I spent some time with five different distortion pedals that cover a wide range of sonic territory. The one thing they all have in common? They sound great. This is by no means an in-depth review of these pedals, just a little taste of what I thought of each.
Fundamental Distortion by Walrus Audio
This pedal sounds like distortion, plain and simple. The sound you hear in your head when you hear the word 'distortion' is probably pretty close to this pedal. You can get a wide range of basic tones from crunchy, bright overdrive, to heavy, dark distortion. Then you realize there are three modes and each of those can be tweaked accordingly. This pedal threatens to go beyond the fundamentals with all the sounds it can conjure up.
Excess Distorting Modulator by Old Blood Noise Endeavors
Take a complex, gooey distortion and pair it with three different modulation modes (fifths, chorus, or delay) and there you have Excess. I love the sound of this pedal. Explore classic sounds from the 80s or go for a shoegaze wall of sound. With the gain cranked this pedal can be very in-your-face, or it can be tamed back to a more laid-back roar. You can change the routing of the distortion and modulation for even more options. Run the distortion into the modulation or vice versa, or choose to run them side by side in parallel mode.
Heavy Menace by Empress Effects
You want a lot of gain and the ability to really carve our your heavy sound? This pedal has it. Heavy Menace gives you so many ways to tweak your distortion to just your taste. With three modes (light-ish, heavy, heavier) it is quite versatile, even with that menacing name. I quite like the heavy setting with the EQ set to boost highs and lows, mids scooped. In addition to the three modes and EQ, the Heavy Menace also has a gate function to block out that squelching noise when you aren't playing. It's an acquired taste, for me it feels like something is missing when you remove all that noise.
Lizard Queen by EHX & JHS
This pedal is strange and I love it. Is it a fuzz pedal or distortion pedal? I dunno. Depends on how you like to categorize things, I suppose. It doesn't have the controls you expect on a distortion/fuzz, namely gain. Instead its gain is fixed but you can adjust the balance between shadow and sun (essentially tone) and adjust the octave volume directly. Blending the octave back into the overall signal can bring out some really interesting sounds. The result is similar to a Big Muff but with more complexity, thickness and presence.
Locust by Ground Control
Holy wow this thing screams. Locust is a very high gain distortion with a gritty, sluggish edge. It doesn't do subtle very well. This thing would feel right at home in your metal/stoner/doom band. The tone control seems to operate like a high or low pass filter, which allows a wider range of sounds, from thin AM radio tones, to dark sputtering roars.