Metal music and distortion-generating stompboxes can be odd bedfellows. So much of what we think of as “metal tone” is generated by big, high-gain amps that pedals sometimes seem redundant. But not all of us have the luxury of an expensive, 200-watt monster to generate the biggest metal sounds, nor do most players have either the inclination to regularly transport such a beast or the appropriate space in which to unleash it. And even players who do own those pricey high-gain amps and are adventurous enough to want to add a distortion, fuzz, or overdrive stompbox to the equation find that many units on the market are less than perfectly suited to the slicing, mid-heavy environs of modern metal.

In sum, it’s hard to find a good all-in-one metal distortion that will turn smaller amps into raging animals and bigger amps into more versatile behemoths. New Jersey-based Metal Pedals is one company that’s unafraid of the challenge, though. In fact, the HardCore XXX—which has massive amounts of gain— meets the challenge quite admirably.

Feature Creature
With seven knobs arranged across its adult-themed surface, the XXX looks way more complex than your average fuzz or overdrive. But it’s actually a fairly simple circuit. Most of the controls are dedicated to the super-flexible 5-band EQ that’s one of the fundamental strengths of the pedal. Other than the EQ, there are Gain and Volume knobs and a 2-way switch that engages a noise-reduction circuit.

The most interesting and unique aspect of the XXX’s controls is the EQ’s midrange section, which gives the pedal a tonal expansiveness that helps emulate voicings from the upper midrange of a Marshall JCM800 to the signature low mids of a raging Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier.

Strength Beyond Strength
Many of the pedals that cater to the metal crowd are voiced on the brighter end of the spectrum. But the HardCore XXX can be quite dark if you need it to be. In fact, with a Les Paul Custom and a Bogner Barcelona 40-watt combo, the XXX tended to sound a little too dark. Compensating with the pedal’s Hi and Mid-Hi controls helped, because both have tremendous range and an incredibly powerful effect on the tone. However, with the Les Paul and Bogner, at least, they never seemed to totally transform the XXX’s basically dark voice. It seems that the XXX was designed with a brightly voiced amp in mind. That was confirmed when I plugged the pedal into a Fender Twin Reverb reissue. While the Twin is light years from a metal amp, the XXX’s dark tone was a great match for the bright Twin—highlighting the sustain and high-end detail of my single-note leads.

In general, the XXX’s tone and feel is very amp-like and responsive to pick attack, which makes it a blast to imitate various metal styles with. By tweaking the L-Mid and Mid-Hi knobs, I was able to approximate everything from classic Motörhead to early Metallica and mid- ’90s Pantera. The XXX was especially good at generating the cutting qualities of thrash-type tones without sacrificing dimension—no mean feat, given the high-mid content that typifies the style. Given the current trend toward thrashier distortions with a razor-sharp high end, this was a welcome surprise.

The only trouble I encountered with the XXX was trying to find a sweet spot that was perfect for both rhythm and lead. When the XXX was set for an inspiring, sustaining lead tone that could rip the paint off the walls, chugging riffs played with the same tone seemed to have raspy, unrefined edges. Most of the time I could cure this by decreasing the gain, though that also stole away some of the violin-like sustain I loved so much.

The XXX’s noise-reduction circuit is pretty phenomenal. Instead of clamping down on the end of notes like a steel trap, it quickly rounds off the ends into silence. It sounds exceptionally natural, so much so that at times I forgot I even had it turned on. Even so, I would have liked to be able to alter the circuit’s settings—such as the threshold. The manual recommended that I keep the switch off when using lower gain settings, and I could hear why: The gate shut down a little too quickly on the ends of notes, sending them crashing to earth instead of shrieking into the stratosphere. With the gate off, I was able to summon some really smooth and purring low-gain tones—provided the Hi control wasn’t set too high.

The Verdict
Guitarists have been searching for years for a one-stop pedal that can convincingly cover everything from old-school metal to stuff at the thrashier end of the headbanging spectrum. If you’re on that quest, the Metal Pedals HardCore XXX is definitely worth a look. It’s versatile, flexible, easy to use, and works really well with brightvoiced tube amps. Some minor tweaking is required to get a good balance of rhythm and lead tones, but the powerful EQ is up to the task. For those who have spent countless hours and dollars trying to achieve killer metal tones beyond those that lurk in their amps, the search may well end with the XXX.

Watch the video review:

Buy if...
you want to add a variety of tight, fluid metal tones to a brightly voiced amp.
Skip if...
you require a dual-channel pedal for contrasting lead and rhythm tones.

Street $215 - Metal Pedals -