Two years ago, intrepid adventurers Gygax burst on the scene with their debut, Critical Hits, but it’s not like they were a bunch of Level 1 bards. These guys hail from bands such as Gypsyhawk, Skeletonwitch and Warbringer, to name only a few. So they are deceptively experienced, and it showed on the debut, which easily landed in my 2016 Top 10 list. That means the skepticism that accompanied their debut has been replaced with high expectations.
Now we’re onto the band’s second release, the aptly-named Second Edition, and has anything changed? Well, not really, and that’s a good thing. The band sticks with the formula from Critical Hits: that is, Dungeons & Dragons lyrics (and incredibly authentic cover art!) and Thin Lizzy style. It would almost be enough to label the band as gimmicks if they weren’t so damned good.
Second Edition gets off to a raucous start with “Dice Throwers & Rock n’ Rollers,” an exuberant homage to both of Gygax’s aforementioned influences. It’s the longest song on the album but still comes in under five minutes (brevity is a good thing!), and is swiftly followed by more up-tempo rockers – “It Makes It Worth It” is a fantastic stomper with a great chorus, and “The Lascivious Underdark” is the first love song ever written about a mind flayer. It’s about time: mind flayers have been misunderstood for decades.
“Pure Hearts” is where the band truly channels their inner Thin Lizzy, with the mid-tempo rhythm, twin guitars, and Eric Harris doing his best Phil Lynott impersonation. It’s quite possibly the best song they’ve written to date.
On vinyl, that would wrap up side 1. Side 2 (ie the final four songs) don’t have the immediacy of the first four, but are excellent in their own right, with the mellow, almost wistful “Wish,” and the guitar-bass only “Heavy Meddle.” “Second Wind” is the closer, a song detailing an epic Dungeons & Dragons melee.
Second Edition is an almost perfect album, but there are a couple of nitpicks to be made. First, it’s too short. The eight songs here are so good that I was visibly upset when the album came to an end. Ten songs would have been perfect. And second, the song order could have been more effective. Making the slower songs the third and seventh tracks would have given us an album arranged in classic ’70s fashion, whereas putting them back to back takes the wind out of the album’s sails to a small degree.
But those nitpicks are super minor. What Gygax have given us with Second Edition is an album that has a complete absence of filler. Eight memorable tracks, beautifully produced and expertly arranged, each as memorable as the last. You don’t have to be a D&D fanatic or a fan of Thin Lizzy to appreciate a great album when you hear one, but if you are the smile will never leave your face while you listen.
(released March 16, 2018 on Creator-Destructor Records)
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Listen To Gygax – “Pure Hearts”