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Office of Strategic Influence - "O.S.I. (reissue)" (CD)

Office of Strategic Influence - "O.S.I. (reissue)" CD cover image

"O.S.I. (reissue)" track listing:

1. The New Math (what he said)
2. OSI
3. When You're Ready
4. Horseshoes And B-52's
5. Head
6. Hello, Helicopter!
7. ShutDOWN
8. Dirt From A Holy Place
9. Memory Daydreams Lapses
10. Standby (looks like rain)
11. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
12. New Mama
13. The Thing That Never Was

Reviewed by on October 5, 2010

"The album is a difficult listen for traditional metalheads – but the point here is to branch out and expand, and OSI has done just that with its first album."

The list of names associated with OSI (Office of Strategic Influence) reads like a who’s who of progressive metal pioneers. Two of the members of the original Dream Theater lineup, Mike Portnoy and Kevin Moore, contribute drumming and keyboards/production. Jim Matheos, of long-running band Fates Warning, contributes guitars. Sean Malone, of pivotal progressive metal band Cynic, contributes bass guitar. Lastly, Steven Wilson of progressive rock/metal band Porcupine Tree (and many others), contributes vocals to the song “shutDOWN.”

Most of the tracks were devised by Moore and Matheos recording song ideas and sending them back and forth between each other through the internet. Unfortunately, that’s just what the record sounds like – chopped up bits and ideas rather than full complete songs. A great deal of the record sounds like it was just an excuse for someone to spend way too much time in Pro Tools. The songs suffer from a lack of flow and coherence. Kevin Moore’s vocals are more talk-singing than anything, and consist of unrelated lines like “I think you’re goin alright in your head” and “Hey, you in the car, hey we’re gonna need that, you know who we are.” Since the first issue of this album, Moore has admitted to using words and lines that came to his head at the time rather than fleshing out coherent lyrics.

Getting past the shortcomings of the album, the music drifts from soundscape to soundscape, sucking you in once you get past the occasionally awkward transitions. Portnoy’s drumming and Matheos’ guitar work are ferocious on tracks like the opener, “The New Math (What He Said),” “OSI,” “Horseshoes and B-52s,” and strongly precise on tracks like “shutDOWN,” “Head,” “Standby (Looks Like Rain),” and “Dirt from a Holy Place.” On other songs like “When You’re Ready,” “Hello, Helicopter!,” and “Memory Daydream Lapses,” his drum tracks are extensively chopped-up and re-arranged after recording to give the songs a different feel. Portnoy’s technical chops really come out on “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” a Pink Floyd cover.

Jim Matheos takes the passenger’s seat to most of the songs while Kevin Moore’s keyboards get the bulk of the attention. Taking no guitar solos, but providing a heavy backdrop, Matheos brings the metal. Moore’s keyboards are very much the center of the sound, with all sorts of synthesizers and samples. Sean Malone’s parts on the album are mostly very subtle and strong. Steven Wilson’s vocals create the mood of “shutDOWN,” giving it an eerie early-Porcupine Tree feel. The album’s occasional politically-slanted vocal samples from speeches and the occasional song lyric are the only few ties to the name of the band. The Office of Strategic Influence was a U.S. governmental agency created after 9/11 to spread misinformation.

The three bonus tracks we get with the re-issue are “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” a Pink Floyd cover, “New Mama,” a Kevin Moore-centered song with some cool digitized vocals, and “The Thing That Never Was.” The last track is a full-blown seventeen-minute demo song from which the band pulled out ideas for the album. This track is actually the most exciting thing on the album because Portnoy is uncut and unleashed in an atmosphere he knows well (long prog songs). Also, Matheos plays a bit more and the song flows better, although the beginning acoustic intro seems out of place.

While the whole album obviously took a lot of work to pull off, and I’m sure many hours were logged in the studio making it, the album is disjointed. I would normally give this album a 3-skull rating, but the extensive editing work is an instrument here, itself - and it's really stellar, earning it an extra half skull. The album is a difficult listen for traditional metalheads – but the point here is to branch out and expand, and OSI has done just that with its first album, “O.S.I.”

Highs: Two members from Dream Theater, one from Cynic, and one from Fates Warning, with guest vocals by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. Progressive titans all around – need I say more?

Lows: With aimless lyrics and chopped-up tracks reeking of extensive editing, the song flow suffers and the album seems more technical than musical.

Bottom line: An album of soundscapes by a prog supergroup – a dark electronic daydream.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)