Dim Gray are a post-progressive trio from Norway consisting of Håkon Høiberg (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals), Oskar Holldorf (vocals, piano, synths) and Tom Ian Klungland (drum kit, percussion). With a sound that they describe as a “blend of Radiohead and Fleet Foxes”, Dim Gray combine a rich palette of mellow soundscapes with an indie folk influence that often has a dark edge. Their 2020 debut album ‘Flown’ is a testament to this unique sound; unafraid of sparse arrangements and ambitious instrumentation, the band create some of the most beautiful musical passages that, at times, reach deep into the soul of the listener, communicating the albums concept of loss and loneliness beautifully. These three multi-instrumentalists are destined for success in the prog world!
In fact, they’ve already been reaping the rewards from their debut album, receiving a host of glowing reviews from various sites and publications around the world. One of which, familiar to prog fans alike, is UK based Prog Magazine, who described them as “elegaic and beautifully dense post-prog” – what an honour! Other sites have commented on this being the best debut they’ve heard from a band in a long time, which as you can imagine, must be one of the most heart-warming compliments to receive as a musician. Such positive feedback is no surprise of course, as this has obviously taken a lot of planning and thought to conceive – the level of detail here is commendable!
It is that attention to detail and thoughtfulness that gives this album an edge in the saturated world of music. This is a band who aren’t afraid of the ‘less is more’ approach to songwriting and, even better, they execute it with flying colours. ‘Again’, for example, is a gentle yet haunting opening to the album, featuring only voice and keys initially that is then aided by a grand string accompaniment that adds an element of drama to the piece, reminding me of the string arrangements in Magenta’s new album ‘Masters of Illusion’. Both ‘Wandering’ and ‘Song for E’ are likewise sparse in arrangement, even more so for that matter, as the vocals in both these tracks are accompanied by only one instrument: a piano in ‘Wandering’ and a mandolin in ‘Song for E’. In doing this, the vocals have nowhere to hide in the mix and therefore we can hear every crisp detail of emotion in the voice, making these songs incredibly powerful. The band go one step further in the second half of ‘Ouroboros’, beginning with an isolated vocal; being able to hear the reverb so clearly, coupled together with the silences between phrases, makes this the most delicate and tense moment on the album. This tension is only resolved when another vocal is added and the strings, that dominated the first half of the piece, re-enter. I love how daring these musicians are: a completely string-led first half, in which the strings function as an element of beauty rather than drama, followed by the most gentle isolated vocal melody – this is probably my favourite piece on the album!
Beauty comes in different forms, whether it be the lush string arrangements or the more ambiguous, ambient pieces on the album, more specifically the shorter tracks ‘Flown’ and ‘Yore’. Both are calming to listen to; the fluidity and meditative qualities of each piece instil images of gentle seas and warm sunsets in my mind as I listen – very cinematic and utterly gorgeous! There are then the songs on the album that are a little more upbeat and energised; songs such as ‘The Wave We Thought We’d Ride Forever’ and ‘Closer’ are characterised by a larger, fuller sound and a clear Fleet Foxes folk influence. ‘Dreamers Disease’, in particular, is a highlight for me due to the gritty guitar sounds and the underlying menace that contrasts the beauty elsewhere. The second half of the piece is really chilling; the playful guitar melody and legato strings battling against an obtrusive, war-like siren sound creates an uncomfortable tension. However, we get the best of both worlds as the piece ends on a gentle note, just strings and piano relieve the previous turmoil as the song fades out – ‘Dreamers Disease’ showcases everything that is great about this album!
And there really are a lot of great things here! Whether it be the interesting arrangements that grab the listeners attention no matter how sparse, or the emotional rollercoaster that absorbs the listener in the concept, this album ticks all the right boxes. With the success they’ve already had since its release, I am confident that they will soon be reaping even bigger rewards from this ambitious debut. Hopefully they will keep this standard up for future releases – I’ll be on the lookout and you should be as well!
Written by Dominic Sanderson
You can find Dim Gray on Facebook and Instagram! ‘Flown’ is available on all major streaming platforms!