EHX expands on the evil architecture of the Boss HM-2.
Excellent high-gain sounds. Much more versatile than you might expect. Flexible control set.
Extra controls can make some fundamental tones harder to find.
Electro-Harmonix Hell Melter
The manual for Electro-Harmonix’s Hell Melter proclaims that “a good starting point is to turn all knobs … to their maximum positions and play the heaviest riff you’ve got.” That bit of instruction, and the pedal’s semi-satanic $176.66 price tag, should give you a hint about what the Hell Melter is designed to do. But underneath all that underworld-oriented swagger is a pedal that—like the Boss HM-2 that inspired it—covers more sonic ground than you’d expect.
The first hint at the Hell Melter’s versatility is in its control panel. Many pedals favored by metal players simply have volume, tone, and gain controls. The Hell Melter, on the other hand, features eight knobs: distortion, master, high, low, mid, dry, a knob for dialing in specific midrange frequencies, and a noise gate control. There is also a toggle switch for normal or burn mode (the latter is a more open, less compressed voice), a bypass footswitch, and a second footswitch for a boost circuit.
The Hell Melter, of course, is designed to produce the “chainsaw” distortion tone that is characteristic of Swedish death metal, and right off the bat you can feel the aggression the pedal is capable of. Using an Ernie Ball/Music Man Axis Sport and a Mesa/Boogie Trem-O-Verb combo, I used the suggested “everything all the way up” setting and was greeted with the evilest tone you can imagine. But there was still a ton of clarity with everything maxed. Output from the 6th string is defined and packs a wallop, and power chords are razor sharp. The built-in noise gate is an excellent extra that can keep things amazingly noise-free throughout the carnage.
“For all the ominous imagery, the Hell Melter is no one-trick pony.”
For all the ominous imagery, the Hell Melter is no one-trick pony. After all, David Gilmour dabbled with the Boss HM-2. Punk producer supreme Kurt Ballou is a fan of the HM-2 as well, which should tell you something about the range of the Hell Melter, which has a more versatile control set. Sure enough, classic-rock guitar sounds are easy to find and sound impressive. In this context, I liked using the dry level knob to blend in more clean, natural guitar tone. This makes individual notes even more articulate while sacrificing little in the way of aggression. The Hell Melter also offers what can sometimes seem like infinite sustain. And with a bit of delay, bends sound especially lyrical.
While you might suspect that the boost function is akin to tossing gasoline on an already raging fire, it’s actually quite useful for delineating between rhythm and lead sounds. The transition between the two modes feels seamless. There’s no pop when you engage it, and the factory-set boost level is perfect for adding drama without spinning out of control. If you need a little more or less boost, there’s an internal trimmer.
Though you might expect some allusion to darkness and evil to wrap up this review, “fun” is actually the first word that comes to mind when I consider the Electro-Harmonix Hell Melter. If metal styles are your thing, the Hell Melter probably has more gain than you’ll ever need. But the pedal’s controls mean you can sculpt anything from trebly thrash sounds to warmer, more mid-focused classic-metal vibes. The Hell Melter hits the mark on the price-to-performance ratio, too. And at that devilish price, which includes a power supply, the Hell Melter is a steal.