If I had to pick a couple of words to describe GYGAX’s music, they would definitely be “highly energetic.” Others might have used “Thin Lizzy,” and it would still make sense. Why? A quick shuffle through their works and a brief look at the band’s history serves as the best answer to that question.
Gygax formed from the remnants of Gypsyhawk roughly five years ago, and indulge in delivering hard rock in the vein of Thin Lizzy, UFO, and Canada’s Moxy. All of these influences are wrapped in a gimmicky cloak of nerdy themes that draw inspiration from the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
If there’s one thing that Gygax can boast about, it’s the well-crafted guitar themes that dominate High Fantasy from start to finish. Whether we’re talking about harmonized leads or soaring guitar solos, both Bryant Throckmorton and Wes Wilson prove they have the chops to set the fretboard ablaze; the songs “Something So Familiar” and “High Fantasy” serve as great examples of this. Regardings vocals, Eric Harri does a good job singing in a typical rocker/bard fashion and keeps the groove going with his bass at all times. He has improved as a vocalist over the years; however, he doesn’t stem from the beaten path of previous albums. On the other hand, his bass lines sound better than ever, but more on that in a moment.
For the most part, High Fantasy is a balanced album. Songs revolve around mid/fast tempo formulas and cool hooks that keep you engaged, and don’t go past the four-minute mark. With this being their third release, it’s becoming clearer they’re into the “AC/DC way of doing things,” meaning they’re okay with repeating the recipe of 2nd Edition and Critical Hits; don’t expect any surprises whatsoever ’cause you’re not getting any. That said, I’d argue more effort could be put towards songwriting without causing them to miss the target. For example, the instrumental “Acquisition, Magnus Canis.” It’s a missed opportunity that could have grown into a really interesting tune instead of merely serving as a two-minute “intermission” in the middle of the record.
When it comes to audio engineering, I’d say the band sounds better than ever and ex-Gygax guitarist Armand John Anthony is probably to blame. Having jammed and recorded with these guys in the past, he seems to understand perfectly what they are after and he just delivered. The sound is bright, and perhaps too clean compared to their earlier stuff, yet it’s warm, organic, and feels authentic. Every instrument gets the space it deserves in the mix, but the work that’s gone into mixing that bass is truly top-notch. It really brings out the best of Eric’s playing.
Overall High Fantasy is a fun and well-crafted album to listen to, and I caught myself grooving to the music a lot. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but that’s not a bad thing. Set your expectations straight, and you’ll probably enjoy it as well. Roll initiative!