If you were to ask me what my hobbies were in high school, you would get three answers: listening to metal (duh), playing video games (Final Fantasy VI, baby!), and… playing [Advanced] Dungeons & Dragons [2nd Edition™]. Yep, I was one of those kids in high school and I’m quite proud of it. After all, some of the closest friends I have are from that bygone era. So when AMG himself dropped a promo on me from a new band, from former Gypsyhawk members, called Gygax, named after the Godfather of D&D himself, E. Gary Gygax, I was both intrigued and skeptical. I love my metal and nerd tendencies, and Gygax had better come in with a decent THAC01 and saving throw vs. death if they wanted to withstand a lashing from yours truly.
And they made every damn saving throw they rolled. As soon as “Lesser Magick” gets its swagger going, the Thin Lizzy-esque hooks dig deep into you. Bryant Throckmorton (Gypsyhawk) and Armand John Lizzy have the twin-guitar melodies and riffs down pat, and Eric Harris (Gypsyhawk) sounds absolutely phenomenal on here, reminding me of both Phil Lynott and a little bit of Lemmy’s (Motörhead… RIP) grit. In fact, by the time the chorus rolls around, you may bang your head somewhat, but you’ll definitely boogie. This is retro rock done well, kids. Any and all apprehension about Critical Hits being too goofy or riding the coattails of the retro craze melted away as the song progressed forward. And those solos! Throckmorton and Lizzy channeled Lizzy legends Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson beyond effectively. The year just started, and already we have a strong candidate for Song o’ the Year here [Everybody calm down! – Steel Pragmatist].
Anybody looking for a continuation of Gypsyhawk may want to look elsewhere, as Gygax is even less metallic. That said, there’s no shortage of great songs on here. “Draw Breath” continues with a driving backbeat supplied by drummer Justin Dempsey, who also lays out a mean beat on follow-up “The Rope of Shadow.” But the real stars are the twin guitar attacks of Throckmorton and Lizzy. They studied their idols well, and the entire album is peppered with incredible solos and phenomenal guitar melodies throughout. Even instrumental “Dirge for a Deposed Duke” recalls the finger-picked majesty of Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow).
Critical Hits is aided by a warm production. The guitars have that old school fuzzy drive to them, the bass is fat and clear throughout, and the drums sound organic and lively. The only bone I have to pick with Critical Hits is it starts to drag a bit near the end. Not badly, mind you, but compared to the heavenly front half of the album, it is a bit noticeable. That said, there really isn’t a weak point on the album, though maybe a bit of a shuffle of tracks may be in order.
Here I was, all set to slag Critical Hits for being another retro cash-in, and they nearly rolled a natural 20 on my sorry ass. Next time you’re ready for an adventure or have some mana in need of tappin’, let Gygax supply the soundtrack. You won’t be disappointed. Now, ROLL INITIATIVE! [I got a 1… – AMG]