The fate of the Boss Heavy Metal HM-2 looked certain to fade into history, but remarkably it has gained a cult-like following in recent years. Today, original made-in-Japan versions can sell for over £200.
HM-2: The First Metal Distortion
The Heavy Metal HM-2 holds the distinction of being the first distortion pedal tuned specifically for Metal, released in 1983. It was designed to emulate the sound of a Marshall stack but used some interesting circuit and component choices which resulted in a unique design. Manufactured in Japan until 1988, manufacturing was then relocated to Taiwan. Boss subsequently discontinued the pedal in 1991, citing poor sales as a reason.
Although players as distinguished (and distinct) as Prince, Eric Clapton, Johnny Marr and David Gilmour have all used the Boss Heavy Metal HM-2 to great effect at various points in their careers - giving it more mainstream exposure than the moniker "Heavy Metal" would suggest - the HM-2's turning point was arguably the 1990 release of Entombed's Left Hand Path, which spawned a whole new signature sound thanks to the HM-2.
Left Hand Path (1990)
Formerly known as Nihilist, the Swedish Death Metal band changed its name to Entombed when bassist Johnny Hedlund left to form Unleashed in 1989.
Entombed's debut studio release, Left Hand Path, was noted as inventing the "buzzsaw", "chainsaw" or "Gothenburg" sound, although it is said to have actually been developed during Nihilist demo sessions by bassist/guitarist Leif "Leffe" Cuzner.
The sound on Left Hand Path was achieved by detuning to B, cranking all the dials on the Boss HM-2 up to maximum and running it into a solid-state Peavey combo amplifier, treated with some rackmount compression at the desk. The result was an instantly recognisable aggressive, in-your-face sound.
When Tomas Skogsberg of Sunlight Studios in Stockholm, where Entombed had recorded Left Hand Path, introduced the concept of a dimed HM-2 to other Swedish Death Metal bands who came through the studio - such as Dismember, Carnage and Grotesque - it began to gain popularity in the wider Metal community and its unique sound could soon be heard on albums recorded across Scandinavia and beyond.
Various bands adjusted the recipe slightly, some using the HM-2 as a boost into a Marshall valve amp or even into a Boss Metal Zone MT-2 or a second HM-2. But in most cases, the EQ was run at maximum to take advantage of the HM-2's unique EQ section and get the most gritty, cutting sound possible.
The HM-2 EQ
The Heavy Metal HM-2 is a surprisingly versatile distortion pedal despite its Metal leanings, thanks to its incredibly powerful console-style EQ which features 3 band-pass filters. These enable the user to boost - or cut - each frequency band by up to 20dB into narrow, focused peaks or troughs.
In the hands of Swedish Death Metal bands, it was typically used without much finesse: cranking every knob. This actually worked very well, especially in the context of Metal. Two strong peaks at around 88Hz and 1kHz create a scoop at around 200-300Hz, which tightens up the sound considerably - perfect for fast chugging and searing solo runs.
Because of its unique EQ, the HM-2 has a less expansive sound than almost any other distortion pedal, which naturally leaves space in the mix for other instruments - perfect when recording and playing live.
Although the HM-2 defined a genre, it was not enough to prevent Boss from putting the brakes on - in 1991 the pedal was discontinued. It was only in the late '90s and early 2000s that the HM-2 reached a bigger audience than ever, partly thanks to Kurt Ballou.
Kurt Ballou is a founding member of American Metalcore band, Converge. Since 1990 he has been the group's guitarist. In 1998 he established GodCity Studio. Ballou has been one of the biggest proponents of the HM-2 over the last couple of decades, bringing it and its many boutique versions to the attention of a new generation of musicians who have passed through his studio.
Despite its merits, there are a few drawbacks to the original Heavy Metal HM-2.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, prices for as-new made-in-Japan HM-2s are beginning to get out of hand.
Since these are now at least 30 years old, leaky components and value drift can be a thing, meaning your HM-2 may not sound as it was intended when it left the factory.
The HM-2 is a noisy bastard - its infamous white noise is constantly there in the background, while the feedback it induces causes squealing at every given opportunity (some might argue this is part of its charm!).
The Distortion control is notoriously useless, only making a difference in the last portion of its travel. Probably the reason it was usually left at maximum.
The HM-2: New Lease of Life
Boutique versions of the Heavy Metal HM-2 have taken it upon themselves to improve the original design, whether by adding further EQ controls for finer control, additional clipping options, and even noise gates.
Mark from Kink Guitar Pedals says, "It makes me happy to see the variations that have come out from other builders. I like it when a builder's personality comes out through their pedals."
At the end of 2021, Boss released a much-anticipated Heavy Metal HM-2 Waza Craft version.
Live music is gradually returning to venues large and small following a hellish 2020 and 2021 for the music and events industries. Whether gigging is a hobby or a full-on career path, things have changed and musicians have had to adapt...
Top pedal, love it. 2 problems solved in a tiny footprint for my small blues board, when I was just looking for a treble booster for getting the Beano sound. The fuzz is really articulate and plays nice with a wah. The numbered dials can be a bit difficult to read but after you've set the fuzz it is really just 2 volume knobs, so numbers matter less than ears!
Cheers Jim. Great service and quick delivery
The new BC183 MKII is a fantastic maximalistic take on the Type III Silicon Fuzz Face - here it delivers unprecedented depths of character and texture via its 6 controls - this is for sure SGFX's very own Fuzz Factory!
I spent an obsessive amount of time checking out univibe pedals. I'm so glad that I purchased this one from Boost. It is simply fantastic! If you don't believe me, then check out some video demos. Thanks Jim! + JG
This is a fantastic drive pedal. There’s plenty of Plexi style pedals out there and I’ve owned a few, this one stood out for the switchable A/B-B/A switch. The boost side is nice and simple, much like an LPB-1. Not overly clean but a perfect partner to the drive side. The Plexi side is again nothing revolutionary but very good all the same and sounds great, on a par with far more expensive pedals.
The build quality is also top end, very neat and tidy. Squeezed into the single enclosure and with a lifetime warrantee I couldn’t ask for more. I don’t think this’ll be leaving my pedal board any time soon!
Lots of great sounds in this relatively-compact delay / reverb
I’m only just starting to scratch the surface of the KMA MACHINES Cirrus, but absolutely loving it so far. Very responsive to pick attack which means can really control the “ambience” with playing style. Really looking forward to exploring further.
Had a few vibes, absolutely loving this one, check the YT demos, lovely satisfying vibe with all the swirly goodness you could hope for. Beautifully made and reasonably priced. Highly recommended - and Jim at Boost is a top guy
I came across the Formula B Fuzz Rangers via online demos on Youtube, and they all sounded so good that I had to get one. Looking online I found the Boost Guitar Pedals website via the Formula B website as a listed UK stockist. Jim was excellent and the pedal arrived when he said it would and it was perfectly packaged. I would have no hesitation in buying any other product from Boost.
As for the Fuzz Rangers, it is a great pedal. I had to work at it a touch to get the sounds I liked from it, but it seems to react really well to different guitars and different amps with adjustments to volume and tone on the guitar and different amp settings. I found it works best into a slightly cranked amp, and volume roll-off on the guitar offers a great variety of sounds from clean to classic fuzz. Thoroughly enjoying the pedal. Well done Jim, great website and a great selection of interesting brands and pedals..... Which one next????
Having used a number of univibe clones over the years this one truly nails the sound for me, it comes with some clever additions in a pedal board friendly size and is excellent value for money. If you want the true sound of the original this pedal delivers.Special thanks to boost Guitar Pedals for putting this deal together so quickly..
I'm still working my way through all the sounds, but so far I'm loving them all.
Each time I think I've got a fav sound I flip the diode switch and there's another one. Great value for a four-in-one fuzz pedal!!