By Dave Pehling

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Hard rock and heavy metal have a long history of drawing inspiration from fantasy, starting with Led Zeppelin singing about Gollum and Mordor on “Ramble On” and Ronnie James Dio’s epic invocations of silver mountains, dragons and wizards through to legions of power metal bands like Blind Guardian, Kamelot and Rhapsody of Fire. Taking a different approach, Ventura, CA-based band Gygax uses the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons as the foundation to their conceptual hard rock.

Named after D&D co-creator Gary Gygax, the group rose from the ashes of fantasy-minded LA metal crew Gypsyhawk in 2015 when singer/bassist Eric Harris (who had also played in Skeletonwitch, Holy Grail and Sorcerer) and guitarist Bryant Throckmorton founded the group with onetime Night Demon guitarist Armand John Lizzy and drummer Justin Dempsey. By the following year, the quartet had issued it’s debut album Critical Hits on Creator Destructor Records.

While the band kept it’s tongue planted firmly in cheek with the album artwork and lyrics, musically the group delivers catchy tunes and a harmonized twin-guitar attack that owes a major debut to the classic sounds of Thin Lizzy. The band has since had some changes to the line-up with Harris and Throckmorton being joined by ex-Warbringer and Lich King guitarist Jeff Potts and current Pentagram drummer Peter Campbell for its forthcoming sophomore effort.

Second Edition finds Gygax venturing into even more pop-minded territory while still staying true to their dedication to their love for Dungeons & Dragons and tuneful boogie-rock. The band gives fans a taste of the new songs ahead of the album’s March 16th release date with this West Coast tour that lands in Oakland at the Golden Bull on Thursday night.

For the show in the East Bay, Gygax is part of a four-band bill that also features one of the leading lights on the Bay Area metal scene, veteran Oakland outfit Blackwülf. Having established a reputation for dishing out colossal riffs and memorable tunes over the course of six years and three acclaimed albums, longtime collaborators guitarist Pete Holmes and drummer Dave Pankenier (who have played music together since they were growing up in Arizona) were joined in 2012 by singer Alex Cunningham and bassist Scott Peterson.

Working from the classic quartet model that served so many great hard rock and metal bands during the ’70s, Blackwülf crafted a handful of doom-laden originals for their self-released album Mind Traveler in 2014. While the group’s sound owes an unquestionable debt to Black Sabbath, even on that debut effort Blackwülf stood apart from the many stoner-metal outfits who are content to pilfer riffs and song ideas wholesale from the iconic metal godfathers.

The East Bay headbangers recently celebrated the release of their second sternum-rattling effort on Ripple Music entitled Sinister Sides. The album-release party featured a guest appearance by legendary doom-metal guitarist Geof O’Keefe (a founding member of Pentagram and Bedemon) on several tunes, reprising his contributions to the recording.

Headlining SF psychedelic glam/stoner-metal group Glitter Wizard has been bashing out its style of over-the-top theatrical hard rock for over a decade. Twisting together elements of Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Blue Cheer and Black Oak Arkansas, the motley crew is currently working on a follow-up to its their third headbanging space-boogie opus Hollow Earth Tour. Opening local act Wilderness Dream — labelmates with Gygax on the Creator Destructor imprint — offers up it’s brutal style of technical thrash to warm up the crowd.

Gygax with Glitter Wizard and Blackwülf
Thursday, March 8, 9 p.m. $10
The Golden Bull

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