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OSI: Office of Strategic Influence

What had the potential to either be 2003's most adventurous progressive-metal recording or the year's biggest disappointment is actually neither, falling haphazardly somewhere in between. OSI's Office of Strategic Influence a collaboration of the best men in the business: Fates Warning guitarist/keyboardist Jim Matheos, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, Chroma Key singer/keyboardist (and ex-DT keys man) Kevin Moore, plus Gordian Knot bassist Sean Malone and Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson has already become one of Inside Out Music's best-selling titles, and it's been popular on both the Amazon.com and Billboard Internet Sales charts. My bet, however, is that the listeners who've made OSI such a success were anticipating something a bit different when they slapped down their cash and popped in this disc.

Office of Strategic Influence is not a metal album, at least not in the same sense as a Dream Theater or Fates Warning record is a metal album. What began as music spawned from a fairly straightforward collaboration between Matheos and Portnoy eventually landed in the hands of Moore. who abandoned the metal game years ago in favor of the ethereal, ambient and trance-like music he now creates with Chroma Key. The result is plenty of sequenced and edited music set to fatigued vocals that recall those on early Alan Parsons Project albums.

Although the record starts off with "The New Math (what he said)" a promising instrumental track with plenty of prog-metal aggression biting through a series of soundbytes, it quickly begins to sound like Chroma Key on steroids. "ShutDOWN" is about as close as this record comes to metal, with heavy down-tuned power chords and minor-key signatures mixed in with guest singer Wilson's Moore-like vocals. Not surprisingly, Portnoy sounds more fluid on this track than he does elsewhere. Another instrumental, "Dirt From a Holy Place," comes close to matching the intensity of "ShutDOWN," beginning as another atmospheric piece but evolving into a rhythm-heavy song that still manages to be dominated by keyboards. The simple and melancholic two-minute closing track, "Standby (looks like rain)," would be on the playlists of radio stations all over the country in a better world, and "OSI" is actually quite melodic and catchy if you give it enough spins.

Office of Strategic Influence, at least during the first few listens, will jar listeners with its unexpected subtlety. After slowly absorbing this album's nuances, though, you'll probably begin to feel differently. I know I do.

Added: April 13th 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score:
Related Link: Official OSI Web Site
Hits: 4227
Language: english

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OSI: Office of Strategic Influence
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-13 11:14:51
My Score:

As we all know, Office of Strategic Influence is comprised of Jim Matheos, Kevin Moore, Sean Malone and Mike Portnoy. Initially it was planned to have Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation) share the vocal duties with Kevin Moore. Gildenlow even recorded a song for them which they liked a lot but Matheos suddenly changed his mind and Kevin did everything himself with the exception of "shutDOWN" sung by Steven Wilson. To this day it boggles my mind when I think what this album would have sounded like if Daniel had done the vocals. Actually I even think that some of the songs such as "The New Math (What He Said)" were penned strictly with Daniel in mind. The opening riff of that song is right on the same path with POS' debut album Entropia. Even though I feel Kevin Moore does a great job on the vocals, I believe the album could have been even more amazing with Daniel doing some creepy vocal harmonies and melodies in the vein of his work with The Flower Kings.

You have to remember that the reason for these musicians to come together wasn't just to create music with odd time signatures and mind-twisting guitar work. O.S.I is a project that aims to make a serious statement about (corrupt)politics and its inevitable consequences. It tends to severely and boldly criticise the wrong-doings of the American government. It is a quite deep record in this respect. The musical spectrum on the other hand is equally competent. With musicians from Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Gordian Knot and Chroma Key, one may expect the music to feature some top class technicality going on, but you won't find it here. O.S.I is more of an experimental project borrowing various compositional elements. You can hear a lot of acoustic guitar work by Matheos played in the classical Robert Fripp manner blended with Kevin Moore's heavily atmospheric songwriting attitude. Moore's foray into electronic textures is fiercely mixed with the rest of the instruments and almost through the entire album it is he who sets the alternately suspensful mood. Sean Malone plays fretless bass (that's just my understanding though as nothing of that is mentioned in the booklet) and this guy is without question a musical genius. You must check out both Gordian Knot albums to get a better scope of his talents. Mike Portnoy on drums once again proves to be one of the most amazing drummers ever. He uses his hands more than he uses his feet and his playing is rather restrained on the album. However, his tone is killer, one of his best ever, and he does cut loose from time to time to make everything all the more exciting. Just listen to "Dirt from a Holy Place" with good headphones.

The 10-minute song "shutDOWN" is graced by guest singer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and, once again, even though Wilson makes this my favourite song on the record, I believe Daniel Gildenlow could have taken everything a step further here. Mike Portnoy's eerily beautiful cymbal work in the intro is incredibly tasty but the almost tragic and creepy guitar riff that follows is simply stunning. Moore plays a sparse yet desperately sad piano piece over Wilson's vocals. The track interweaves (industrial) madness with fury and melancholy and the song bleeds atmosphere in a dark landscape.

What I like most about O.S.I is that even though it seems to be primarily Matheos and Moore's project (it's they who wrote most of the tunes), there is plenty of room for each musician to shine through. Sean Malone's subtle bass solo in the title track and how he never fails to complement Matheos and Portnoy in the rhythm section is phenomenal. Moore carries his typically unstructured songwriting attitude and works his determined keyboards into the mix of practically every song. He also uses various sound samples with crackling static noises which seem like excerpts from news on radio to provide the backdrop of the lyrical messages conveyed on this album. There are some looping electric piano pieces too which we would normally hear on a Chroma Key record. There are so many different elements to be found here, yet they are all perfectly amalgamated into a grand statement. The bonus track "The Thing That Never Was", with its 17-minute long running time, contains the foursome's aesthetic ability. The way the heavy guitar riff swells over the soft keyboard melody is fantastic. I could swear it was this track Daniel Gildenlow had sung before it was decided to leave him out of the lineup. Too bad cause this could end up a masterpiece in so many ways. That said, I still love it the way it is. Buying the limited edition is definitely worth the price if you want to hear four amazingly talented musicians jamming together in perfect harmony.



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