Like a few of you, I’m sure, the very first guitar pedal I bought after the Dunlop CryBaby was the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone. And why not? I was 13, the pedal has a sick color combination, and I wanted to sound like James Hetfield. To any pimply teen who reads The Best Page in the Universe and watches eBaums World videos, Metal Zone sounds bad as fuck – like the name “The Edge” or “Spike.”
Like you, when I bought this thing home, I found that I’d blown $100 on a piece of bullshit. So I saved up, and a couple months later went out and bought another piece of bullshit, that orange Boss distortion pedal that Kurt Cobain supposedly used (but that’s a subject for a different column). This pedal has got to be the most hated piece of gear in the history of music gear – a cursory search of Google or YouTube yields endless pieces of content that look like this:
Why do we all hate the Metal Zone? Other than its tonal variance oscillates between a hummingbird stuck in a wasp’s nest and a rhinoceros’s asshole being bleached. Did we all just think that we’d plug this thing in and sound like At the Gates/Pantera/Carcass/etc?
Funnily enough, there are just as many “defenses” of the Metal Zone out there, in which cavalier music writers attempt to go to bat for this maligned guitar pedal. I recently came across a column on Tone Report, “In Defense of the Boss Metal Zone,” in which Nicholas Kula argues four points about the Metal Zone:
- It can act as a stand-alone buffer (aka True Bypass)
- It’s a “gateway drug” to other pedals
- It has a mute switch
- It’s good for modding
Which is a pretty solid defense of this thing if I’ve ever seen one! Particularly because it shows the versatility of seemingly limited, bullshit gear. Though, the idea of using the Metal Zone as a “mute switch” seems a little ridiculous to me, in an age where every self-respecting tuner automatically kills your signal (also, the switch is located in a really tight little space between the stomp-pad and knobs). But modding the nasaliest distortion pedal ever made… now that is a cool idea.
I’d also add, and this is stolen completely from producer/bassist Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice, Menegroth: The Thousand Caves Recording Studio): the Metal Zone is awesome for recording. You’d never want to base your entire tone on this Nicolas Cage-covered-in-bees-sounding pedal, but if you strategically work in its tonal capacities in the studio, you can do awesome stuff!
(Good) metal guitar recordings are all about tension-release between tones. From that eq-suck that EDM DJ’s also use, to hyper-distorted high-spectrum guitar leads, the history of metal is literally written in contrast between tremendous guitar tones and tones that sound shitty when standing alone.
If you’re even a casual audio engineer, you know that recording metal is tremendously difficult. Everything “sounds bad” by itself, you can never get cymbals to separate from toms the way you want, it’s so hard to make the bass cut through, etc. That’s because metal is, by its nature, a completely unnatural form of music, and in the studio, you’re making it even more unnatural, by placing microphones right up against guitar cabinets and toms (when do we listen to music by placing our ears right up against the amp?).
I’ve sometimes found that “good” pedals – even the most boutique or high end fare – can actually be even harder to make sound good in the studio. This may partly be due to their sonic design, which is often for practice basements and live shows; not for close-micing.
The Metal Zone is just unnatural, shitty-sounding music that starts at the source, before you put a microphone up against an amp (or plug a guitar into a pedal). But because it has such a uniquely shitty sound, you can be creative with how you apply it to your recordings. You know exactly how bad it’s going to sound, and can react accordingly!