Once upon a time long ago in a land of reefer madness, radio play that mattered and VW buses, the idea of a band jamming was considered a good thing. Its two greatest references were to a loose style of playing in the practice room that led to creative new places and the opportunity many bands took to play around with portions of their songs onstage to keep them new and interesting for audiences that had heard them 1,000 times already. Then bands like Phish co-opted the most extreme aspects of that to make every song a 30-minute improvised mess of self-indulgence and now when people see the words jam and band near each other they react like this:
In fact, I bet a fair number of people closed this review based solely on the opening sentence; sorry about that, Crimson Dimension. Jamming was somewhat synonymous with the early stages of progressive rock. But, progressive rock could simply imply exploratory and lengthy tracks as much as it could experimental extremes. Crimson Dimension summons a more reserved sense of progressive rock with looser and exploratory structures in their personal brand of black metal. This isn’t the weird experimental type of progressive black metal that fellow countrymen Oranssi Pazuzu make, but more like Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia era Dimmu Borgir had been exclusively blasting Led Zeppelin in their practice space for a year before recording. There’s pomp, gothic key drama and a knack for letting the guitars off their leash for a while to dig up earworm treats from the blackened earth surrounding them.
Even after only a single song, J-M Koppelomäki and Timo Karjalainen exhibit a genuine sense of feeling in their guitar playing. Not a feeling of fiery hate, suicidal depression or introspective calm, but the kind of emotive playing you get from people that seem truly connected to their instruments; that type of flow and detailed understanding of each string and fret that many players can only dream of.
What’s even cooler is that they know when to play the supporting role as well and don’t feel the need for the album to always be about them. There are two parts in “Age of Awakening” that exemplify this best:
1. At one point the guitars hit a lower note to harmonize with the vocals in a way that helps them sound more like a throaty monk chant.
2. There’s a segment where the piano takes the lead and the guitars are dancing in and around helping to provide accents that almost twinkle the primary gothic notes
In fact, “Black Mass” feels much more driven by Eero Hokkanen’s keys than any other instrument. Each of these four songs is quite long with the shortest being a few seconds shy of 12 minutes. They all start with slower builds and summon exploratory sections that lead into a repeated passage from earlier in the song to help keep a sense of structure. All of these songs could have used a bit of trimming, but ultimately they are consistently shifting and transforming so often that the listener’s attention span isn’t likely to wander. Across the album, the guitars cherry-pick from a variety of black metal styles while also offering glimmers of death metal, classic prog and even 80’s struts. The keys switch between synths, piano, classic 90’s black metal and some gothic organs that will make you want to throw on a cape and play tag in a castle. Janne Ahonen’s drumming expertly supports each shift in style from the other instruments to help cement the intent of the track. Vocalist and bassist Ari Inkinen will further cement the Dimmu Borgir comparison with his Shagrath style that sounds like the Emperor from Star Wars doing black metal vocals.
Crimson Dimension is an ambitious debut album giving listeners a massive slab of blackened goodness made by musicians that seem to naturally play off each other exceptionally well. This is music made by people who know there is a lot of great music that exists outside of metal and they aren’t afraid to show it.