ones available at the moment - i.e. relatively pristine at the right price!

MT-2 Metal Zone - £86


The much misunderstood and maligned Metal Zone has been given a second lease of life by players realising it sounds absolutely amazing into the effects loop of an amp and used as a PreAmp. I still content that with sufficient due diligence and careful manipulation of the dials you can get a pretty great tone into the front end of an amp - but it generally works better like the DS-1 if it goes into just a little bit of gain. The parametric mids can be notoriously difficult to deploy - but you'll be fine if you follow Ola's example above - set the higher dial to either 11 or 1 o'c (slight cut or boost), then adjust the outer frequency dial for the right tone, and fine-tune further with the boost/cut. I have the Keeley Modded Twilight Zone version of this pedal which has a somewhat enhanced frequency profile and two additional modes - all of which I love. I feel that the superior new Waza Craft version of this somewhat puts the original in the shade - and if you want a Metal Zone you should much rather get that - with its 2 modes, improved frequency response and superior components - and it's just £33 more than this one.

HM-3 Hyper Metal - discontinued - c£75 for pristine edition -


This is pretty much the direct update of the HM-2 with exactly the same controls - it has more gain on tap and a more refined, less fizzy / buzzy frequency profile - but somehow remained totally overshadowed by the original HM-2 and the Metal Zone and really did not sell that well. It's another of these pedals that is sort of wrongly overlooked - it actually gives you a different tone to the HM-3 which is why the Death Metallers never picked up on it, and most players of that time preferred the increased versatility of the Metal Zone tone stack. This is not particularly high on any of my wishlists in priority - but I could see myself snapping one up at the right price and in the right condition. All of the ones currently on just aren't pristine enough for me.

XT-2 Xtortion - discontinued - c£150 for pristine edition -


Another slightly misunderstood Boss distortion which has been wrongly overlooked - Contour is a sort of gyrator / see-saw frequency sweep which alternatively boosts Bass and Treble and sweeps the mid band - while the Punch control is a sort of Presence/Sensitivty/Attack control. This distortion was supposed to target that saturated Grunge era rock, and appeal to different players to the typical Metal-Heads - it has a rich textured rasping distortion to it which sounds great to my ears - and is yet another under-the-radar lost Boss classic which I would quite like to add to my collections - providing of course I find one in suitable condition and at the right price.

MD-2 Mega Distortion - £75


This is another great one of those rasping Boss distortions - here generated via two gain stages - Distortion and Boost, you also get Tone and Bottom (Lows) control for EQ-shaping and extra body definition. This is a much underrated pedal in the current range, and there are a few decent modified version of this including one by Alchemy Audio which I have had my eyes on. I was about to pounce a few months ago, but other priorities took precedence. I would most likely snap up an Alchemy Audio edition of this if it came around again - but there is nothing really wrong with the Boss original either - a really lively sounding thick and rich distortion.

ML-2 Metal Core - £96


Many players still hold this to be the best of Boss's Metal style Distortions, while others - particularly the more modern Metal-Heads - really miss the lack of a Mids Control. As you can see in Ola's above demo - it definitely chugs/djents - but I believe it would prove even more popular and versatile if Boss ever saw fit to add in a dual-concentric pot to delivery full 3-band EQ. I really like this one, and it's on the wishlist.

JB-2 Angry Driver - £149


I love that EVH Brown Sound - and the ability to combine the JHS Angry Charlie circuit with Boss's fantastic Blues Driver circuit in the same compact enclosure really is a match made in heaven. Those two frequency profiles just seem to perfectly mesh with each other and give you a far richer and more satisfying sound - everyone needs to try this in the parallel mode. I typically deploy this either as a Blues Driver or as a rich parallel distortion. I feel this pedal would have been even better with dual footswtiches to allow you to combine those flavours with more control - one or the other or both stacked together. As it is you can either have On/Off or switch between two always-on modes which is not ideal. This pedal does sound fantastic though and it is super versatile - and the fact that you get both these amazing circuits for just £149 is worth the price of admission alone.

MT-2W Metal Zone Waza Craft edition - £119


I really am surprised I still haven't snagged one of these - it enhances and refines the original Metal Zone profile and improves things with better Waza grade components. As Ola explains the main difference between the Standard and Custom mode is that the Q bandwidth changes from wide to narrow - so you get an even tighter and more focused sound. Some re-engineering has also been done with the various knob ranges to make dialling in this pedal easier. It's £33 more expensive than the standard original Metal Zone - but totally worth it in my book. As with its predecessor you do need to be careful with the parametric mids and deploy a rather refined touch when dialling those in. I've always run my Metal Zones into the front of the amp and I get a great tone - it just requires a little patiences - while some of these others sound perfect with all the dials at 12 o'clock!

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

I actually don't believe there are any duffers in this selection - possibly the least appealing in some ways is the HM-3, but even that sounds pretty great. As mentioned in the intro I already have the Angry Driver and Keeley Modded Metal Zone - I love and use both of those a lot in my rotation - and the Angry Driver was a long-termer in my pedal-chain before I acquired my Keeley Freak Fuzz modded Blues Driver.


I have already set my sights on acquiring a Mega Distortion, Metal Core and Waza Craft Metal Zone, and would also quite like to snap up a Digital Metalizer and Xtortion at some stage if I ever find suitable candidates.


I feel that any of the 4 most recent / current pedals are suitable starting points into this selection - with possibly the Angry Driver and Waza Metal Zone at the head of that queue - but pricing and availability may be a determining factor and likely some you may prefer the core tones of the less flexible but still great sounding Metal Core.


It's interesting to see that the forthcoming OD-200 has both the Metal Core and Metal Zone onboard as boost flavours but kind of seems to ignore the Heavy Metal. I would presume to a degree that the X-Metal mode could target the Heavy Metal, while the Fat Dist Mode will surely be able to cover of much of the Mega Distortion too. In fact on paper at least it would seem that most of these flavours are largely suitably covered one way or another by the OD-200 - with the only exception being the Digital Metalizer with its additional modulations - which in some ways may make that the most desirable pedal here post the OD-200 launch! Please keep that amongst yourselves as I really would like to try to snag one of those...

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
Guitar Pedal X
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