While “don’t judge a book by its cover” is one of the most often repeated cliches, we all commit the sin of prejudgement on a daily basis. There’s nothing to it; the vast amount of information and culture we can potentially partake in just doesn’t leave us a choice but to create some very crude filters. That being said, we should strive to be as cognizant as possible of these filters and their limitation, from time to time choosing consciously to do away with them and try out something they say we shouldn’t. This is what happened to me with Gygax. The band name, the cover style, the track titles, all screamed way too much cheese to me and so I passed on listening to them until their most recent and third album, High Fantasy, was recently released. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
Instead of the cookie-cutter and crudely non-self aware power metal I was expecting, I found an incredibly fun and well made traditional rock n’ roll album, with perfect guitar tones, great vocals, and just an overall sense of jovial musicianship that makes it veer often into traditional heavy metal territory. Take “Mirror Image” for example, probably the stand out track for me from this album. That opening riff is just so much fun, guitar tracks layered over that infectiously nostalgic main lead. A galloping groove section straight out of the 60’s, with guitar tones echoing bands like Wishbone Ash and early Jethro Tull closes everything up, preparing the instruments perfectly for the embellishment of the vocals. And boy, do the vocals deliver; throughout the album, they present this powerful timbre filled with presence and verve, sending the hype right into your heart.
Pick a random track from this album and play it and you won’t be disappointed. This is heavy metal done incredibly well, production and style update for a modern setting but still awash with the somewhat juvenile but totally infectious spring-in-your-step vibe of the early days of the genre. Gygax have proved to me that giving a chance to something you might otherwise not check out is an important exercise. Please allow me to spare you of the same mistake and tell you to check them out immediately if you’re fans of progressive rock, heavy metal, and anything in between to any capacity.