Dim Gray

Grim Day Records / English Electric, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For those inclined to progressive rock—and let’s face it, we are a tribe unto ourselves—one of the many intriguing aspects of the genre is that it contains geographically specific subgenres. For example, British prog tends to be quite distinct from either American or Italian prog, and even within British prog there’s the “Canterbury scene,” a particular style associated (with questionable accuracy) with in one specific region within the UK. Scandinavian prog, though, is a flavor that I had precious little experience with before becoming a fan of Big Big Train, the UK-based collective that also includes Swedish singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Rikard Sjöblom of Beardfish, Gungfly, and solo renown.

Which brings us to Sjöblom’s geographical—and to some extent musical—neighbors Dim Gray, a young Norwegian trio whose sophomore album Firmament offers a compelling sonic landscape that feels distinctly Scandinavian. It’s an expansive sound that alternates between moments of delicate precision and oversized, cinematic flourishes; this is music that pairs well with fjords. In terms of points of comparison, the group’s sound brings to mind a cross between the intricacy of classic Yes and the high-contrast heavy-soft dramatics of a group like Kaleo. At a phase in their development where many bands are still searching for a sound, Dim Gray—Hakon Hoiberg on guitars and vocals, Tom Ian Klungland on drums and percussion, and Oskar Holldorff on keyboards and most lead vocals—already has a clear vision for its music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Mare” opens with skittery guitar chords over restless, echoey drums before Holldorff’s voice and keys explode into the foreground, with delicate, elegant verses surging over and over into a sky-filling chorus. “Ashes” features similar contrasts in sound but feels a little more contained, with a tension-and-release dynamic and Holldorff’s strong lead vocal conveying longing and urgency on this concise 3:14 number. The even briefer (2:48) “Undertow” builds off of Klungland’s stuttering, unsetted backbeat, with strings featured in another high-contrast arrangement.  

“Avalon / The Tide” is an early highlight, opening with a quiet piano-and-vocals interlude before swelling with anthemic flourishes as Holldorff imagines a landscape “where the ocean meets the sky”; it’s a song that helps ground the band both musically and lyrically in the distinctive physical landscape of Scandinavia.

The next several tracks only accentuate the sense of space and grandeur Dim Gray offers. First the high-contrast “52~” travels from airy solo keyboard-and-vocals to a booming full-band chorus and back (and forth, and back again). “Abalus / In Time”—another highlight—is similarly expansive and dramatic, with Hoiberg’s resonant guitar, Holldorff’s swirling keys, and Klungland’s propulsive drums taking turns in the spotlight. And then “Long Ago” emphasizes the delicate elegance the band is capable of, with piano, keyboards and strings framing evocative interplay between the two vocalists as the song builds to a satisfying conclusion. The similarly gentle “My Barren Road” features Hoiberg’s subtle, rippling guitar supporting Holldorff’s earnest vocals.

“Cannons” presents a different look, with an almost Celtic lilt and intricate guitar work, while “Iron Henry” leans into the keys and string section for a solemn contemplation. The instinctive theatricality of the band’s presentation comes to the fore on the title track, a steady-building, passionate ballad about missing a loved one. The album closes with the atmospheric “Meridian,” featuring layered keyboards ebbing and flowing and an almost chanted quality to the vocals.

Firmament represents the distinctly cinematic sonic vision of a band that feels made for live performance, where the innate drama and billowing emotion of these songs can be drawn out even further. It’s no surprise to hear that they add two guest players for live shows; they’d almost have to in order to generate a sound this textured and intricate. The fullness of sound and exciting dynamics that Holldorff, Hoiberg and Klungland achieve here is a key part of Dim Gray’s appeal, and marks them as talents to watch.

Rating: B+

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© 2022 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Grim Day Records / English Electric, and is used for informational purposes only.