Boss HM-2 : more than a Myth, the story of the Swedish Sound

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Since the beginning, if effects and gear have been used for guitars in Rock, it’s the same for our kind of music: The Metal !

So today, we will discuss about the BOSS HM-2. A classic amongst the classics, or the Graal, according to the chosen perspective. An effect not always well known, sometimes even forgotten or underrated.

This article is meant to be complete, as the BOSS HM-2 is probably the pedal which made the biggest mark on the history of Death Metal. So let’s start !

A little bit of technique

The BOSS HM-2 was produced for 8 years (October 1983 till October 1991), first in Japan (the famous « Made In Japan » aka MIJ) then in Taiwan from 1988, before being replaced shortly after by the HM-3. The HM-3 was produced for 5 years (April 1993 till December 1998).
And as this pedal is special, it ‘s not exactly a High Gain distorsion, but more kinda “Fuzz” thing (that’s why the sound is so particular). By the way, the HM-3 is a Germanium Hyperfuzz, meaning a rounder and warmer sound.

In the beginning of the 2000’s, BOSS launched the Drive Zone (or OD-20), a unit dedicated to distorted sounds, in the “Twin Pedal” series. With the COSM technology (Composite Object Sound Modeling), the sound of the BOSS HM-2 was brought back in a digital version. Today, this unit is discontinued.

boss hm2

Being presented in a standard format like all BOSS pedals, you can find 4 knobs :

  • Level, for volume control. The more you turn it right, the higher the volume will be.
    Color Mix L (for “Low”). This is used to set low frequencies around 100 Hz. To the right, you boost them. To the left, you cut them off. In the middle, there is no action on those frequencies.
    Color Mix H (for “High”). This is used to set high frequencies around 1 kHz. To the right, you boost them. To the left, you cut them off. In the middle, there is no action. With this one turned to the maximum right, you get that famous Swedish Death Metal sound called “Buzzsaw Tone”,
    Dist., to adjust depth and sustain of the distorsion. When you turn it on the right, the distorsion will be more deep with a lot of sustain.

The instruction manual is available here.

A little bit of history

If this pedal is well known by guitar players in the Extreme Metal scene, especially those playing Old School Swedish Death Metal, it has been made famous by David GILMOUR, who used it on “About Face“, his 2nd solo album released in 1984, and on “A Momentary Lapse of Reason“, the 13th PINK FLOYD album, released in 1987, and on the related tour. For those who want to know more about GILMOUR’s use of the HM-2, please follow these link, this one or this one.

In the meantime in Sweden, a 15 year old drummer, Nicke ANDERSSON, is looking to start a band with 2 friends he met at a summer camp and both metal fans : Alex HELLID on guitar and Leif “Leffe” CUZNER on bass, both aged 14.

But to start writing some material, they need a singer and a second guitarist. They ask 2 friends who play in MORBID for help : the drummer L.G. PETROV, who will be on vocals, and one of the guitarist Ulf “Uffe” CEDERLUND. NIHILIST is now complete and the band can start writing and recording their first demo : “Premature Autopsy” released in March 1988.

The demo was quickly sold out, so the band immediately decided to give a following, but “Uffe” was not available. Enter Johnny HEDLUND, a friend of the band, as a bassist, with “Leffe” taking the rhythm guitar.

The former bassist now guitarist got a BOSS HM-2 and listened carefully to the “On We Slay” demo by the American band R.A.V.A.G.E. (standing for Raging Atheists Vowing A Gory End) released in 1987, because he enjoyed a lot the guitar sound, That band who will later become known as ATHEIST is at the origin of the creation of the”Swedish Sound” but maybe doesn’t know anything about it.

The entire demo can be heard here.

CUZNER experimented a lot with his material to come close to the sound of the american band and during a rehearsal, he finally found it. Leif engaged by mistake the distorsion pedal creating THE sound through his amp (an old Hagström) ! The rest was just all about settings.

Uffe CEDERLUND told me that after I annoyed him at the end of an ENTOMBED’s gig on the « Uprising » tour. Then he showed me his gear. Many thanks to him again !

To record their new songs, the band, who was unhappy with the work done on their first demo, turned to the studio where MORBID has recorded ; the Sunlight Studio and its owner/founder, Tomas SKOGSBERG.

He is the first one to put this sound on tape. He made it its trademark, since so many bands passed through his studio to obtain this thick, heavy and mythic sound.

And the rest is all about Death Metal History.
Nicke didn’t feel like playing with Johnny, which lead to NIHILIST’s split. That will lead to 2 bands being formed, ENTOMBED and UNLEASHED (It may also be one of the reasons why UNLEASHED never used the HM-2). If one band was signed by EARACHE the other one was signed by CENTURY MEDIA.

And as the genre becomes profit-making, all the guys and the bands in Nicke ANDERSSON’s entourage will benefit from it, including some bands like :

  • DISMEMBER
  • GRAVE (who actually never used the HM-2 as stated by the band)
  • TREBLINKA (before changing their name to TIAMAT and becoming the first band to record an album at the Sunlight)
  • CARBONIZED (founded by Lars ROSENBERG, future member of ENTOMBED), with Matti KÄRKI (later on in CARNAGE and DISMEMBER) and Christopher JOHNSSON (founder of THERION)
  • CARNAGE ( founded by Michael AMOTT, CARCASS, ARCH ENEMY)
  • GROTESQUE (founded by Kristian WAHLIN, aka « Necrolord » famous for its album artworks for bands like EMPEROR, AT THE GATES, BATHORY, DISSECTION) which would later become AT THE GATES
  • CEMETARY
  • NECROPHOBIC
  • AFFLICTED
  • DESULTORY

And the genre is going to know an ascent without precede, pulling with it this characteristic sound signature mastered by Tomas SKOGSBERG, making the Sunlight THE place to record and to get the sound. This webpage lists all the band which recorded at the Sunlight over the years (you can click the underlined names to get details about their discography, line-up, credits and album arts).

Of course, as everything that works fine, the receipe will be copied and reused. Therefore, a lot of band will follow the trend, without necessarily recording at the Sunlight. Among them, we can list EDGE OF SANITY, DELLAMORTE, the Finnish bands MORDICUS (with its unique and famous album “Dances from Left“), DEPRAVITY (the “Silence of the Centuries” EP), both released on French labels (Thrash Records and Adipocère, respectively) and especially FLESHCRAWL who has had this sound, even after recording in different and famous, studios : Dan SWANÖ‘s Unisound, Peter TÄGTGREN’s Abyss Studio, and Fredrik NORDSTRÖM’s Fredman Studio.

boss hm2

And if this sound is forever linked to Death Metal, it has also been used by Crust bands (DISFEAR, NAILS, USURPRESS, ACEPHALIX), Black metal bands (NOCTES, DARKTHRONE), Grindcore bands (ROTTEN SOUND, TRAP THEM, MAGRUDERGRIND), Hardcore bands (HARM’S WAY, CONVERGE), Doom metal (MORGION). However, to our knowledge, it has never been used in Thrash Metal.

Even if the “Buzzsaw Tone” reached its climax in the early 90’s, it has really never disappeared from radar screens because groups always used it(DISMEMBER, FLESHCRAWL) before others like BLOODBATH or VALLENFYRE (as well as the Old School Swedish Death Metal revival) put back it on the center stage : today we do not count any more the number of groups using it : HAIL OF BULLETS, THE RESISTANCE (Jesper STRÖMBLAD‘s new band founding member of IN FLAMES and HAMMERFALL – Marco ARO, vocalist of THE HAUNTED), BLACK BREATH, ENTRAILS, FERAL, DEMONICAL, PUTERAEON, BLOOD MORTIZED (formed by the former guitarist of AMON AMARTH, Anders Hansson), FACEBREAKER, BRUTALLY DECEASED, ZOMBIFIED, ERODED, HORRENDOUS, REVEL IN FLESH, GRAVEYARD, BASTARD GRAVE, ROTTEN CASKET, THE DEAD GOATS, ULCER, SMOTHERED, GRAVESITE, FUNEST and for the french Metal scene, TORTURE THRONE and GHUSA.

Rate your Musics lists all bands that used, or are still using the Buzzsaw Tone. Eventhough GRAVE is listed, the band never used HM-2.

A little bit of settings

As showed by Daniel EKEROTH (author of “Swedish Death Metal” and bassist of DELLAMORTE, USURPRESS) in this video, getting THE sound requires a Gibson, a Marshall amp and all knobs turned to max. Nothing really complicated here !

Ovar SÄFSTRÖM, who is today a famous film critic in Sweden, was the guitarist/singer of NIRVANA 2002 and, above all, the singer on ENTOMBED‘s E.P. “Crawl“. In a forum post dated of the 26th of July 2009, he delivers the secret to the sound of “Left Hand Path”.

The original post can be read here.

When Uffe CEDERLUND showed me his gear, he had a GIBSON SG, a MARSHALL JCM 800 and its 4×12 cabinet, a Boss HM-2 and a BOSS SD-1 used as a boost giving an acid and shrill touch to the HM-2. That’s mainly the difference between ENTOMBED and DISMEMBER sounds (for example the settings on the Dist. Level is more soft in DISMEMBER’s guitar sound). Seeing him some years later in DISFEAR for the “Misanthropic Generation” support tour, he was using the same gear.

Dan SWANÖ, in a dedicated forum, gave all the secrets to the sound of BLOODBATH’s Nightmares Made Flesh” and, once again, it’s quite simple : a Boss HM-2 in a Marshall DSL50 50W amp with its 4×12 cabinet. The take was made with microphones chosen and placed by Jens BOGREN. He also gave the information about “Resurrection Through Carnage” : the BOSS in a DIGITECH GNX2 preamp with the “MARSHALL” preset, through the speaker emulation. Then he chose a plug-in which copies the frequencies (such as the Voxengo CurveEQ) taking the ENTOMBED’s intro of “Drowned” and applied them to the take. All the infos are located here.

A little bit of infos

Today, to get one of the original pedal, you have to turn to the Internet and the second hand market. By the way, the myth that the « Made In Japan » is better than the « Made In Taiwan » is absolutely wrong and kind of silly thing as the pedals are sounding exactly the same way, as you can hear on this video :

If the MIJ prices continue to skyrocket, it’s because they are mainly searched by David GILMOUR’s fans and because ENTOMBED and DISMEMBER guitarists collected them during their tour, not because they are better.

You can buy an MIT without any concerns.

Are you wishing to buy a pedal which clones the Boss HM-2 ? The BEHRINGER HM-300 will fit in perfectly. It’s cheap, easy to find and will do more than the job, as demonstrated by Pierre-Jean TOTY ( LOKURAH‘s guitarist) in this video:

Otherwise, Anarchy Audio released its own version of the Boss HM-2 and so did Lone Wolf Audio with its « Left Hand Wrath » which, aside from its tribute name, improves the original pedal by adding more settings options.
In the same style, you can find the « Enormous Door LHP Extreme Distortion » (LHP standing for Left Hand Path). You can also buy a kit to create your own (“The Swede”, by BYOC), to make your own using this blueprint/link or to have yours modified, as offered by the french MSM Workshop (more information here).

Other pedals, which are not technically clones, can be also be used for a sound in “the spirit of”: the BOSS HM-3, the ARION Metal Master, the ROCKTEK Metal Worker, the DOD Super American Metal and the MXR Fullbore Metal (with radicals settings and the use of the frequencies controller). You can hear them in these videos :

Last but not least, we have to point out that the Boss HM-2 (as the other pedals like clones) can be used as boost in front of any distorsion and to put some  « dirt » in the original sound of any amp especially designed for Metal (Mesa Boogie, Peavey, Engl, Randall, Marshall, Diezel, Blackstar, Laney, Orange, Bogner, Laboga, and so on).
And that’s the secret behind the guitar sound of AT THE GATES on “Slaughter of the Soul” : the guitarists used a Boss HM-2 and a Metal Zone as boost in front of a Peavey Supreme 160. The infos are inside the booklet of the 2002 release, but for the exact settings, you will have to experiment (It’s mainly possible to think that the BOSS HM-2 was used to boost the MT-2 gain in the clean channel).

To conclude…

In conclusion, the BOSS HM-2 is much more than a pedal : it’s a myth ! It’s also and above all a unique and characteristic, copied, declined, worked again and adapted sound signature for the listener who will obtain a certain atmosphear, from the putrid cellar to groovy Death’n’roll via Grindcore. But it’s especially the insurance to get a sound who will be heavy, fat, viscous and acid.

Its so cult that 3 bands have made t-shirts in its honor :

ROTTEN SOUND even released a patch and you can even find a backpack made in its honor !

Let’s bet that Boss will release it again in the « Waza Craft » series (the custom shop pedal version of old standards. Circuits are analogue, and the pedal has 2 modes, Standard and Custom). It would only mete out justice and especially amply deserved,,,

This article is dedicated to Leif “Leffe” CUZNER (1973-2006), to founding members of NIHILIST and to Master Tomas SKOGSBERG.

Thanks to Pierre-Jean TOTY , Frédéric Patte-Brasseur and Joffrey Billand for their help ! Thanks to Geoffroy Lagrange for this article !

Adaptation traduction et corrections faites dans la première quinzaine de mars 2016. Article en français disponible ici.

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