The Empress Effects Heavy is a very unique offering from the good Canadian folks up north, being the brainchild of one Cody Gilchrist in particular. It’s an extremely heavy distortion pedal that goes in an entirely different direction from their other offerings. While previous Empress Effects guitar pedals have covered the range of fuzz, overdrive, and distortion sounds, the Heavy aims to serve up some of the “heaviest” high gain tones you’ll find in a compact stompbox. If it’s namesake is anything to expect, things are about to get loud and low. Let’s run down the features and get heavy in our Empress Effects Heavy review.
All Analog Signal Path – no digitals in here!
Super High Gain – It’s called the heavy, what’d you expect?
Weight – An intuitive new control that changes the character of your low end.
3 Band EQ – Selectable mid frequency lets you get precise eq curves, with boost or cut up to 10dB per band.
Dual Channel Design – Heavy and Heavier let you set your channels similarly, for rhythm/solo, or completely differently for a wider range of tones.
Soft Touch Switches – Relay bypass and intelligent switching make this pedal super easy to use.
Noise Gate – Natural and aggressive settings let you tailor the gate to your needs, keeping noise out of your signal chain.
True Bypass – The Empress Heavy employs true bypass, so you can be sure that it’s not affecting the signal when disengaged.
Small Size – The enclosure measures approximately 4.5″ by 3.5″ by 1.5″, which is delightfully small when considering all the features packed into this unit.
Powered by 9-12VDC power supply (~200mA).
Sound & Performance:
Upon first plugging in my Gibson Flying V into the Empress Effects Heavy, one thing became immediately apparent: this pedal is vicious. I cranked the Gain on the Heavy channel to around 3 o’clock and just let it rip. I found myself setting the Mid Freq to 500 Hz and scooping the sound a bit while using the Weight and Low knobs to get some massive low-end on my palm-muted riffs. A quick flip of the Gate switch to Natural added a smooth noise gate to tighten up the sound. Flipping the Gate to Aggr(essive) served to only make those machine gun staccato riffs all the more precise and brutal. The Heavy absolutely kills.
In the middle of the pedal are 2 knobs, Hi and Low, which serve to adjust the overall tonal output to suit the amp you’re playing through. The dedicated Weight controls on each channel help you tune the resonance of the low-end. This helps you carefully articulate the response of each channel which can make a big difference depending on what kind of speaker cab(s) you’re playing through and what kind of low-end “feel” you’re looking for. Essentially, this helps you tweak the all important low end for a massive bass response that isn’t flubby and mushy. This was a brilliantly excuted design choice that Cody and Co. at Empress Effects came up with. If you drop-tune your instruments to hell, you’ll really appreciate how the Heavy’s Weight knob helps your riffs retain definition.
The Heavy and Heavier channels are essentially identical, each one offering the possibility of mirroring the other, but there are several ways you can utilize each one in difference situations. Perhaps you could keep Heavy at a 500 Hz EQ setting with a Natural or Aggr(essive) gate setting for tight metal rhythms. Then kick on the Heavier side with a 250 Hz or 2 kHz mid-boost for leads that are lifted in frequency and soar over the mix. Or you could turn down the Gain on the Heavy between 9 o’clock to noon with a 250 Hz setting for mid-centric “crunch” tone, using the Heavier side your scooped rhythm tones, a lead boost for solos, or just an alternate distortion sound. The possibilities are endless.
I find the way Empress Effects makes the Gate so easy to use and individually adjustable per channel to be another winning aspect of this pedal. The Heavy also has a little Trim pot on the side of the pedal that lets you adjust the threshold for the Gate. This is particularly useful for getting the response of the Aggr(essive) setting just right for achieving maximum tightness for stabbing riffs, while ensuring any sustaining chords ring out without getting cut off. It’s a control you’ll typically set and forget, tweaking it to your guitar to hone the pedal to your style of heavy riffing and leaving it be.
This pedal is probably as close to perfect as I’ve seen as far as the features I can think of putting into a definitive metal distortion pedal. While I greatly appreciate that the Empress Effects Heavy offers 3 unique Mid Freq settings per channel, I couldn’t help but notice that none of these are in that all-important mid scooping range of 750-850 Hz. Instead, it appears that Empress Effects simply used the same 3 Mid Freq settings from their popular Multidrive pedal. While these 3 voicings do offer a wider range of distortion colors that add some versatility to this pedal for styles of guitar playing that aren’t associated with corpse paint and 7-9 stringed guitars sporting pointy body shapes, I would rather have seen Empress Effects offer some different Mid Freq options on at least one side of the pedal that are suited to metal, all metal, and nothing but metal. I found myself experimenting with 750 Hz and 800 Hz mid scoops in devices after the pedal to achieve sounds I was happiest with. But don’t get me wrong, this pedal is brutal and awesome. The Empress Effects Heavy is a force to be reckoned with and one of the most versatile distortion pedals you can find for heavier styles of guitar playing.
Let’s see the final result.
The Empress Effects Heavy offers the widest range of heavy guitar tones I’ve heard from a pedal in such a compact enclosure. The gain of this pedal’s twin channels is on point, crushing and aggressive, tight and focused, for some of the best metal distortion you’ll find in a pedal. The noise gate keeps your riffs tight and defined. The Weight controls give you the perfect bottom end for low-tuned guitars. And the 3 Mid Freq options per channel give you plenty of flexibility for a multitude of distortion sounds. If you’re looking for heavy guitar distortion, add this to your shortlist of must-try pedals.
That concludes our Empress Effects Heavy review. Thanks for reading.
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