The Big Review: EHX’s Hell Melter is the HM-2 you’ve always dreamed of
Move over, Metal Muff. There’s a new contender for the title of “most metal Electro-Harmonix product”. That’s the Hell Melter, a pedal with a name so ridiculously metal it doesn’t make any actual sense. That is, outside of its nod towards the H and the M of the Boss HM-2. Yes, we’re not dealing with a generic high-gain distortion pedal here – this is EHX’s take on the chainsaw, with a few added bits and bobs. Let’s dive in.
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The most striking thing about the pedal is, of course, the oh-so-metal enclosure art. A lot of EHX pedals are fairly understated in their look. Not the Hell Melter, which features a big ol’ flaming, screaming demon, giving a vaguely accurate idea of the level of restraint offered by the circuitry inside.
The build is solid, and top-mounted jacks are always great to see, being a bit of a rarity for EHX (outside of the vintage big-box units). The audio jacks are also nice and high-quality – no plastic washers here – but the premium feel of the thing doesn’t extend to the knobs, which are the smooth plastic affair found on basically all modern EHX pedals, just as frictionless and hard to turn as ever. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they seem here to stay.
Having gotten over the slightly less than ideal knobs, let’s get into the sounds. The last chainsaw-inspired pedal we looked at was the Doomsaw, a pedal with a single big knob for gain and everything else dialled to ten internally. That was great for its straightforward simplicity and doomy re-voice. The Hell Melter, however, is a more agile beast, though no less angry, thanks to an expanded control set.
But before we get all fancy, we flick the mini-toggle to ‘norm’ (which presumably stands for ‘normal,’ unless that demon’s name is ‘Norman’), set the midrange to flat, and disengage the boost, clean blend and noise gate. From here, cranking the bass, treble, volume and gain does indeed get us that good ol’ chainsaw grind. EHX, at the very least, has successfully replicated that side of things.
That is, however, just our base layer. It’s an enticing sound, justifiably hailed as the gold standard of raw, dirty, evil death metal guitar tone before modern production ruined everything. But using it in a practical setting can be a pain in the arse: everything from overly-noisy feedback to weird resonances can spoil your fun. Hence, the appeal of the ‘updated’ HM-2 circuit. Like others before it, the Hell Melter aims not only to bring its own character to the table, but also some quality-of-life upgrades to make using it less of a nightmare. Let’s see what EHX has added:
For a circuit with a frankly ridiculous frequency response, this is a great addition. The chainsaw sound is the product of both a gigantic scoop and an aggressive peak in the lower and upper midrange respectively. Having a parametric control lets you soften that valley out a bit for a more balanced sound – or, alternatively, accentuate the high–mid push for even more grind.
The Hell Melter isn’t the first HM-2-alike to introduce a clean blend, and for good reason. The extreme frequency response of the circuit occasionally masks some of the musical information you’re trying to convey. A clean blend keeps the grinding buzzsaw present in the mix, but chords and riffs don’t descend into chaos quite as quickly. Some of the best sounds we got from the Hell Melter came from having the clean blend set at about halfway up.
A noise gate is basically a necessity for using an HM-2-alike in a lot of situations, so it’s good to see EHX throwing one in here. It’s a standard one-knob noise gate, with only the threshold adjustable. With that in mind, it performs well, and luckily for those doing the percussive stop-start thing, it has a lightning-quick decay time, aggressively clamping down as soon as you stop playing.
Flicking the toggle to ‘burn’ swaps the clipping diodes to red LEDs, and boosts the headroom of the op-amps. In practice: slightly less compression, and a bit of a tighter feel. It’s not a night-and-day difference, but it’s noticeably more ‘modern’ sounding: if the normal mode is Left Hand Path, ‘burn’ is Slaughter Of The Soul. Transients poke through a bit more, and fast playing is a fair bit more articulate.
The left footswitch engages a boost mode. This can’t be used on its own, and offers both an output level increase (adjusted with an internal trimpot) and a boost to the input level. The best thing about the boost was, for us, to introduce a bit more of the character of a cooking tube amplifier to the mix – although it’ll work just fine as a solo boost if you have the headroom for it.
If you were worried about these features being marketing guff, or EHX putting a hat on a hat, don’t be. The extra features do deliver on their promises. The parametric EQ is powerful. The more modern clipping mode sounds more modern. The clean blend blends in a clean sound. The noise gate gates noise. All of these add up to the main selling point of the Hell Melter: it’s an absolute blast to use. Coaxing an absolutely brutal sound out of it is no problem at all, not to mention the fact you won’t get yelled at for creating a consistent wall of screaming feedback unless you really want to.
DESCRIPTION: HM-2-inspired distortion pedal with parametric midrange, clean blend, gain boost, and noise gate
CONTROLS: Level, gain, bass, treble, midrange cut/boost, midrange frequency, normal/burn mode switch, noise gate threshold, clean blend level, boost and bypass footswitches, boost level internal trimpot
FEATURES: Buffered bypass, top-mounted jacks
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