O.S.I. - Office Of Strategic Influence

Year of Release: 2003
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 116
Format: CD
Total Time: 76:05:00

I never fail to be amazed at Mike Portnoy's workaholism, whether it's the day-job with Dream Theater, his numerous drum clinics or the variety of side-projects that he's been involved in. And just when I thought he might be slowing down following the demise of Transatlantic, here he is with another group to keep him and us occupied. OSI will be of particular interest to older DT fans because it's a reunion of sorts with DT's original keyboard player Kevin Moore, but folk expecting a return to the sounds of Images And Words or Awaken will be in for a disappointment.

There are still guitar riffs a-plenty courtesy of Fates Warning's Jim Matheos, who makes up the third part of this triumvirate, but the overall sound verges more on the ambient and atmospheric rather than flashy prog-metal chops. If anything, the OSI album is one of compromise and experimentation, and sounds all the better for it. In fact, the big surprise is that Portnoy took a step back and allowed Moore to guide the musical direction of the band. The concept of Portnoy "taking drum directions" from Moore is surprising, but it seems to have encouraged him to try unfamiliar techniques and has contributed to the album's own sense of identity, rather than simply coming across as a throwaway effort (in the way that the first Transatlantic album was regarded as Spock's Beard-lite).

But the one band that does keep cropping up as an influence is Porcupine Tree, with its mixture of ambient synth soundscapes and heavy riffs. And of course, the track "shutdown" only reinforces this with a guest appearance on vocals by Steven Wilson. It has a very atmospheric opening feel to it, emphasized by voices whispering around the speakers. When the guitar riffs kick in it starts to sound like Black Sabbath on acid, and then when Wilson's soft vocals appear the song takes on a very Porcupine Tree feel to it. The appropriately downer lyrics are sung in Wilson's mournful style, and the guitar riffs are brutal but balanced. There's also the interesting addition of a stick bass to add an extra layer of heaviness to the sound. Ironically, given my comments above, this song sounds like Portnoy has been allowed to play his big kit here, as he plays the kind of inventive percussion that characterised "The Great Debate" on the last DT album.

Unfortunately, Moore's vocals are not as strong on the other songs, which may account for their synth treatments in places. But this does work to the music's advantage, because the sometimes distant singing then becomes part of the overall texture of each song rather than a leading instrument struggling to make itself heard over the synths and guitars.

There's a nice balance of styles across the album, interspersing the heavy tracks with ambient pieces, bringing different shades of gray to a collection of songs that some might find bleak and inhospitable. The title track has a great contrapuntal guitar riff bolstered by synth bass which actually made me want to get up and groove around the floor rather than headbang. On the other hand, in complete contrast, during the track that follows, "When You?re Ready," the guitars produce cascading chords that give this number a thoughtful, haunting feel to it.

On the other hand "Horseshoes And B-52?s" has a hypnotic riff bordering on being repetitive, with some nice drum fills in between the main rhythm and synths adding effect and atmosphere rather than melody. "Hello, Helicopter!" takes on a more acoustic feel, giving the melody a different perspective, and I liked the ethereal vocal treatment on singing of the song's title.

If there's one word to sum up the sound on this album it's textured, as all the instruments blend together, and there are hardly any solos in the conventional sense - with the exception of "Dirt From A Holy Place" with its guitar solo set against a chilling sequence of keyboard runs reminiscent of the soundtracks to Dario Argento horror movies - but sometimes the sound effects become irritating because you immediately imagine there's something wrong with your CD player, or the bass is set too high as the sound goes all distorted.

This is a dark album for dark times, given the source of the band's title - the Office Of Strategic Influence was an ill-fated agency that was dreamt up by the Pentagon on 9/11 to disseminate information abroad, and if need be, false information, to put the U.S. war on terrorism in a more favorable light - and the current military buildup in the Gulf. Yet the album is strangely compelling to listen to and I found myself drawn into it on repeated plays as I wrote this piece.

At the end of the day it's an interesting side-project for the members involved rather than an inspired masterpiece, but it is worth checking out if you fancy listening to a form of proto-ambient-metal, pounding your eardrums one minute and then chilling them out the next. Is this the stuff that prog nightmares are made of?

Released in North America by InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2049-2)

Disc One: The New Math (What He Said) (3:36) / OSI (3:48) / When You're Ready (4:09) / Horseshoes And B-52s (4:18) / Head (5:17) / Hello, Helicopter! (3:44) / ShutDOWN (10:35) / Dirt From A Holy Place (5:10) / Memory Daydreams Lapses 5:56) / Standby (Looks Like Rain) (2:09) / Videoclip: Horseshoes And B-52s

Disc Two: Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (8:49) / New Mama (2:22) / The Thing That Never Was (17:21) / plus: video documentary

Jim Matheos - guitars, keyboards, programming
Kevin Moore - vocals, keyboards, programming
Mike Portnoy - drums
Sean Malone - bass, stick
Steven Wilson - vocals (7)

Office Of Strategic Influence (2003)
Free (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: March 24th 2003
Reviewer: John Stout

Artist website: www.osiband.com
Hits: 877
Language: english


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