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OSI: Free

I firmly belive that no post-Dream Theater Kevin Moore material is an easy listen, and OSI's long-awaited sophomore release is no exception. Many fans were curious how Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore were going to follow up their amazing debut release, and while first listens may leave some confused, a couple of thorough spins will have them hooked. Free is quite different from its predecessor in the way that it sounds a bit more like Moore's Chroma Key project than the self-titled OSI debut. Although there are still some amazing riffs from Jim Matheos, this album is definitely more Moore-driven and bears similarities with his more recent works, including his soundtrack Ghost Book and the last Chroma Key record Graveyard Mountain Home.

The duo is again supported by Mike Portnoy who plays acoustic drums this time around, displaying admirable restraint. No matter how many people may badmouth him, Portnoy continues to prove everyone what an amazing musician he is, appearing on all kinds of different projects, with great results. Free is perhaps his most minimalistic side, because of the thick atmosphere on the album, but at any rate, his performance his spectacular. Former bassist Sean Malone, on the other hand, has been replaced by Matheos' bandmate Joey Vera, playing bass on five tracks (which are mostly the heavier ones). The first two songs are also arguably the hardest-hitting pieces. "Sure You Will" kicks in with lots of electronic beats that give way to Vera's huge bass line and Matheos' crunchy guitar riffs as well as Moore's unique atmospherics. The title track continues in a similar fashion, and is shaped by Fates Warning-style riffs, a great bass groove, a plethora of sound effects, and a wickedly soaring chorus over gigantic, Tool-like riffs. Portnoy's drumming on this song is by far his best on the album, and continues to shock me every time I hear it.

From here on, there is a distinct Kevin Moore vibe happening. "Go" starts with wonderful acoustic guitars, static bleep sounds, industrial noises, and typical Chroma Key vocals. Minimalism is employed thoroughly on the song, with a symphonic aura created by Moore that might be the first thing to stand out on Free after the first couple of listens. The chorus is painfully gripping and rich in melody. What follows is arguably the best song, "All Gone Now". It is built upon a strong foundation of atmosphere and dynamics. Constantly shifting between mad riffage and daunting synth passages, this song features some of the finest melodies Kevin Moore has written since Awake. His synth melodies simply soar to high levels while Matheos' playing contrasts the eerie mood of the piece. "Home Was Good" is also instantly accessible, mainly because of Kevin's emotive singing where his voice echoes on and on fading into pure white noise, as gently strummed acoustic guitar sounds float above the evocative landscape. Strangely, this song recalls Moore's stuff on the Ghost Book soundtrack to me.

"Bigger Wave" is a bit like Blackfield, only more electronic. It is fleshed out with great breaks (Portnoy is amazing on this track as well), a rumbling bass, and an infectious chorus that goes like, "We can walk on the water and still find reasons to swim inside" in Moore's classic monotone. Speaking of vocals, this album is a lot more vocal-oriented than the previous one, and even the three Chroma Key discs. Moore sings on every track, and there are moments where his voice is the most central element to the piece. You have to hear "Once", the longest and most Chroma Key-like track, sung in an almost happy tone and enriched with various guitar textures; or the multi-vocal track "Simple Life" (with a killer blues guitar lead). Matheos doesn't play any solos, but he is very integral to the success of "Better", a bit like Porcupine Tree, with thick guitar chords that evoke his amazing playing on Fates Warning's Disconnected. The futuristic sound abstractions on "Kicking" are even shocking by Kevin Moore's standards and perfectly crafted. One exception is "Our Town", where the duo refrain from computer programming or electronic textures, and just play a moving acoustic track to end the album on a peaceful note.

I realize some people will say Free is no where near as melodic as the debut, but to me, this album, at its very roots, is very melody-friendly, and can become quite rewarding if listened at the right time and the right mood. If done so, you'll immediately pick up on the subtleties it encompasses and how every musical idea reinforces each other.

Track Listing

  1. Sure You Will
  2. Free
  3. Go
  4. All Gone Now
  5. Home Was Good
  6. Bigger Wave
  7. Kicking
  8. Better
  9. Simple Life
  10. Once
  11. Our Town

Added: July 14th 2006
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: OSI website
Hits: 8562
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

OSI: Free
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-19 10:00:00
My Score:

Talk about an album living up to its title. On Free, OSI's second release, ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore and Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos move from chunky King's X soundscapes to ambient and moody imagery almost effortlessly freestyle, if you will. This dynamic duo is joined by such venerated guests as Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera on an album that's understandably received mixed reviews. After all, none of the 11 tracks on Free sounds anything like these players' main bands with the exception of Moore's bizarre and unpredictable Chroma Key and its nuanced, textured and electronic layers may have metal fans scratching their heads, not banging them.

That said, the first two songs on Free, "Sure You Will" and the title track, recall both Tool and King's X at its haziest. From there, "Go," "All Gone Now," "Home Was Good" and "Bigger Wave" dabble in all sorts of noises. "Once," meanwhile, picks up the pace with a song that could have landed on Peter Gabriel's Up, and the pure and organic closer "Our Town" summons the ghosts of Pink Floyd. Moore handles all vocals, and Portnoy sounds unexpectedly subdued.

Drawing comparisons between Free and 2003's Office of Strategic Influence isn't really fair. The debut featured Gordian Knot bassist Sean Malone and Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson, and the material was spawned from a fairly straightforward collaboration between Matheos and Portnoy that eventually landed in the hands of Moore who abandoned the metal game years ago in favor of a minimalist approach. This time, however, Matheos focused on a specific, mysterious sound from the beginning, which makes Free a more cohesive and dare I say more melodic record than its predecessor. If I must draw comparisons, at its core, this is a surprisingly warm and approachable work, something I would never say about OSI's debut.

OSI: Free
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-15 20:10:25
My Score:

OSI's sophomore release Free is an album that took a few listens to get into, and even then I'm not sure it's quite as immediate as their debut. However, although you can hear bits of Fates Warning, Chroma Key, Porcupine Tree, and Dream Theater on Free, as was the case with their debut, the band has once again put together a unique amalgam of sounds and styles here that keeps them on the cutting edge of progressive music.

The first two tracks on the CD, "Sure You Will" and 'Free", are actually pretty heavy, and get the album off to a fast start that ultimately goes in a totally different direction. From there, you get tunes like the ambient/electronic "Go" , the techno-metal "All Gone Now", the melancholy mix of electronica and prog on "Home Was Good" and "Bigger Wave", and the dark-wave of "Kicking". Sure, there's a few more aggressive tunes, like "Better", with rich guitar riffs from Jim Matheos and plenty of synthesizer layers from Kevin Moore, but for the most part, this album is more about ambient textures and electronic settings, making it sound closer to a Chroma Key or Blackfield album than anything else. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in the end you get the feeling that Mike Portnoy and Matheos let Moore run with this, as his stamp is all over Free. One thing is for certain, it's great to hear so much Kevin Moore keyboard work, but in the end, I'll get more mileage out of OSI's debut than I will here.

» Reader Comments:

OSI: Free
Posted by Mark Lightfoot on 2007-01-27 17:54:34
My Score:

THe high ratings by the above reviewers are mind boggling. What is the standard of reference these reviewers are basing their reviews on? Certainly not the standards so thoroughly established by Moore et al on the debut OSI album. The one and only correct comment I've seen is that this sounds like a Chroma Key album.

Free is is truly sad, pathetic. I find myself more dissapointed than I was when Rush Signal'ed it's demise after creating such majestic albums as Hemispheres and Farewell to Kings and works such as Villa Strangiatto; Worse than when Yes released the aberation "90120" or whatever the h*** it was called.

When interviewed after the debut OSI album, Mike Portnoy said he was reluctant to work with Moore again because he did not want to make another Chroma Key album. I wish I could ask him why this was no longer a concern. The drumming on "Free" is boring, simple, easy to play. So beneath Portnoy. What the hell Mike?! You yourself have been a critic of Rush for compromising and eroding into mediocrity. Fortunately, Protnoy and his pet project, Dream Theater, have not fallen victim to this phenomena that is the cancer of great music and great musicians - yet. The words of the profits written on the sudio wall don't apply here - so why?

Free is a mix of technorhytmic crap and Chroma Keyesque salted with a limited amount of heavy rock - I don't think there is much that the term progressive can be applied to. Do not support this by paying for it.

After 3 years, this is all they can come up with?

BTW, I have no problem with Chroma Key. I've got 3 of the albums. When I'm in the mood for Chroma Key (not too often, and it's usually a depressed mood), I'll pull it out.

If you want to sample Free for yourself, do a "free" download first. Also, don't get the special edition with the 2nd CD - unless you like techno, simplistic music and are a big fan of Chroma Key.


OSI: Free
Posted by Mark Gunning on 2006-08-05 22:51:14
My Score:

You hit it right on the nose. This album is amazing. Fresh, haunting, powerful, a marriage of fragile ambient with volcanic metal riffs. I'm a DT fan, less of a CK fan and never listened to Fate's Warning, just never knew about them. That being said. I was a John Lennon fan, less of a PM fan, but a huge Beatles fan. OSI are better than the parts. Cheers for chemistry. These guys got it. And they got Portnoy. Is there a better, more versaltile drummer alive? Mike. Do a 50's style jazz bob album, just to prove it.

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