03 May 2009

OSI : Blood [Album Review]

OSI is a progressive experimental band formed by guitarist Jim Matheos in 2003. The name refers to the short-lived US government agency -- the Office of Strategic Influence -- which was established post 9/11 to manufacture and promote pro-US propaganda in domestic and foreign media. Matheos initially recruited Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Sean Malone, and Chroma Key's Kevin Moore on keys, who then progressed to performing vocals. After Malone left the band, bass was replaced with synth tracks and then played by Matheos himself, and on their new album, Blood, Portnoy was replaced by Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) on drums.

Moore's voice never ceases to unsettle me due to its uncanny similarity to vocalist Eric Woolfson from the Alan Parsons Project. It's the juxtaposition of this gentle, soothing voice with the glitchy, theatrical music that usually makes OSI such a pleasure to listen to. And just when you think you have them pegged into a genre or style, a song comes along with the balls to whip you a little around the ears.

Such a song is the first track on this album, 'The Escape Artist'. Beginning with Metallica-esque guitar picking and wicked '80s synth sounds, this song explodes into a metal-head's wet dream. Second track, 'Terminal', is more predictable in style and gently rolls along, ironically similar to the style of Alan Parsons. Very Chroma Key.

Third track 'False Start' is more Rammstein and has some wicked drum/guitar breakdowns. 'We Come Undone' returns to the Chroma Key formula, perhaps too much Moore and not enough...Matheos? Regardless, this is a song that will please the tech fans out there, who can sit for hours pondering how certain sounds were made. The keyboard in this is trance-like and mesmerising. For me, personally, the static sounds are merely disruptive in this particular song and don't suit it at all (I bet some fans will completely disagree with this perspective). The repetitive clap drum is also highly irritating.

'Radiologue' disrupts the hard/soft/hard/soft track listing order to date and is the first song on the album that seems to be a perfect amalgamation of the two musicians' styles. This is truly enjoyable: a well-constructed song with considered elements that fuse to create a definable style.

'Be the Hero' is another harder song, with great lyrical percussion...but similar to the other more guitar oriented songs on the album. 'Microburst Alert' is less predictable and, again a great fusion of glitch with some interesting drumming. Perhaps because Moore doesn't sing on this song, it manages to gain independence from the Chroma Key sound.

'Stockholm', featuring lyrics and vocals by Mikael Ã…kerfeldt (Opeth), sounds like a completely different band. This track resonates with echoes of Massive Attack, that pondering groove which reaches deep inside you. I love this song, and perhaps this indicates I like an OSI that sounds less like Chroma Key, and the only way this can be achieved is through Moore stepping down on vocals more frequently. A song with feeling and heart. Towards the end, the guitars pound in, and hammer renewed intensity to the end. 'Blood', the title track, is another softer track...more of the same.

Compared to previous OSI albums such as Office of Strategic Influence, the lyrics on Blood are more...mediocre, slightly too obscure. The music is less math prog-rock and the two styles of music are so disparate it seems they should be on separate albums. I wonder if Portnoy's departure affected the tone of the music considerably, as his drumming style was more complex? I ponder if another vocalist would bring more impact to OSI's music; Moore's vocals suit perfectly the Chroma Key style, but not so much the harder, faster songs of OSI. Overall, not a memorable OSI outing, but with some interesting tracks. Hopefully, by the next album, a more cohesive line-up and additional guest vocals will add something special to the mix.

Check out the OSI website here to get your copy of Blood. The album's special edition comes with a bonus disc.

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