SCORE: 9 / 10
Joey Sturgis Tones created the popular Toneforge line of amp sims/suites and it was only a matter of time before they added a bass product to the herd. For a few years, it seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot on the bass amp sim market to choose from and in the past few years alone there has been a nice increase in high quality bass products and I had heard good things about this one before trying it out.
When I think distorted bass, I think about bass players like Lemmy, Gene Simmons, Billy Gould, Danny Lilker, Andreas Johansson, Tim Commerford, Jon Stockman and Cliff Burton. All of those guys used distorted bass the right way but did so in their own unique ways. Hellraiser aims to get users the best in distorted bass tones.
Like the Toneforge sims, Bassforge offers a complete signal chain from gate to post FX. Each part of the signal chain has its own panel and everything has a quick bypass. The GUI is easy to use and makes things easy to navigate but, the graphics are a little much for me. I was waiting for Satan himself to come popping out with the push of a random button. I am all for unique graphics but I just feel the over the top edge to the aesthetics could deter some from purchasing the plugin, which would be too bad because this thing sounds way beyond good. No deduction here because it’s just an opinion and regardless of my opinion, you can tell hard work went into the GUI so it gets full marks. I will say I like how the name lights up with the output meter, that’s a nice touch.
I was expecting a one dimensional distorted bass plugin but when I fired up some of the clean and basic tones, I noticed right away that Hellraiser was way more than I was expecting. The clean bass tones are really nice, warm, defined and punchy. All of the controls in the suite have a ton of value from min to max. It really gives you a great assortment of tones even just inside the Hellraiser’s cleaner abilities. It’s not aggressively modern at all times like I had assumed it would be. Hellraiser can provide plenty of more traditional tones for country, jazz, blues, folk and more so don’t judge a book by its cover.
We move onto the meat, the stones, the snot, the grit or dirt. Whatever you want to call it, Bassforge Hellraiser has a mountain of it. It’s like a wrecking ball, it can be used for a few things but it’s main purpose is to bring down buildings. I have always loved a nice dirty bass tone but a lot of the time, lots of distortion on a bass tone can be hit or miss for me. Hellraiser brings the hits and very rarely misses for my needs. Don’t get nuts with the gain and distortion because all you are going to make is a mess. The big thumbs up for me across the gainier tones goes to the pick attack. Even at higher gains the pick response and attack are very present but you have to watch your mids.
As I mentioned, the controls in every section are useful and have a lot of value. There is a few controls I came across that I wanted to elaborate on. The first one I will touch on is the “Clank” knob. It adds that modern biting spike in the hi-mids. I liked this feature a lot but it has to be used properly. I found that turning the mid knob all the way down and bringing the treble knob back to 4-5 made the clank knob a lot more useful. A hidden feature of the clank knob is that it can be used to get that Bootsy Collins cutting funk tone. I was playing along to old Parliament albums with a fairly convincing bass tone in no time.
The next settings on the list of notables include two switches on the front panel. The “raise hell” and “enhance sub” switches add worlds of versatility to the plugin but also really help to create a truly beefy tone for most genres. The “raise hell” switch doesn’t have to raise hell, it can also be used to maybe just create a slight bit of mischief in a cleaner bass tone. The “enhance sub” switch adds a ton of punch in the low end of anything you are doing with BF Hellraiser.
Going from section to section, the first notable feature is the pedal section. This panel features the demon fuzz pedal. It’s a fuzz pedal designed specifically for bass that can be used subtly to help cut into a mix or as a mountain of distortion to ride behind the guitars for various heavy genres. The controls and tone characteristics have the feel of a muff pedal and the additional tone altering switches on the pedal create another world of tone options for Hellraiser users.
The cab section includes a JST matched cab feature plus four mics, three cabinets and a built in impulse loader so users can use their own impulses inside the suite. You can also bypass the cab section altogether in favor of your own loader if you prefer. When I did so, I found a lot of really nice matches for the Hellraiser. The Ownhammer Ampeg pack was extremely effective as was the Orange 810 from 3 Sigma Audio.
After the amp section there’s simple but effective EQ section that kicks in HP and LP filters with additional options to boost or cut anywhere you need to in no time flat. After that is a really nice section that features compression, limiting, a crossover and a lot more. Everything included in the post sections provides yet another wave of tone altering options to help with tone chasing, fitting into a mix or just personal taste.
I saw a video where a guy was using Hellraiser as a guitar amp so I had too much curiosity not to try it myself. When I did so, the plugin was able to give me some really cool stoner/doom tones. I’m not sure I’d use it for guitar on a recording being that the market just has too many great guitar options available but it’s fun to jam on either way. I would say that it excels for low tunings but I figure that’s sort of a given.
UPS / DOWNS:
I loved Bassforge Hellraiser, it’s capable of a lot more than the name suggests. You can use it to get a multitude of vintage and modern tones though modern tones are it’s strong suit. I took the Hellraiser to hell and back through piles of genres and applications with nothing but throat rip after throat rip. Rock, punk, stoner/doom, djent, death metal and even some very cool tones for the slap and pop players out there.
I would say any bass player of really any style could get something great out of this plugin but that being said, it provides a lot more use to modern players. If this is the quality we can expect from the Bassforge line, I sure hope we get more offerings in the line sooner than later!
Posted Feb 2nd 2019