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Dimension Act
Dimension Act - Marius NilsenWhen a debut album brings bright smiles to the faces of progressive metal fans the time has come to try and get some information about the band. And the best way to do that is to ask one of the band members. And if you are lucky you manage to do an interview with the songwriter and mastermind of the band himself. In case of Dimension Act I was lucky and here I am, ready to shoot my questions at Marius Nilsen. By the way, the number four seems to be the favourite number of Marius Nielsen, four years passed between founding the band and the release of the album and this interview took four month. (sorry Marius but I could not stop myself having this little "revenge") Marius is always searching for perfection and he does it 100% or not at all.

 U.B., 17.01.2013

We asked...
 Hello Marius, what should I do first, thank you for taking your time for this interview or to congratulate you for creating such a fine album? Well, thanks for both! Lets start with the name of the band, Dimension Act. I think the name is a good choice for a progressive metal band. It lets you imagination flow just like the music. What did you have in mind when you came up with he name Dimension Act?

Marius: Hi Ulf. First of all, thank you very much for all the kind words regarding our début album. It means a lot to us being recognized for all the hard work we've put into this album, and we hope fans of progressive music all over the world enjoy it as much as both we and you do.
Glad you enjoy the band name. It's a name I've had with me for some 15 years now, so for me it's both a very personal and a fitting band name. The name itself can be interpreted in many different ways. For me, the term "Dimension" represents something vast, universal and "larger than life". The term "Act" is in many ways the counterpart, and represents something theatrical and human. Also, acts are man made "boarders" of which mankind base much of their existence on, as opposed to the more scientific term "Dimension". So, basically, it's the interplay between the two terms that was my intention in the first place. It represents the sonic complexity and all the different emotions in our music.

You are from Norwegian. The Scandinavian countries have an amazing output of metal and rock bands. What do you think, is the reason. Does Norway have a better musical education at school or do people in the north have a certain music gene that was not discovered yet by scientists?

Well, there seems to be quite a buzz around Norwegian Progressive Metal these days. For years, black metal was our biggest musical export, but progressive metal has really bloomed the last, say, 5 years. Music gene, or not, I think it has a lot to do with the so-called cluster effect. Metal has had a good standing in at least some parts of Norway the last 20 years, and over time, that brings results. Also, from a marketing point of view, Norwegian bands probably have something exotic and interesting with them that attract listeners all over the world.

Progressive metal is a musical stile that only has a limited number of fans. Or, as I often say, it is for music gourmets, the masses enjoy fast food and prefer "easy listening music", they listen to some sort of crap I am too polite to mention (haha). So when you started with the album MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS you must have been aware that it would be a lot more difficult to sell many CDs. Therefore it canīt have been the search for money and fame when you decided to play prog metal. Is it your love for this kind of music that motivated you?

For me, personally, composing and playing music has nothing to do with fame or money. As a composer, my goal is always to make the composition come alive naturally, and not force it in a certain direction, genre or style. Being able to do whatever I want musically, without having someone restrict me, is in that sense the most important thing. I want the composition to flow naturally, without sounding forced. I've always loved progressive music; it's what I breathe 24/7, so for me composing and playing progressive metal is the most natural thing in the world. Being able to do that without limits, on a great label, with amazing musicians are more than I could ever ask for. That's my reward at the end of the day.

Before we did this interview I told you that the cover artwork is great and attracted my attention. Never judge a book (or CD) by itīs cover but in this case I can tell you the cover does match the impressive music. How important was it to have a stunning artwork? I mean I am standing in a CD store and staring at hundreds or even thousands of CDs. From a new band you do not know what to expect so the only way to make a music fan pick up your album and give it a closer look is by an eye-catcher cover artwork. I remember in the good old days there was a design studio in London by the name HIPGNOSIS, they did many covers for Pink Floyd (MEDDLE; WISH YOU WERE HERE) Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Scorpions or Alan Parsons Project, just to name a few. They did a wonderful job. Today many bands do not pay enough attention to present their work the way they should. Or perhaps the label does not want to spend any money. What is your comment?

Again, thank you very much. For me, the artwork is an essential part of the entire package. In my opinion, you don't spend years on an album, nit-picking on every detail, and then present it all with a lousy cover. It's all about capturing the feeling of the album - a picture is worth a thousand words, right? In a time where most people download their music, the cover and the physical presentation of your product is what brings that little extra that digital downloads never can. I've always loved the works of Mark Wilkinson, Roger Dean and Mattias Norén, to mention a few, so it was never an option for us doing some fast and cheap artwork. For me, the Manifestation of Progress artwork truly captures the essence of our music and the lyrical topics on the album.

MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS the album title does remind me of MANIFESTATION OF FEAR by Elegy. Also a piece of awesome music. Elegy plays progressive power metal just like Dimension Act. Is this a coincidence? Do you know that Elegy album? What was your idea or intention when you called it MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS?

Funny you should mention it! First of all, Elegy's Manifestation of Fear is a great album. I bought it when it was released, and it's a true prog metal classic (how ‘bout that Angel Without Wings?). Anyhow, I actually never had that title in mind when the title Manifestation of Progress came to me, so it's probably some subliminal coincidence of sorts, I guess. Good observation, though.
I probably could have written en entire book explaining the album title. It's a title that works on different levels, in many ways a parallel to the "Dimension" and the "Act", as I explained above. On a personal level, this album is the manifestation of many years of hard and dedicated work. For me, it represents how far I've come not only as a composer, but also as a human being. So it's a milestone in my existence, basically, a manifestation of my progress, so to speak. On another level, it's serves as an entrance to many of the topics on the album. The album deals a lot about existential matters, and how far humanity has come. Yet, as the cover indicates, progress doesn't have to mean we're moving forward in every aspect. It's a title that's open for the listener to interpret.

On the cover there is some kind of (atomic?) explosion in the background. Not a very pleasant sign of progress. I can only guess, so please tell me if I am completely wrong, do you want to show that progress is a knife that cuts both ways. Progress can make life easier but there is a price to pay.

Good point and observation. It's like I said above, progress doesn't have to mean we're moving forward in every aspect, right? There's always a price to pay, and when you get something, you lose something as well. It's a balance that's hard to shake, and a paradox both individuals and the humanity as a whole will have to face sooner or later.

While I am talking about the cover design I must not forget to mention your website. I can only recommend to all music fans to take a look. Excellent graphic, easy to navigate and you can listen to parts of all songs on MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS. It is obvious that you put a lot of work into creating that website. Are you in any way interested in arts? Do you have the ambition to get the "the whole package" right: music, artwork, booklet?

Just like the cover artwork, the website is also a part of the whole package. Internet is our biggest marketplace, and we have to present our product in the best possible way. For me it's important to have a common thread between all these different areas. It's a holistic mindset, so to speak. Being interested in arts also helps you get the understanding what's needed to present the music in the best possible visual way. I do have to point out that Kristian Berg, our keyboard player, and Stephen van Baalen, our designer, has done all the artwork, and deserves great praise and acknowledgement for their outstanding work, while I, as in all other aspects, served as the control freak with the big picture in mind.

When we started to talk about an interview I told you that I am convinced you and the other band members have a lot of talent(s) and I really mean it. You did not take that as a compliment and your answer is well worth to be shown here. I quote: "But even if I and the rest of the band may have some talent of sorts, it's just as much hard and determined work. Or even more actually. I know a lot of talented people who never get their albums or music released, because they don't keep their focus on the right things and aren't willing to sacrifice a night on the town, poker nights, football games, family dinners etc. Still, it's nothing wrong with that, but it just their priorities, and it illustrates that sacrifices most often have to be made to reach your dreams".

Are you very much focused on what you are doing? Do you always try to give your very best? What would the other members in the band say if I would ask them if it is difficult to work with you? Please let me have your point of view.

Great question! I'm first and foremost an extremely focused person that always gives my very best, no matter what I do. It's a blessing and a curse at the same time, some would say. And I both agree and disagree - not to be misunderstood though. I wouldn't say I'm a difficult person to work with, but I am thorough and meticulous, especially when it comes to music. I'm a control freak, and I'm proud of it, hehe! Still, I see myself as a humble person who respects the other band members' opinions and ideas, and appreciate their input.

A while ago Michael Angelo Batio, one of the guitarist I admire the most, gave me the pleasure to do an interview with him and I asked him how much talent and how much hard work did get him where he is now. I suggested 20% talent and 80% work. He said beside hard work it sure takes more talent than 20% otherwise we would see more good guitar players. Do you think beside talent you were willing to work harder than other musicians?

I can only speak for myself here, but I know I have worked very hard and determined over many, many years to make this happen. It's also about making some sacrifices. You can't have 15 beers every weekend when you know you have to be in the studio the next morning. And you can't go to every football match or birthday party you're invited to. It's what separates the "doers" from the "talkers". And, honestly, in my opinion, there are more "talkers" than "doers" in this world.

MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS is not a concept album but there seems to be a kind of link between the songs and I am not talking about that monster song "Drawing the Line of mortal Existence" with a length of more than 30 minutes, I am coming to that later. Why did you not make a concept album? Prog metal musicians seem to be very fond of concept albums. Can we expect to see a concept album by Dimension Act in the future?

I'm a huge fan of concept albums, and there's a big chance you'll see a concept album from Dimension Act in the future. With Manifestation of Progress, the most natural thing for us was to do a thematic album. It's all about letting the compositions and the lyrics take a life on their own, and not force it in any directions. Drawing the Lines of Mortal Existence, though, is the first chapter in the Perspectives trilogy, so the conceptual framework is still very much intact.

On your homepage you name the following bands as your most important influence: Dream Theater, Ayreon, Marillion and Europe. I agree with DT and a bit with Marillion. Oh yes Ayreon must have had an enormous influence that is easy to hear. But I canīt hear much of Europe. Are you sure about Europe?

In my opinion, the sound of Dimension Act is like a cross between our biggest inspirations. We have some of the the progressive, musical madness of Dream Theater, the "larger than life" and bombast of Ayreon, and the songs of Marillion and Europe. As of Europe, the inspiration may not be as obvious as the other mentioned bands, I agree, but for me, the inspiration from Europe and Joey Tempest serves as more of a mindset when I compose. The song and the melody is always the most important aspect in my compositions.

Dream Theater was a kind of trail blazer for progressive metal at least for the last 15 years. They had the tendency towards more and more "over the top, more breaks, more notes, more shredding more "out of this world show of to the fans" stuff, with every album. They neglected the melodic part very often in their songs. With the last album they went back to where they started, kind of back to the roots. Other prog bands also develop a more melodic stile. MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS has catchy melodic songs, good hooklines. It is right on target. But your album was almost finished at the end of 2010. So you were somehow ahead of the time! That must make you proud, does it?

Well, yeah, we are extremely proud of Manifestation of Progress. It's progressive metal for sure, but we feel we have made a well balanced album with both musical madness and good melodies. It seems like more and more progressive bands go for a more melodic kind of progressive metal. Dream Theater, Pagan's Mind and Circus Maximus are good examples of that.

Between finishing the album and the start of the sale in the shops there were four years. Finding a label, doing the artwork etc. took a while. What were your feelings and emotions to wait so long? Are you a patient man?

Writing, recording, mixing and mastering an album is quite a lot of work, so we decided to take our time and do it properly. Also, a band's début album is extremely important, so we wanted every aspect to be accounted for. In addition, we didn't have any other than ourselves expecting an album, you know, no record companies or other people that kept pushing us to release some half- finished stuff. So we worked long and patiently, and approached record companies when we felt the album was ready to hit the record shops. So I guess I'm as patient as I'm meticulous.

MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS has lots of Keyboards. That's why I thought about the Ayreon influence right from the start. Ayreon and Dimension Act both shine with epic arrangements. The Keyboards almost have a dominant part in some songs. Is that because a: you like Ayreon b: because you play Keyboards as well as guitar?

To say "I like" Ayreon is quite an understatement. Few composers have influenced me as much as Arjen Lucassen, and it makes me extremely proud to hear that people recognize the impact the Dutch giant has had on me as both a composer and an arranger. Guitar is my main instrument, but I do play the keyboards as well. A lot of the materiel on Manifestation of Progress was actually written on keyboard, so the album was in many ways bound to be keyboard driven.

You founded Dimension Act with Tom-Vidar Salangli in 2008, you are the main composer, wrote most of the lyrics and did the pre-production. I donīt want to offend the other band members but it seems that you are the driving force in the band. Are you a workaholic? Do you enjoy to have control over every detail?

As said before, I can't deny I'm both a control freak and workaholic. It's just the way I am, and it's merely because I care. I want every aspect to be executed in the best possible way – always. That said, Dimension Act and Manifestation of Progress wouldn't have been what it is without the amazing input, effort and outstanding musicianship from the other band member. I'm the driving force, that's correct, but Dimension Act is a band, not my solo project, and all band members are an essential part of the equation.

What comes to your attention when you listen to MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS is the super long song, even for prog standards, "Drawing the Line of Mortal Existence". The Lyrics deal with philosophical questions as: the meaning of life. Are you interested in philosophy?

Existential and philosophical matters have interested me for many years. Reading existential and philosophical material broadens the mind, and makes you reflect upon things you normally would take for granted. In my opinion, the age of social media and other more or less mindless activities, has made too many people ignorant. They've lost their ability to reflect, or even have an interesting discussion based on their own and others thoughts, beliefs and reflections. I don't see that as a good sign.

I like it when music is able to "transport" emotions to me, when I feel there is more in song than a good melody. On MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS most songs seem to be emotional. Do you take extra care to put some emotions in your songs or does that happen naturally while you write them?

As mentioned earlier, my goal, as a composer, is always to make the composition come alive naturally, and not force it in a certain direction, genre or style. I want the composition to flow naturally, without sounding forced. That being said, I never would have released an album if the mood or the emotions were lacking in my compositions. It has to have some kind of substance. So, to answer your question, it does happen naturally.

With Live Foyn Friis you have female vocals as well on the album. In progressive metal female vocals are an exception. On the other hand we see more and more female fronted metal bands, do you think that Dimension Act is one step ahead and that more progressive bands will have female vocals on their albums soon?

Well, a lot of progressive rock bands from the 70s had female vocalists, so I actually don't think we're breaking new ground with this. Then you had the gothic wave in the 90s and 00s with female vocalists fronting bands, so it's been in metal as well for a while now. The reason we brought Live Foyn Friis on board was first and foremost because the compositions asked for it. And she's a great singer. Bringing a female singer on board makes it all more dynamic, varied and musically interesting. I don't know if more progressive bands will have female vocals on their albums in the future, but I can guarantee Dimension Act will continue with it.

You did find Frank Nordeng Roe your drummer on YouTube. That is funny because the band Saga did find their new drummer on YouTube as well. Looks like YouTube is a good place to watch when you are looking for a band member. How important is it for you to present your band on YouTube and Facebook?

Internet and social media is extremely important for Dimension Act – at least on some levels. It's our way to reach out to people all over the world, without touring for years, living in cardboard- boxes behind the venue, and eating out of dumpsters. Our main market segments are in Germany, The Netherlands, North America and South America, to mention some, and all those are far away from our little country at the top of Europe. So it helps us reaching out fast and effectively. That being said, I am personally not the biggest fan of social media, as mentioned earlier. I'd rather meet our fans face to face or greet them from the stage on tour. But until then, reaching out to them through the internet serves the purpose.

What is your favourite song on MANIFESTATION OF PROGRESS and please tell me why?

I'm extremely proud of all compositions on Manifestation of Progress, but Perspectives Chapter I: Drawing the Lines of Mortal Existence means more to me than any other compositions I've ever written. For me, it's a composition that has it all; the musical madness, the emotions, the melodies, the natural flow, the dynamics, inspiring, heartfelt and well written lyrics, and, not to forget, the mighty lydian scale. The composition phase was also truly inspiring. Pure magic.

Tom Vidar Salangli is the other founding member of Dimension Act. His vocals are rock solid and his voice has a fine melancholy touch that goes very well with the atmosphere of the songs on Manifestation Of Progress. I like his interpretation of the songs. Did you always agree with his ideas during the songwriting process?

I've always loved Tom-Vidar's voice. He sings with great emotion, and really put his heart and soul into his performances. For Manifestation of Progress, we worked on the vocal arrangements together. Since I had written all the music before starting with the vocals, I naturally had an idea of where I wanted to go with the vocals, you know, the melodies, arrangements, backing vocals and so on. But apart from that, we worked on it together until both of us were satisfied. There were of course some ideas I had that he did not like, and vice versa, but that's a part of the process. It brought the best out of us both, and we'll definitely do it that way on future releases as well.

Although this question does not deal with a musical aspect I would like to know what your reaction was when you heard that Breivik killed 92 innocent people in cold blood. That must have left a scar on your soul. Painters and musicians often deal with a traumatic event in their paintings or music. Some of the lyrics on Manifestation Of Progress are about the meaning of life, a demanding theme. Is it possible that you write a song about that barbarian act that brought so much grief to your country?

As all other Norwegians, I was shocked to learn about those horrible actions. I was fortunate enough to not lose any of my family, friends or acquaintances in those actions, but I feel with all those who lost their loved ones that day. It's something that changed Norway and the Norwegian people for all future. Hopefully, we'll never experience such a tragedy again.
As far as writing a song about such an incident, a lot of Norwegian artist have done that already, but it's not something that I'll do. First of all, it's out of respect for all the ones who lost their lives that day, as well as their families and friends. I don't want to take advantage out of their tragedy. Secondly, there are enough inspiration in philosophy and other things in life to cover my entire career as a recording artist. And, and in my humble opinion, that's where my strengths as a composer and lyricist are.

I would like to end this interview with a look into the future, time to stare into the crystal ball, haha. I know that you are working on a new album already, although you did not post the news on your website. Can you please say just a little bit about what the fans can expect?

Well, I don't want to spoil too much quite yet, but we are indeed working on a new album. I have my own little studio at home, so I'm constantly demoing new material. A lot of the material I've written the past couple of years won't appear on the next/second Dimension Act album, as I feel they are more fitting for a third or fourth release, so there's no shortage in material, to put it that way. Speaking solely of the next album, it'll be Dimension Act as you know it from Manifestation of Progress, but we'll also bring in some new elements. Nothing drastic, though, you'll still hear it's us: melodic, progressive and over the top. That also means the album will feature some truly epic, progressive compositions. Stay tuned!

Thank you very much for your time and your kind cooperation. The famous "last words" to the fans are yours of course.

I just want to say a big, humble "thank you" to all our fans from all over the world. Knowing that you listen to and enjoy our music is extremely rewarding. It's a dream coming true for me and us. So drop me an e-mail, I'd love to hear from you! Apart from that: See you on the road, and stay tuned for more melodic musical madness from Dimension Act in the future.

¬ Dimension Act
¬ 15.01.2013 deu | eng

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