Victory VX The Kraken MKII review – is this the best new metal amp in the world?

The original Kraken caused a stir upon its release, but will the MKII elevate it into the pantheon of classic metal amps?

Victory VX The Kraken MKII

Victory VX The Kraken MKII

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Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

One of the best metal amps money can buy with a clean and classic rock channel thrown in to boot.

£1,529, victoryamps.com

Having reviewed the original Kraken back in 2015, I remember it causing a bit of a stir in the metal community. Here was an amp proudly referencing its tonal influences and not being afraid of being judged against them. Designed in conjunction with prog-metal guitarist and YouTube personality Rabea Massaad, it was a two-channel amp with each channel based on each amp in Rabea’s favoured stereo amp set-up: a JCM900 and a Peavey 5150.

Fast-forward to 2023 and Victory have released the Mark II Kraken which they say is “the culmination of four years of development and building upon the legacy of the acclaimed VX Kraken series. The MKII represents the next evolution in the Kraken family”.

Victory logo on the MKII
Victory logo on the MKII

What’s the difference between the new MKII and the original?

“The inspiration for creating the MKII was to embellish what was already a great sounding amp”, claims co-designer Rabea. “My main goal was to enhance the amp tonally but keep it within the realms of what MKI was best known for, which is versatility and feel.”

Indeed, aesthetically it isn’t a great deal different from the MKI but closer inspection reveals a darker grey finish, new chicken-head style knobs, and, for fans of high frequency enhancement – a brand new global presence knob and a rear presence shift switch.

“I do appreciate why people like presence more nowadays because I’ve found sometimes I want to get that bite, and really push to top end depending on what I’m playing. Even in low and mid gain tones, adding the shift switch or a touch of presence just brings out more detail which I love. And adding presence with the extra shift switch is again, another string to the bow of versatility”.

There’s also the option to contain this amp in a more traditional wooden case which makes it less lunchbox and more of a classic amp head.

MKII rear speaker outputs
MKII rear speaker outputs

Does the new Victory Kraken have a clean channel?

The most notable addition however, and perhaps most surprisingly given the style of its creator, is a brand-new clean channel. “The remit in my mind was ambient chimey glassy goodness!” said Rabea. “I like to play mid to low gain ambient tones a lot more now, and chimey cleans with single coils. So that began the discussion for adding the clean channel.”

Apparently, the idea for the clean channel was born during the concept of the Super Kraken (the 100w behemoth version of the MKI Kraken). “We disengaged half a preamp tube to go cleaner on VX100 – however this wasn’t possible with the real estate available in VXMKII – as it’s a lunchbox head, so instead Martin decided to try a different approach, by attenuating the first gain stage, which results in a nice, chimey naturally compressed (not overly so) clean channel,” explained Rabea.

MKII clean channel
MKII clean channel

Is metal still in the Kraken’s DNA?

Over the many years of playing through different amps, I’ve almost exclusively found that at neutral settings (i.e. 12 o’clock for everything) an amp’s character – or lack thereof – should be revealed, which can then be tweaked to taste. Without naming and shaming, there are many that don’t initially reveal themselves until a deep dive into the instruction manual undertaken and subsequent recommendations employed, but these amps tend to be the most forgettable with just a few exceptions.

In my experience, it isn’t a great sign when such a high degree of precision is required to obtain a good sound, especially as there are so many variables required for replicating the sound of this setting when travelling from venue to venue.

This is not the case with the Kraken. Powering up the high gain second channel we’re immediately met with overdriven brute force and a powerful thud of air emerging from our Cornford 2×12 cab with Celestion Vintage 30s. Whilst some tone aficionados will scoff at the concept of a great metal tone, it isn’t particularly easy to achieve and especially without drive pedals. Almost without exception a TS808 or similar will be needed in front of a high gain metal amp to help sculpt away the low end and boost the mids.

Not so with the Kraken however. With the gain on 1:00 there is plenty of grunt and power without the flubby low end, which is easily tamed by engaging the Bass Focus button at the rear. The additional presence helps with a sonic sheen to the low power chords provided by our seven-string Vigier and when switching to lead work contributes towards a scything tone that accentuates the pick attack thereby transferring a little extra aggression to our soloing. The second master volume means that you’re able to set the volume a little higher for lead work and switch between both master volume settings on the footswitch.

MKII bass, middle, treble and master knobs
MKII bass, middle, treble and master knobs

Does the Kraken MKII’s first gain channel emulate the JCM800?

If it were up to me, I’d be happy to remain on the second gain channel indefinitely, but it would be an incomplete review without at least sampling the other two channels. As mentioned the first gain channel was originally inspired by a JCM900, though anyone plugging into this channel who are familiar with the JCM800/900 would not need to be told which amp was its influence.

Crunchy, trebly, mid rich rhythm tones are the order of the day and when compared to my own 1985 JCM800, the Gain 1 channel is very similar. Unlike its inspiration, the Kraken can inject plenty more bass frequencies into the signal than the bass-shy JCM, although – just like the JCM800 – a drive pedal is necessary for hi-gain tones and by stomping on our Boss SD1 we get drive and crunch in abundance. Hard rock heaven, and definitely worth abandoning my comfort zone of that second gain channel for.

Does the Kraken MKII’s clean channel sound any good?

The clean channel is something of a welcome surprise. I was expecting chiming cleans based on the 6L6 power section but as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of Victory products, the power section rarely tells the tonal tale of their amps. With the gain just over half-way, there’s a slight Marshall-edge to the sound which offsets the chime a little and pushes you more towards Marshall territory than Fender. That is a preference for me personally but turning the gain down a little and turning up the higher frequencies nears you towards the chime, though without perfectly capturing the glassy cleans of a Fender.

MKII high/preheat/low switch
MKII high/preheat/low switch

Is the Victory VX The Kraken Mk II worth it?

It’s often a marketing ploy to advertise an amp as being ‘two amps in one’ and in fairness to Victory they don’t actually market the amp in this way. However, they probably should, because it’s quite an achievement for one lunchbox sized amp to house two excellent and contrasting sounds.

As far as the second gain channel goes, it’s a near perfect metal sound. Plenty of crunch, more than enough gain, and a sound that punches its way through the speaker cabinet. It can be as aggressive as you like or as compressed as you like, which pretty much covers the metal guitar tone palette. More importantly – and even though its based on a Peavey 5150 – the Kraken most certainly has its own character to the point that we would genuinely consider this to be held in the same high regard as other iconic metal amps such as the Dual Rectifier and Diezel VH4. One of the finest metal amps money can buy and one of only a few that also boasts two other completely different, yet sonically superb channels.

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