May 10 2023

We’re excited to announce the release of the Heavy Menace, the most versatile distortion pedal we’ve ever created.

To present what’s new with the Heavy Menace, we should first talk about the original Heavy, a 2-channel distortion pedal that launched in 2013.

We think of the Heavy as the opposite of the ParaEq MKII. The ParaEq has a minimalist approach to the circuit design path in the interest of pristine, transparent sound. The Heavy features 328 components on the circuit board, 7 stages where we intentionally clip components, and 10 stages of filtering to precisely shape the signal between clipping stages. It is not minimal, pristine, or transparent.

The Heavy was built around three important pillars: great-sounding high-gain distortion, powerful EQ, and a responsive gate.

The Heavy channel quickly starts to sear, and the Heavier channel goes over the top with even more gain and a more brilliant high-end for tones that will slice through any mix. The 3-band EQ offers 3 selectable midrange frequencies per channel to dial in the sweet spot for vintage pushed or modern scooped tones. The Weight knob controls a high-pass filter in the distortion circuit to sculpt the low frequency response for tight, percussive riffs. The adaptive gate uses envelope followers in the circuit to respond to the player’s performance, detecting fast stops and sustained notes and responding appropriately to each.

The Heavy has been loved by high-gain players for the past decade. Ola Englund named the Heavy the best distortion pedal of 2020, and our “Will It Chug?” time is under 9 seconds.

Now, we’re extending the Heavy family with the release of the Heavy Menace. Those core pillars remain, but with some new enhancements that we squeezed into the compact enclosure.

On the 3-position Channel switch, Heavy and Heavier are joined by a new Lite(ish) mode. Lite(ish) is not a transparent boost or edge-of-breakup drive. It’s very much a distortion, but with a lower gain range for more classic crunch sounds. (Players who kept the gain below 9 o’clock on the Heavy channel, we see you.) For guitarists interested in the robust tone-shaping and adaptive gate, but who don’t need the extreme ranges of the Heavy and Heavier modes, Lite(ish) might be a perfect fit.

Instead of the original 3-position midrange frequency switch, which selected between 250Hz, 500Hz, and 2kHz, the mid frequency on the Heavy Menace is now fully sweepable and covers a wider range, letting players tune their midrange with even greater precision between 200Hz and 2.5kHz.

The biggest update might be to the gate. On the Heavy, you set the threshold with a pot on the side of the pedal, and set the gate on each channel to Off, Natural, or Aggressive. The first obvious difference on the Heavy Menace is that the gate is footswitchable. In the Advanced Configuration mode, players can choose whether the gate only affects signal while the distortion is active, like on the Heavy, or if the gate and distortion can be switched independently. Players familiar with our ParaEq MKII pedals will recognize this option from the Boost function, giving each pedal the option of functioning almost like two separate pedals in a single enclosure.

The gate can optionally be controlled by the key input on the rear of the pedal. Consider an application in which you’re stacking pedals before the Heavy Menace. As those pedals are switched on and off, the gate will behave differently as the volume at the main input changes. To solve this, split a clean signal from the start of your pedal chain using a pedal like our Buffer+ and connect that to the key input. Set the threshold based on this signal and the gate will behave consistently, regardless of any volume changes at the main input.

The Heavy Menace can also switch between true bypass and buffered bypass, so this single pedal could act as the distortion, buffer, and gate for your entire rig. Further, by pressing and holding either the Bypass or Gate footswitches when turning on the pedal, you can select whether the pedal starts with the distortion or gate automatically engaged–ideal if either is an “always on” component of your sound.

Empress fans will notice another difference. While our pedal graphics are generally minimalist and understated, the Heavy Menace artwork was created by Kaylie Seaver, a talented tattoo artist and musician based in Ottawa. Since its sound is neither minimalist nor understated, we thought that our most sinister distortion pedal deserved an appropriately sinister look.

The Heavy is an Empress classic, and will remain in production for players who prefer its 2-channel operation with independent controls, and its focus on extreme tones. The Heavy Menace takes those pillars of great distortion, robust EQ, and advanced gating, expanding on each of them in ways we hope will appeal to even more players.We can’t think of a better way to celebrate 10 years of the Heavy, and the Heavy Menace seems like a fitting update as we go to 11. We can’t wait to hear what you create–or destroy–with it.