Sharp and Aggressive Sound You Can Call Your Own: The Best Distortion Pedals for Metal

There was a scene in the movie “Back to the Future” where Michael J. Fox went up on stage and played the guitar. Mike let her rip, playing Johnny B. Goode and performing a lead solo the crowd (and band) from the 50’s weren’t ready for.

Makes you wonder.

Imagine if he had access to distortion pedals as well? Heads would’ve exploded!

Rock music and all its sub-genres (metal, punk, grunge, etc.) are synonymous with distorted, amplified sound. For this review, we’ll be talking about the best distortion pedal for metal enthusiasts. If you want to stand out from the rest of the metalheads out there, read on.

Check This Out

If you’re a seasoned axeman, you’d know the difference between a pick and a pickup so you can skip this section. Head on straight to these reviews:

But, if you’re just getting your feet wet in rock and metal, this part is a great introduction.

Ready? Let’s go!

Distortion Mastery

Distortion pedals allow you to find and create your own distinct guitar tone. Whether you like it heavy, gritty, dirty or heavenly, it’s equal parts your skills and what pedal you choose that gets you the sound you’re looking for.

Heavy metal is easy to distinguish. The music is aggressive, angry and heavy (hence the term). Many musicians tune their guitars to “drop-D” (the sixth string is tuned down),  creating a heavier sound. An essential guitar pedal for metal gives the player heavy distortion, overdrive and fuzz.

An amplifier does all the heavy lifting, taking signals from your passive guitar and amplifying the sound. While the sound coming out of the amp is a little distorted, you would need a separate distortion pedal to get the full effect.

Pedal Type

Now, that you got your guitar and amp squared away, it’s time to choose some pedals for metal rock music. We say “some” because selecting the best one is almost impossible. There are a gazillion metal pedals out there, each producing its own distorted sound.

Wait, what’s a guitar pedal again?

A basic description of a guitar pedal is that it processes and can add effects on guitar signals.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the various effects pedals can do to guitar signals:

  • Distort, boost, or compress a signal
  • Modulate a signal
  • Create delay, reverb and echo effects
  • Filter out the bass or treble
  • Other multi-effects based on the play style

Guitar Effects Explained

There are plenty of effects a pedal can give you depending on which one you choose. Booster and compression pedals are clean effects that don’t distort the sound of your guitar. Booster effects are for increasing the signal volume, while compression narrows a tone’s dynamic range.

Heavy metal relies heavily (pun intended!) on distortion effects. Guitar amps use vacuum tubes, and Overdrive pedals mimic the sound of vacuum tubes pushed to their limits. Distortion pedals are for altering waveform and increasing overdrive levels. Fuzz pedals create the busted amplifier sound by distorting distortion itself.

It gets weirder.

If you want to create weird, spaceship sounds, you’ll need pedals with modulation effects. Modulation effects disturb the frequency and/or pitch of a signal to generate the most bizarre sounds a guitar can make. Flange, Phaser, Tremolo & Vibrato, Ring Modulator, and Octave Divider are some of the favorite modulation pedals.

Jimi Hendrix made the Wah-wah pedal famous. Rocking the pedal up and down creates a crying baby sound, thus the name. This type of pedal falls under the filtering, modeling and multi-effects group.

Still Having Trouble?

We’ve reviewed plenty of heavy metal pedals, and we’d love to share our favorites with you. After all, choosing the best distortion pedal for metal can be a daunting task. So, without further ado, here are some of the best effects pedals we had a blast trying out.

Read on to find out more!

Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Pedal Review

If you’re in the hunt for a versatile distortion pedal you can use for just about any type of music, look no further.

The Fulltone OCD Pedal is one heck of an addition to any setup. We’re on version 2 now, and the improvements Mike Fuller and his team made based on customer feedback are really on the money.

Is this distortion pedal worth your time and money?

We recently got the chance to play with an OCD and here’s what we found. Ready to rock?

Let’s play.

Main Features of the Fulltone OCD

  • Switchable Enhanced Bypass and True Bypass modes
  • Great sounding overdrive tones for electric guitars
  • Class A configured, discrete 2N5457 JFET input section with an input impedance of 1 mega ohm means better dynamic response
  • Hi-peak and lo-peak gain (switchable)
  • Load resistant output buffer (resists loading caused by other pedals in your chain)
  • Virtually no pops or clicks when switching between bypass modes
  • Offers a wide range of available and configurable sounds for extra versatility

Why You Should Get the Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Pedal

Grab the Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal if you’re a stickler for great sound and you hate fiddling with too many knobs. The best thing about this guitar pedal is that it’s straightforward to set and use for your sets. Adjust the Drive knob and ease in a little (or a lot of) tone and you’re ready to rock!

Mike Fuller has introduced a few tweaks on this pedal over the 10 or so years that is has been in service, the last one being V1.7. The version we used was the newest one, the OCD V2.0, and the included updates were pretty sweet. This version of the Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal is by far, the best one the company has made.

But, a few people have doubts about the OCD as a metal pedal.

Some would argue that the Fulltone OCD isn’t cut out for hardcore heavy metal. We beg to differ. The distortion growls at you and is meaty and deep enough you’d need a shovel to get out of the hole. The overdrive is compelling and convincing, with right tones and amp shattering level changes.

Play around with all the settings, and you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Now, let’s see how she plays.

Hands-on with the Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal

The controls on the Fulltone OCD V2 are pretty basic. You have your Volume knob, which is self-explanatory. There’s also Drive and Tone knobs for gain and a full spectrum of tone options. The thing we loved about the Fulltone OCD Drive Pedal was that even with the Drive turned all the way up, there was still excellent note separation.

There’s also the Hi-peak and Lo-peak toggle switch (HP/LP) in the middle. Think of Lo-peak as your sound, the default that you’re on. When you toggle the switch to Hi-peak, you’ll get a little bit of gain, more volume and boosted mid and high.

We prefer to leave in on LP because of the more natural sound, and this is the default for most users. HP gives you more distortion and a very sharp mid-range. We also found it best to have the Tone knob between 12 o clock and turned all the way up. It’s a choice between edgy and clear.

One of the best things we loved about the Fulltone OCD V2 was the True Bypass and Enhanced Bypass settings. It eliminated the pops and clicks on our pedal chain when switching and there was almost no tone loss. The sound was still full and dynamic, despite all the cables and other effects snaking in and out.

When you get your hands on a Fulltone OCD Pedal Drive, experiment with the settings and see where your sound falls.

Let us know, yeah?

Tech Specs at a Glance
Here’s the part where you get to see full specs of the Fulltone OCD. There’s not much, considering the size of the pedal, three controls, hi-lo switch and the stomper.

  • Pedal Type: Distortion/Overdrive
  • Inputs: 1
  • Outputs: 1
  • Batteries: 9V x 1
  • Power Supply: None
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.1″
  • Width: 2.5″
  • Depth: 4.5″
  • Weight: 1 lbs.

Positives and Negatives

Pros
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Plays well with other pedals on the chain
  • Excellent build quality
  • Affordable price
  • Versatile and offers plenty of sound configurations
  • Unique tone and sound
Cons
  • None

In a Nutshell

Fulltone OCD pedals are a favorite among musicians the world over. Mike Fuller’s drive pedals offer great sound, exceptional build quality and are easy to use. They’re also priced reasonably well. Combined, all these factors make for a pedal that guitarists use for many, many years. This pedal is great for complete beginners up to advanced guitarists because of it’s price and features. If you own a Fulltone, you’re most likely going to grow old with each other.

=> Click here to check the prices!

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal Review

The TC Dark Matter Distortion Pedal.

We like the name.

We’re fans of the sound.

We absolutely love the price.

If you’re a new guitarist looking for a good distortion stomper to add to your chain, you can’t go wrong with the Dark Matter. Its price means TC Electronics wants to devour all the other pedals for metal in this range.

We were fortunate enough to get a hold of a Dark Matter Distortion Pedal for a few days, and here’s a summary of our time with it. One point we’d like to make is this could be, by far, the best distortion pedal for metal at this price segment.

Want to know more? The review starts now!

Main Features of the TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal

  • 2-band active EQ featuring Bass and Treble knobs for full control of your sound
  • True Bypass eliminates high-end loss and provides clarity when the pedal is off
  • True analog circuit distortion gives full sound and a game response
  • Extreme Dynamic Range for great sounding distortion covering a broad musical spectrum
  • Voice switch lets you toggle between modern (more bass) or retro sounds (old school)
  • Easy-access, 9-volt battery compartment
  • Small and compact to fit anywhere in your pedal board
  • Durable metal casing and high-quality components can take the  beatings of life on the road
  • Comes with a 3-Year Warranty Program

Why You Should Get the TC Electronics Dark Matter

Angry, biting distortion is the bread and butter of any metal band worth its salt. If there’s anything that sets heavy metal apart from the other genres of rock, it’s fast, loud and brutal riffs. Chances are, you’re sounding a bit tinny and reedy these days, and in definite need of some attitude.

Enter the Dark Matter.

No, we’re not talking about a black hole here. We’re talking about an actual distortion pedal that does what it says it’ll do. This guitar pedal from TC Electronics gives you rich, full tones in every range. It’ll influence anything you throw at it, from clean to blues to metal. Lead solos sound vibrant and dynamic, which is surprising given that this distortion pedal is so affordable.

It sounds more expensive than the sticker price.

For real.

Hands-on with the Dark Matter Distortion Pedal

We played with a test unit for a week, and it loved every minute of it. There’s plenty of uses for this distortion pedal, regardless of your taste in music. From vintage rock n’ roll to heavy metal, the Dark Matter pedal delivered and gave us the effect we wanted.

The Dark Matter distortion pedal was a beast.

What we like about this pedal is that you can produce different ranges of tone using only the volume knob on your guitar. You don’t even need to adjust knobs on the pedal. The four-knob interface works great, although we found that the knobs weren’t as responsive.

Not a biggie.

There was a slight delay when adjusting the knobs to a setting that we wanted, but it’s not that big of an issue. If you’re just beginning to play or everything else is loud, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker. We also like the extensive tweaking on the tone when using the 2-way EQ. The ability to adjust bass and treble is a godsend.

We absolutely loved playing with Dark Matter and lived to tell about it! If you get your hands on one, please share your experiences with us here.

Tech Specs at a Glance
Here’s the part where you get to see full specs of the TC Electronics Dark Matter Distortion Pedal. You have the basics here, four knobs, a voice toggle switch and the on/off stomper.

  • Pedal Type: Distortion
  • Inputs: 1
  • Outputs:    1
  • Batteries: 9V x 1
  • Power Supply: None
Dimensions
  • Height: 1.97″
  • Width: 2.83″
  • Depth: 4.8″
  • Weight: 0.66 lbs.

Positives and Negatives

Pros
  • True Bypass
  • Solid build quality
  • 2-way EQ lets you adjust bass and treble for more control
  • Versatile tone and broad sound spectrum
  • Affordable and perfect for budget-savvy beginners
Cons
  • Knobs aren’t as responsive, and there’s a slight delay
  • You won’t be able to coax anything extra out of this pedal – it does what it says and nothing more

Summary

If you’re looking for a distortion pedal that won’t burn a hole in your budget, look no further than the Dark Matter Pedal from TC Electronics. It’s a beast of a pedal in a small case. Its tone versatility is exceptional for its price, and you have full control over bass and treble, unlike other pedals that just have the tone knob.

The build quality is also excellent considering how affordable this distortion pedal is. Die-cast metal and sturdy knobs will make sure you’ll get to play with the Dark Matter for a long time. It’s designed and engineered in Denmark too, so you have your Euro connection to boot.

=> Click here to check the prices!

MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion Review

Man, oh man.

Sure. There’s a virtual ocean of distortion metal pedals out there vying for your attention. But a lot of them mess up with too much useless gain, fuzz and nothing else. If you’re a metalhead looking for a new distortion pedal, the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal is the bomb.

If you think the raw metal casing looks mean, wait till you hear what the Fullbore does with your guitar signals.

It sounds even meaner.

We went down to the pits of Mordor to get our hands on a Fullbore so we could see how we would fare against it. The best way to describe the entire experience would be “rocket fuelled rage”.

Read on to find out more.

Main Features of the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Pedal

  • Ultra-high-gain distortion built for all genres of metal
  • True Bypass with stage-ready LED light
  • Built-in Scoop switch for easy boosting of lows and highs
  • 3-band EQ that gives you full control over low, mid and high frequencies
  • Internal gate threshold allows full control over the noise gate’s sensitivity
  • Responsive, switchable noise gate will bypass the pedal to get rid of extra buzz when palm muting or staccato riffs
  • All-analog circuitry
  • Compact size that fits well on a pedal board

Why You Should Get the MXR Fullbore Metal Distortion Pedal

If you’re into any genre of metal, you’re going to love the MXR Fullbore Metal pedal from the guys over at Dunlop. This little monster of mayhem was made for metal. Heck, even the case is made from raw metal! It’ll give you distortion effects, anywhere from trash to death to industrial metal.

What we liked most about the MXR Fullbore Metal distortion pedal aside from all its high-gain glory were the six knobs on it. It may seem a lot, but it allowed us to control pretty much anything we wanted to. High-gain riffs and solos weren’t a problem with the 3-band EQ that sweeps the mid-range. The noise gate also worked as advertised.

Next, we’ll check out how the Fullbore Metal Pedal handles.

Hands-on with the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Pedal

We got a sample of how hot the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Pedal is when we took it to the studio. When we found the settings that we liked, we channeled our Garage Days Metallica and let her rip!

All six knobs are premium and responsive, with no delays. The Fullbore Metal also has a 3-band EQ that has decent range coverage. We had fun with the Frequency and Mid knobs. These knobs work hand-in-hand to help shape frequencies from 50Hz up to 200Hz.

Fine-tuning your low end to complement your mids is easy with this much control. You can get deeper and more industrial thump when you go through the rest of the frequency range. It’ll take a bit of time, but you can dial in your own distinct tone with the MXR Fullbore Metal Pedal.

There’s also the Gate and Scoop buttons on the pedal. Gate (as in noise gate) is for eliminating buzz, while Scoop takes care of your mids.

Tech Specs at a Glance
Here’s the part where you get to see full specs of the  MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion Pedal. The pedal has six knobs, three of which control the 3-band EQ. The others are your standard volume, gain, and frequency. There are also two buttons for Gate and Scoop, plus the stomper.

  • Pedal Type: Distortion
  • Bypass: True Hardwire
  • Inputs: 1
  • Outputs: 1
  • Batteries: 9V x 1
  • Power Supply: None
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.5″
  • Width: 4.5″
  • Depth: 5.5″
  • Weight: 0.84 lbs.

Positives and Negatives

Pros
  • True-blue metal distortion pedal
  • All analog circuitry
  • True Bypass
  • 3-band EQ works great especially for the mid-range
  • One press gate and scoop simplifies mixing
  • Perfect for intermediate and advanced metal guitarists
Cons
  • Battery drains faster than most pedals
  • Loses definition and tone separation when the gain is cranked all the way up
  • It gets a bit fuzzy when not dialed in correctly
  • Not for beginners
  • Can get a little fuzzy and lose definition

Our Verdict on MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion Pedal

Are you in the hunt for a versatile distortion pedal so you can also use to play vintage rock and roll with? If that’s the distortion tone you’re looking for, then the MXR Fullbore is NOT the pedal for you.

Sorry.

You’d be best served looking at other pedals, such as the Fulltone OCD or even the Dark Matter. Because the MXR Fullbore Metal’s greatest strength is also its weakness: it’s designed perfectly for all genres of metal, but not much else.

But…

If a face-melting distortion pedal is what you’re looking for, the Fullbore Metal is definitely for you.

The build quality is superb, made, from a raw, all-metal case that looked like knobs grew out of it. The thing is built like a tank! The Fullbore Metal Pedal also has a 3-band EQ, which is great for tone separation when all hell breaks loose. You’re getting a lot of distortion pedal for the price of the MXR Fullbore.

If you’re a real, hardcore metalhead, why isn’t this thing in your arsenal yet?

=> Click here to check the prices!

Wampler Triple Wreck V2 Modern Rectified Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal Review

Rectified!

The boys at Wampler sure love to play around.

The Triple Wreck V2 Modern Rectified Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal is not only a mouthful to name, but it’s also an earful when played with. Remember the video games you used to play as a kid that had Easy, Normal and Hard settings? Easy and Normal were for sissies and Hard was for you and your buddies. Right?

Well, the Triple Wreck V2 Pedal has only two: Hard and Brutal.

And both of them will kick your ass.

Read on to find out more!

Main Features of the Wampler Triple Wreck V2 Distortion Pedal

  • Comes with Hard and Brutal voicing switches for more options
  • One of the heaviest sounding distortion pedals in the market
  • Switchable, super-high-gain tone structure
  • Built for metal, but versatile enough to be used for other heavy genres
  • 3-Band EQ for full control of your sound
  • Boost Switch gives you extra fuzz, chug, chunk or gain easily
  • Handcrafted in the U.S.A. using top-shelf components for responsive knobs and superior sound
  • True Bypass using soft-relay switching circuitry
  • No other distortion pedal comes close to the scooped metal tone

Why You Should Get the Wampler Triple Wreck V2 Rectified Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

There’s a ton going for the Triple Wreck V2 Distortion Pedal. Most everyone in the industry feels that the Triple Wreck is one of the heaviest and meanest distortion pedals you can own. You’ll be hard pressed to find another pedal that has the same amount of options for playing.

If you love thick and tight high-gain distortion on your riffs, the Wampler Train Wreck V2 is one hell of a pedal. The 3-Band EQ was solid. It scooped out our mids with ease, without peeking-out the highs and lows.

We also loved the voice switching settings Hard and Brutal, but more on those later. The bottom line is Wampler made this pedal to give the user total control over everything. To find your own tone, tweak it until you find the high-gain tones you’re looking for and call us in the morning.

Now, to get our hands a little dirty.

Hands-on with the Train Wreck V2 Distortion Pedal

Let’s start with the Hard and Brutal switches, one of the main selling points of the Train Wreck that sets it apart from the competition. Hard adds a warm, low-end thump to your tone, while the Brutal setting lets in more sparkle and fuzz. If you want a more modern, full-audio spectrum feel to your play, choose Brutal.

But, these two aren’t the only stars of the Train Wreck show.

The responsive 3-Band EQ for treble, mid and bass was pretty solid. We tweaked it every which way possible and came up with pretty memorable tones. What blew us away was the Boost footswitch with its own Contour control knob. If you’re very particular about how your distortion sounds, the Boost switch on this baby is a winner.

 

Boost and Boost Contour allowed us to crank the volume as high as our ears could handle. We were able to blend the distortion for solo, pinch harmonics, and even fuzz. You must be thinking, why even boost an already high-gain distortion pedal? Are the folks at Wampler crazy?

Well, they’re geniuses in our book. Because the contoured boost works like a charm. You’ll bang your head after the first riff, guaranteed.

Tech Specs at a Glance
Here’s the part where you get to see full specs of the Wampler Triple Wreck V2 Distortion Pedal. You have your basic input/output, six knobs, bypass & boost stompers and the Hard and Brutal voice switch.

  • Pedal Type: Distortion
  • Inputs: 1 (top mounted)
  • Outputs: 1 (top mounted)
  • Batteries: 9V x 1
  • Power Supply: None
Dimensions
  • Height: 3.5″
  • Width: 4.5″
  • Depth: 1.5″
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs. (shipped weight)

Positives and Negatives

Pros
  • Full and heavy sound
  • True Bypass mechanical footswitch
  • 3-Band EQ does a good job
  • Heavy and Brutal switches are excellent for tone shaping
  • Footswitchable Boost with contour control knob tweaks your gain to high, heavy or fuzzy
  • Suitable for intermediate to advanced guitarists
Cons
  • A bit large when compared to other pedals
  • High notes can reach sonic-level brightness and can be hard on the eardrums

Verdict of Wampler Triple Wreck V2 Pedal

Looking for an in-your-face, high-gain distortion pedal that’s powerful enough to shatter glass?

The Wampler Train Wreck V2 Rectified Distortion Pedal could be the last metal pedal you’ll ever own. It’s heavy, thick and brutal. But with its brutality comes a full spectrum of tone that surprising, coming from a pedal designed for metal. The build quality is solid and the knobs are responsive. 3-band EQ and the extra Boost are gravy.

If you think your high-gain distortion pedal isn’t powerful enough to piss off your neighbors, get this. Choose the Brutal setting, boost it with the stomper and let hell in your home studio or garage.

Then, wait for the cops your neighbor undoubtedly called.

=> Click here to check the prices!

Summary

If heavy metal is your chosen path, then you’ll need a pedal that’s as hard and aggressive as your music. Playing clean is just out the question here. Leave crisp and clean to the church choir. You’ll need to be as fuzzy and distorted as possible, without sounding like an amateur.

A quality distortion pedal can take you places as long as you master using it. Choosing one that fits with your play style and personality is the way to go. Don’t stop with one. If you can, go to a store and try them all out. Experiment with the ones you already own so you can create a sound that’s distinctly your own.

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