When we last saw California’s Gygax, the stalwart four-piece party encountered a cynical man-cat1 from the mountains of Blashyrkh, hoping to impress this grizzled wizard with Critical Hits, an album that sang the praises of Dungeons & Dragons with a sound that would make Phil Lynott proud. The party made their attack roll successfully, making the wizard curious as to what the party would have up its collective sleeves. Two years later, with a shuffling of members and an album cover by Rachel Deering that would blind anyone with its sheer awesomeness, they return with 2nd Edition. Hoping to charm the wizard once again, spells are cast, weapons are drawn, and initiative rolls were performed…
And again, Gygax mined the well-plundered caverns of yesteryear, marrying the sounds of Thin Lizzy with their love of tabletop role-playing games, and as before, they come out on top. I will admit right off the bat that with the departures of guitarist Armand John Lizzy and drummer Justin Dempsey, I was worried that the quality of the songwriting may take a dip. All worries were cast aside as soon as “Dice Throwers & Rock ‘n Rollers” sprung forth in earnest, with co-founder Bryant Throckmorton and new guitarist Jeff Potts gelling like a duo that’s been together far longer than a couple of years, nailing guitar harmonies like seasoned pros. Vocally, bassist Eric Harris sounds a bit stronger and a little more confident this go-’round, which is not an easy feat, as he was already a great vocalist to begin with. Scoring Pentagram‘s Pete Campbell also provided a nice feather to their Cap of Boogie +5, adding a solid backbone to an already incredible sound.
But while Critical Hits opened with a banger of a track in “Lesser Magick” that made the material following it feel dwarfed in comparison (excellent as it was), no such issues arrive here with 2nd Edition, as the album progresses to better rewards deeper into its play time. Closer “Second Wind” charges forth with almost a New Wave of British Heavy Metal bounce, punctuated by Iron Maiden-esque twin-guitar harmonies. The one-two punch of “It Makes It Worth It” and “The Lascivious Underdark”2 grooves with some serious boogie, with the former showing some mean swagger, and the latter capturing the adventurous spirit the band’s been aiming for. But it’s “Pure Hearts” that won me over in the end. In what can only be described as the coolest love song I’ve ever heard, which Harris dedicated to a Dungeon Master friend of his and his wife, “Pure Hearts” takes the Lizzy template, merges it with lyrics about undying love and compassion, and is finished off with some of Harris’ best vocals to date. Seriously, if hearing this song doesn’t make you crack a smile even just a little, you are dead inside.
Once again, Gygax chose to keep the production as warm as humanly possible, making 2nd Edition an absolute joy to listen to at any volume. The guitars shimmer with an inviting glow, the bass thumps with unbridled passion, and the drums resound with a great clarity without once sounding distorted or trashed. That said, the same problem that plagued the debut makes a slight return here, as 2nd Edition still feels a bit front-heavy. “Wish” and “Heavy Meddle,” while not bad songs whatsoever, do pull the momentum down during the album’s back half, a problem that’s made a hair worse by the fact that they’re back-to-back prior to “Second Wind” bringing things up to speed. Again, this is a minor nitpick, but one that has to be mentioned regardless.
So once again, the party says goodbye to the impressed man-cat wizard3, leaving him not only entranced by their second offering, but also winning him over as a convinced fan. With the party on their merry way, the wizard returns to his comfy home, satisfied by 2nd Edition, and hoping more followers will pick up on what Gygax has to offer, as the album has cemented them as the real deal. I await further adventures ahead for this group, and hopefully their tales will lead them to even more fruitful rewards.