Lava dome-forming eruptions represent a common eruptive style and a major hazard at numerous active volcanoes worldwide. The extrusion mechanics of crystal-rich lava domes and the influence of volatiles on the transition from viscous to brittle behaviour during lava dome extrusion remain unclear. Understanding how gas exsolution and crystallinity control effusive versus explosive eruption behaviour is essential. Here, we present new experimental results on the rheology of synthesised, crystal-rich (50 to 80 vol% quartz crystals), hydrous (4.2 wt% H2O in the glass) dacite samples, which vesiculate from 5 to 27 vol% gas bubbles at high temperatures (from glass transition temperature to 797 °C) during deformation conducted in a parallel plate viscometer (constant stress at 0.63–0.64 MPa, and variable strain-rates ranging from 8.32·10− 8 to 3.58·10− 5 s− 1). The experiments reproduce certain aspects of lava dome deformation in volcanic conduits during vesiculation of the residual melt, instigated in the experiments by increasing temperature. During gas exsolution (i.e. nucleation and growth of gas-pressurised bubbles) and volume inflation, we find that the rheological lubrication of the system during deformation is strongly dictated by the initial crystallinity. At crystal contents < 60 vol%, gas bubbles form and coalesce during expansion and viscous deformation, favouring strain localisation and gas permeability within shear bands, which control the overall sample rheology. At crystallinities of 60 to 70 vol%, gas exsolution generates pressurisation (i.e. pore pressure increase) within the bubbles trapped in the solid crystal clusters, and embryonic formation of microscopic fractures through melt and crystals drives the system to a brittle behaviour. At higher crystallinity (80 vol%) vesiculation leads to large pressurisation, which then triggers extensive brittle fragmentation. Through macroscopic fractures, outgassing determines the rheological stalling of the system. In the light of these results we propose a rheological description of crystal-rich lava dome mechanics. The contrasting experimental behaviours at different crystallinities have implications for the style of slow-ascending dome-forming eruptions. All other factors being equal, our experiments suggest that crystal-poor magmas will undergo efficient outgassing, reducing the potential for an explosive eruption. Conversely, crystal-rich magmas may experience limited outgassing and larger gas overpressures during vesiculation, therefore increasing the potential for an explosive eruption.