On the flip-side to my sweeping generalization that amp distortion is always better than pedal distortion, turns out I do actually like a lot of albums that use distortion pedals. In fact some of my all-time favorite Death Metal bands would sound silly without them. Sometimes the only thing that goes with a pingy snare and a clicky kick is a really, really, shitty distortion pedal.
I mean, distortion isn’t meant to be pretty. But it seems like some bands kick the un-prettiness up a notch. It’s like they just want to punish you with a grinding level of aural discomfort and drive a piercing fizz into your ear canal. Sometimes it is on purpose; a sonic texture that adds to the brutality. Sometimes it’s bands that just rehearse without earplugs and the guitarists have degenerative hearing loss above 4k.
Either way, there are actually a lot of awesome albums with an objectively terrible distorted tone. So, here is a list of some of the best albums with repulsive (but perfectly fitting) distortion.
Warning: these are pretty much unlistenable on earbud headphones or your laptop speaker.
Deicide – Legion
How to get the sound: Boss MT-2 or Behringer UM300. Leave some mids in.
This whole article could be filled up with Deicide’s first 4 albums. Amazing songs, supper fizzer tones. It sounds like they plugged their pedals into a a BBE Sonic Maximizer, then straight into the desk with a HPF at 800hz and an upper mid boost.
If you can get past the grating sound, Legion might be some of the best stuff Deicide ever wrote. Unfortunately, the scratchy distortion hides all the killer riffing behind a veil of obnoxious, high frequencies. All that you’re really left with are chugging rhythms with no discernible pitch.
Cannibal Corpse – Butchered at Birth
How to get the sound: Boss MT-2 or Behringer UM300. Scoop mids, boost highs.
I’ve had this CD for 13 years. I still don’t know what is exactly being played in that beehive-wall of white noise guitar. There’s so much gain and so much treble that you can’t identify individual notes anymore. The guitar lines meld into these indefinite, evolving, waves of unsettling frequencies. Really doe, I think it actually adds to the revolting brutality of this album.
(Sidebar: I used to use my hi-fi system as a morning alarm. One time it glitched out and this song woke me up at FULL FUCKING VOLUME. I shoulder-rolled out of bed because I thought my roof was caving in. The album intro still bugs me out a bit every time I hear it.)
Brodequin – Instruments of Death
How to get the sound: Digitech Death Metal. Scoop dem midz.
This is that brutal shit. If you can make sense of the riffs, it means there isn’t enough gain. You don’t stop cranking that gain knob until your guitar sounds like an un-tuned channel on an old CRT TV. Don’t you dare stop until that gain drills into you ears with all the vigor of a fracking operation.
I’m not even sure if the band themselves know which riffs are which when they listen to this album.
Morbid Angel – Heretic
How to get the sound: ProCo Rat. Boost mids.
While I do love a solid, chunky, mid-range distortion… this is all mid range. Were the bass and treble knobs out of service for this album? Was Trey Azagthoth’s cab a 15w Silvertone practice amp?
You know what I heard? I heard that this guitar tone actually consists of ‘negative-bass’ and owning this album will actually cause other albums in your collection to leech out their bass frequencies. So you have to store it separately. For real. I read it on inforwars.
Exhorder – The Law
How to get the sound: Boss MT-2 or Behringer UM300. Scoop tha mids.
And finally, Exhorder’s The Law. Granted it’s not Death Metal, but it is one of the most atrocious distortions ever on a rad album.
Exhorder (AKA Pantera’s Pantera) are fucking sick. But I can only last a few songs before their tone gets to me. That horrifying Metal Zone gain fizzles and whomfs in a way that makes me feel like my brain stem is being brushed with steel-wool. Still sick though.
Do you have some more info on the guitar chains for these albums? What are your top picks for shitty distortion tones? Disagree with me on these? Leave a hate-filled message in the comments.