When you want to get heavy, you have to be careful: get the wrong distortion tone, and your guitar will sound like a jar full of bass-deprived wasps – but rest assured, that won't be the case with any of the pedals on this list.
Ahead, you'll find a dozen of the best distortion stompboxes for metal of all kinds – from thrash to groove to death, there's something in this list for you, and whatever it is, it's packing a ton of gain. Now, let's get heavy…
Blackstar LT Metal
Riding in on the back of the remarkable success of its HT tube pedal range, Blackstar's LT series don't have valves but boast a similar dynamic response to the HT series, thanks to a patent-applied-for clipping circuit.
You already know what this pedal is going to deliver: all-out aggressive gain, and loads of it. What you might not expect is just how good it sounds - every tone is well defined, with a huge bottom end, making it ideal for seven- and eight-string players.
"If it's skyscraper-demolishing metal tones you're after, the LT Metal has to be top of your list."
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar LT Metal review
Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box EQ
Mesa is famed primarily for two things: gain and five-band EQ, usually in a metal-approved V shape. Back in 2012, four stompboxes brought the dirt; but three new pedals add the EQ from amps such as the Mark Five, and the Throttle Box EQ is the gainiest and most flexible of the lot.
Aside from the extra five-band, the core circuit of the Throttle Box EQ is the same as its predecessor, but with more flexibility: the hi/lo footswitch toggles between more and less gain, with volume knobs for each mode; the boost switch - for extra low-end and dirt - is easily accessible, and you can also deactivate the EQ on the hi or lo modes.
"£250 is a lot for an overdrive pedal, but when it captures the magic of the world's finest amps, it's worth the money."
FULL REVIEW: Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box EQ review
A collaboration with boutique builder Black Arts Toneworks, the Boneshaker aims to provide heavy tones to suit extended-range and baritone players.
A three-band EQ with individual levels provides huge gain-shaping potential, while a depth knob rounds and pushes the lows to cut through.
"Provided its particular brand of grit is your cup of tea, you'll have no problems honing in on the dirty sound you're after with the Boneshaker."
FULL REVIEW: DOD Boneshaker review
Wampler Triple Wreck
This unashamedly high-gain distortion has a tremendous amount of gain and low-end response, not to mention an extremely powerful EQ section to take you from dark and thuddy to the most mean-sounding, aggressive slam.
There’s a vintage/ modern switch for more classic hard rock or modern metal responses respectively, plus an additional boost with its own contour control. Plug in and wail.
MORE INFO: Six of the best: new distortion pedals
Rivera Metal Shaman
Rivera amps are used extensively by some top metal players, so as you might expect, this pedal's distortion capability is insane - there's no other word for it - but what's more important is how much control there is.
The EQ is massively powerful, enabling you to go from extreme Hetfield- and Mustaine-approved '80s-type scoop, through to more mid-rich modern metal leads that befit the likes of Alter Bridge.
"A brilliant pedal from one of the world's most influential amp designers - make space on your pedalboard!"
FULL REVIEW: Rivera Metal Shaman review
BUY: Rivera Metal Shaman currently available from:
Lone Wolf Audio Left Hand Wrath
The iconic Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal distortion is the root of the Swedish death-metal tone (Entombed, Dismember, etc), and it's also great for grindcore, crust, D-beat and - oddly - 90s shoegaze.
But there's gotta be room to improve on a 30-year-old Boss box, right? Enter Lone Wolf Audio, Texas-based builders of high-end metal-oriented pedals, with its Left Hand Wrath "highly-tuned HM-2", whose level, gain, high and low controls function like the original's four pots.
"For anyone who's tried to tame the HM-2's unruly harshness, this is a revelation. Horrifyingly good!"
FULL REVIEW: Lone Wolf Audio Left Hand Wrath review
MXR Fullbore Metal
MXR is touting “ultimate riff power” and “devastating contemporary metal tones” this time, from a stompbox that will “turbo-charge your guitar with ultra high-gain.”
Okay, so the Fullbore is ‘just’ a distortion pedal, but it’s done to near-perfection. Fat and full at low gain, pushing the dial makes this pedal turn seriously nasty, with a saturated, jaw-breaking bark that punches holes in the mix and makes its rivals seem just a little polite by comparison.
"Read no further, gigging metallers, for this is your filth pedal. There's enough tweakability to hold your interest and with bone-snapping aggression, this is worthy of a slot on anyone’s pedalboard. In fact, the only sticking point here is the price."
FULL REVIEW: 4 filthy guitar distortion pedals
Stagg Blaxx Metal
If your electric isn’t packing EMGs and a pointy headstock, look away now: Stagg’s Metal dirtbox is designed for the ultimate in devastating tones.
With no boosts engaged, we’re talking ultra-scooped tones – think Dimebag’s Randalls – but the Metal remains extremely taut across the gain range for uncompromising palm-muting and brutal detuned riffs.
"Vulgar yet controlled metal brutality."
MORE INFO: 31 of the best mini effects pedals
Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box
You want all-out? Here it is - the Throttle Box's reason for being is gain, gain and more gain, aimed primarily at hard rock and metal players. Mesa's genre-conquering experience with its Rectifier series of amplifiers bodes well for the pedal, and straight away you get a hint of what's to come.
In addition to the expected level and gain pots, there's a mid-cut knob that dials in the fabled 'V' EQ curve (boosted bass and treble, cut in the midrange) the more you turn it clockwise. A tone pot governs the global response - darker to brighter - while a lo/hi gain switch gives you two levels of filth.
"Does far more than metal - a must-play pedal."
FULL REVIEW: Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box review
Ogre Thunderclap Distortion
The Thunderclap is a high-gain distortion with a hand-crafted, heavyweight die-cast enclosure from Korean brand Ogre.
Each of its four horns controls a parameter – level, bass, treble and gain – while to activate the Thunderclap, you have to stomp down on the poor devil's jaw. And yes, its eyes are the status LEDs.
"Ogre's monster is built for outrageous riffs and insane solos, and it does this unashamedly."
FULL REVIEW: Ogre Thunderclap Distortion review
BUY: Ogre Thunderclap Distortion currently available from:
Blackstar means business with the HT-METAL, capitalising on endorsements with dudes such as black metal titan Ihsahn and Dimmu Borgir's Silenoz. All signs point to some thermonuclear gain action.
The HT-METAL is a two-channel/three-mode distortion pedal. There are two channels on available with this ferocious offering, but you'll find that Channel One has a Clean/OD switch that enables you to use the pedal as a boost in Clean mode and dial in some hot bite as you turn the gain clockwise.
"Truly one of the finest distortion pedals we've ever stepped on."
FULL REVIEW: Blackstar HT-METAL review
Boss DS-1X Distortion
The Boss DS-1 is one of the most iconic pedals of all time, but let's be clear: this isn't the DS-1 mark II; the DS-1X is very much its own beast.
As well as the gleaming panel and array of knobs (level, low, high and dist), this pedal packs Boss's Multi-Dimensional Processing (MDP), which promises 'ideal distortion tones in every register'.
"The guitar world is saturated with distortion pedals, and this is by no means cheap, but if you're constantly switching between rhythm and lead and can't settle on a middle ground, the DS-1X could be just the pedal you're looking for."
FULL REVIEW: Boss DS-1X Distortion review