Review – Dim Gray – Firmament

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest.”Henry David Thoreau.

Norwegian art-rock trio Dim Gray burst onto the scene with their debut release ‘Flown’ in 2020. Described as “Elegiac and beautifully dense post-prog from Norway” by Prog Magazine, it earned them many plaudits.

‘Firmament’ is that difficult sophomore album that hasn’t proved at all difficult to the three band members, Oskar Holldorff (vocals, keyboards), Håkon Høiberg (guitars, vocals) and Tom Ian Klungland (drums, vocals). All three have contrasting musical backgrounds in genres as diverse as black metal, rock, blues, folk and film music and it’s the fusion of all these influences that has created their own distinctive sound.

Having issued ‘Flown’ via their own Dim Gray label, ‘Firmament’ will be released on Big Big Train’s ‘English Electric Recordings’ label with Gregory Spawton of BBT commenting: “Until now, the label has just been a vehicle for Big Big Train and BBT band members’ outside projects. We’ve been interested in expanding the label’s activities for some time but only wanted to do so when we came across a truly exciting band that we felt had something new to offer musically. When we were introduced to Dim Gray, we saw that the band had enormous potential and were very keen to sign them.”

‘Firmament’ is twelve tracks of captivating, wide screen music featuring lush electronics, hauntingly beautiful vocals, string-infused chamber pop and indie-folk, all delivered in a grandiose fashion.

From the first notes and the enthralling charm of opening track Mare, you cannot help but be immersed in this utterly spellbinding and vivid musical world that the band have created. The elegant chiming notes that emanate from Høiberg’s guitar and the uplifting seduction of Oskar Holldorff’s voice immediately grab your attention and this just carries on through the whole album. The hypnotic Ashes with its strident beat and outpouring of emotion makes way for the equally impressive Undertow, a wonderful, slow burning, piece of music with the ethereal, wistful power of the strings at its heart, it is just exquisite.

There’s confidence and power to Avalon | The Tide, an irresistible force bursting with life that lifts you up and takes you on a musical thrill ride and it’s totally addictive. A calm and somber aura falls as you hear the opening strains of 52~, a mesmerising and hypnotic song that is also at times completely inspiring. Abalus | In Time has a breathless innocence to it that is beguiling. When the song blooms it becomes something more powerful and dynamic, almost becoming alive.

There’s a raw simplicity to Long Ago, the piano and vocals having a plaintive feel before the song waxes and wanes with a stylish guitar and elegant drums occasionally breaking the calm, a very moving piece of music. A hush descends as Oskar’s wistful vocal opens My Barren Road. Such an emotive song, it invokes feelings of longing, a yearning for the wilderness and the open road, close your eyes and you could be there. Cannons seamlessly blends art rock with indie folk, delivering a piece of music that just seems to dance across your soul with elfin-like wonder, something that exists on a higher plane and is always just out of reach.

The intro to Iron Henry is ghostly and introduces another exquisite slice of art rock, the piano and strings adding an air of authority but, despite the occasional moments of majesty, you never get away from that feeling of plucking at thin air, like its substance is almost intangible. Title track Firmament carries on that nostalgic feel, a graceful piece of music that tugs at the heartstrings with its wistful longing. Meridian takes its position as album closer extremely seriously, the elegant strings, hushed piano and thoughtful vocal adding serious gravitas to its otherworldly sophistication.

I was seriously impressed with Dim Gray’s debut release ‘Flown’ but the last forty five minutes has shown me that this band have elevated themselves to another level entirely. ‘Firmament’ is a magnificent achievement, twelve songs that ebb and flow superbly and sum up perfectly what music is truly about. These three truly inspiring musicians have created something that is prime and organic, their music can get under your skin and influence your very moods and my life would truly be a much sadder place without it!

Released 2nd September, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Firmament (burningshed.com)

Norwegian art rock trio Dim Gray release new single “Avalon | The Tide”

The second single to be released from upcoming album Firmament due out on Sept. 2nd, 2022.

“Avalon | The Tide” is the second single to be released from Firmament, the recently announced new album by Norwegian art rock trio Dim Gray set for release in early September. The group themselves state that writing it was “where the album really started, as it became a blueprint for the entire record. The expansiveness in its lydian harmonies and modulations, the prevalence of piano and strings, as well as the lyrical themes, all came to influence the rest of the songs.”

Watch the lyric video for “Avalon | The Tide” here:

Check out the song on digital services here:
dimgray.hearnow.com/avalon-the-tide

As with several other tracks on ‘Firmament’, the music was written by guitarist Håkon Høiberg on piano rather than his main instrument, with singer/keyboardist Oskar Holldorff then adding words. Holldorff explains that “the music felt like it was constructed as a story, so I thought the lyric should depict some sort of journey. Avalon, the mythical island from Arthurian legend, felt like an appropriate metaphor for reaching an impossible goal or destination; like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or, as these particular words mean to me, peace of mind. They are about trauma, wanting to forget, and the futility of fighting against the overwhelming forces and inherent dynamics of the world, hence the reference to King Canute and the tide in the second verse. I couldn’t decide whether the song should be called Avalon or The Tide, but when we later wrote ‘Meridian’, which ends the album and suggests a split globe, the joint title was suddenly justified.”

Consisting of twelve vivid and melody-driven songs, ‘Firmament’ is an ambitious artistic statement bursting with life and colour, making for an engaging and constantly surprising journey as it weaves a route from strings-infused chamber pop, through evocative indie-folk and lush electronics and into grandiose art rock. It will appeal musically to fans of artists such as Radiohead, Agnes Obel, Owen Pallett, Susanne Sundfør, Keane and Tears For Fears.

Thematically, the new record explores further the landscape of melancholy and longing that was introduced on the group’s well received 2020 debut, ‘Flown’, a concept record structured like one continuous story with intimate and spatial moments offset with massive colourful soundscapes. Those sensations are now contextualised in the depressions of the modern world, juxtaposed against romanticised ideas of simpler times through childhood memories interspersed with myths and superstition.

‘Firmament’ will be issued via English Electric Recordings, the label run by UK prog titans Big Big Train, and is the first record on the label that is not either by that band or at least one of its permanent members. Holldorff will however be touring as part of the Big Big Train line-up (deputising for BBT keyboardist Carly Bryant) for a set of European dates in September, while Dim Gray have just been announced as the support act for them. The first show is in Aylesbury on 2nd September, the same day that ‘Firmament’ is released.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to play these shows supporting Big Big Train,”enthuses Dim Gray drummer Tom Ian Klungland. “We supported Marillion at a show in Stockholm in May and were delighted by the wonderfully warm reaction we received from their fans. We’re going to try our best to make plenty of new friends amongst the Big Big Train audience and it’s fantastic that the Aylesbury show coincides with the release date of ‘Firmament’. Roll on September!”
 ON TOUR WITH BIG BIG TRAIN
SEPTEMBER 202202.09.22  AYLESBURY (UK) Waterside Theatre
05.09.22  ZOETERMEER (NL) Cultuurpodium Boerderij
06.09.22  BONN (DE) Harmonie
07.09.22  MAINZ (DE) Kuz
08.09.22  BERLIN (DE) Frannz Club
10.09.22  BASEL (CH) Z7, Pratteln
11.09.22  PARIS (FR) Café de la Danse

Review – Firmam3nt – Firmament – by Emma Roebuck

“A four piece Instrumental band from Madrid who mix genres like Postmetal, Progressive, Sludge, Doom, Experimental… Our debut homonymous album is out now via Nooirax Producciones. Music for fans of Intronaut, Mastodon, Russian Circles, Opeth…”

I am an eclectic soul musically, maybe even a hoarder of music. I still have the original copy of the album of Disney’s Jungle Book on vinyl and my Thunderbirds maxi singles from the 60s. The result being I have physical collection of a true reflection of the development of my musical taste and how it has evolved since I was knee high to a phonograph. My boss Martin at Progradar seems to love sending me curve balls from the extreme ends of the musical spectrum that fits the loose term progressive. (It’s true, I do – Ed.)

Firmam3nt, hailing from “Mordor” (aka Villalba, Madrid) are one such band and their debut album from 2016 landed in my inbox last week. They are a four piece instrumental band consisting of Jorge Santana (Drums & Percussion), Alberto Garcia (Guitars), Txus Rosa – Guitars and Sergio González (Bass).

I honestly think the description from the top of the bandcamp site does them an actual disservice. The image musically is one of constant thrash and hammer & tongs metal when, in reality, that tells maybe 50% of the story. I will explain as I go along but this album is not constant chord of doom and despair but is, in fact, far more nuanced and subtle.

This is a four track album with the primary points of the compass as titles.  Representative of the varied influences of the band or the mixed direction of travel they represent.

North opens with a riff of Sabbath proportions, the very essence of ‘the end of the world apocalypse’ travelling into a riffola of rich variety playing in the very metal pond then, inside three minutes, turns into a semi-classical themed electric guitar mellowness which cuts in unexpectedly, pleasantly surprisingly too, before the riffology cuts back in again, not letting you get too comfortable. This is pure guitar driven interplay and these guys are tight as a “gnats Chuff” (to paraphrase a friend). They sound like they know each other well musically and trust each other to follow where things may lead and land in a good place. In a few seconds under 14 minutes they travel a very long way and end this track in a double bass drum rolling thunderous attack that is not for the faint hearted.

The other tracks all fit this pattern, reflecting well crafted instrumental pieces with fine soloing from the guitarists Alberto and Txus. Textured layers with lots of time changes and unexpected lulls in the pace keep the ears interested enough to revisit the album.

The last track South reflects the slow and softer side of the band a lot more. Call it the Southern winds, light and warm, then building up into a storm of intensity closing with a piano that fades to a close.

I played it through about 10 times before considering how to address the review and found enough for me not to want to rush this out and do the band a real disservice.

Who is the audience for this album for then? It’s not for those with a pastoral bent or with a rigid idea of progressive music. If you like The Fierce and the Dead, the darker Porcupine Tree, older Opeth, and bits of Mastodon too then you will get something from this album. Like all instrumental music, if you are looking for songs or easy themes you are not going to find them. It is pure emotional response that gives the interpretation. It is also very hard to wax lyrical over insight and meaning for the same reason.

Released 28th July 2016

Buy ‘Firmament’ from bandcamp