Forget El Niño, Ventura. Get ready for the hard thunder of Gygax.

Last Friday, the local quartet dropped its debut Critical Hits on Creator Destructor Records. A celebratory record-release concert takes place this Friday at Bombay. With Armand John Lizzy and Bryant Throckmorton on guitar and Justin Dempsey on drums, Gygax pounds and snakes like early Metallica with some Slayer-ish licks. The powerage on rockers such as “Chain Lightning,” “Lesser Magick,” “World Breaker” and “Draw Breath” is lethal and succinct, with Eric Harris’ brawny vocals floating over the music’s Kevlar surface while song titles evoke those mystical and elemental tracks on “Ride the Lightning.”

Just don’t call it metal.

“People see long hair and big amps and think oh, it’s a metal band,” Harris said. As you may have guessed from Armand’s stage name, Thin Lizzy would be a more apt comparison. Or Deep Purple, AC/DC . . .

“That’s all blues-based” explains Harris. “We’re blues-based, too.” Harris can understand the generalization though, as Gygax was among the bands at last October’s Frost and Fire Fest.

“That was a great show,” Harris recalled of the metal fest where Gygax jammed a 35-minute set alongside its buds in Visigoth. The exposure and the audience response was great, despite being the bill’s anomaly.

“I was thinking ‘God, we’re going to be that band that’s not metal,’ ” says Harris. Unlike, say, early Metallica, Gygax’s songs are punk-rock-short and punchy. “We love all kinds of music,” Harris said. “I grew up listening to punk and hardcore. There is a little bit of a punk aesthetic. We don’t take any directive from any one thing.” That said, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath loom large as influences on the band.

Originally from Abbeville, Louisiana, Harris moved to Ohio, where he cut his teeth touring with now-defunct  Gypsyhawk. “It just didn’t work out. A lot of egos and stuff,” he explains.

After the personal and financial stress of touring without proper remuneration caused Gypsyhawk to nosedive, Harris came to California two years ago, living briefly in Hollywood before relocating to Ventura, where he met Lizzy, Dempsey and Throckmorton to combine and form Gygax.

If the band’s name sounds like a tribute to Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax, that’s not by accident. “I’ve been into fantasy stuff for a long time,” said Harris, who, along with lead vocals and bass duties, remains the group’s chief songwriter and geek. “I’m the only one in the band who plays D&D or Magick the Gathering.” That doesn’t matter to the rest of the band members, who co-write the music with Harris.

“The other dudes are badass,” he said.

Gygax recorded “Critical Hits” at the Captain’s Quarters in Ventura, where Lizzy does much work as a sound engineer. The group is already halfway done with its next album.

After this hometown record release concert, “We’re probably not going to play a lot,” Harris said, explaining the need for his band not to overexpose itself on the live music circuit. Harris enjoys creating music here but added that his move to town had little to do with its natural charms.

“I’ve never been a big ocean person,” he said. “It’s just a place like any other place. It’s just quieter than L.A.” With Critical Hits out though, Ventura may become a little less quiet.


Gygax will perform on Friday, Jan. 29, at Bombay Bar, 143 S. California St. Learn more about the record at www.creator-destructor.com.