Tuesday, April 03, 2012

OSI—Fire Make Thunder (Metal Blade)

Listening to music has become a private affair. Music is shared anonymously and usually consumed alone, spat out of tiny devices directly into our ears. We left the megawatt stereo behind in our parents’ rec-room when we moved out. Now, roommates are trying to sleep; the neighbours and landlord are just on the other side of those walls. Best to keep it down. OSI are a band for this era. Their music is crisp, detailed, and intimate, and it sounds great through my 20-dollar earbuds.

Conceived around the time when a new generation of prog supergroups emerged—guitarist Jim Matheos was originally tipped for Transatlantic before Roine Stolt got involved—OSI have developed their own inimitable style of progressive/ electronic rock over four albums. OSI’s core team is long-distance collaborators Matheos and keyboardist Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater, Chroma Key), along with a changing cast of drummers and guests over the years (Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison lays down the beats on Fire Make Thunder).

Like previous OSI records, especially Free, this one slowly gets under the skin. Their approach is cool, yet it lures you in as you acclimatize to it. OSI are a studio creation; they have never played live. The musicians recorded their parts separately, and the end results don’t try to conceal this fact. The production draws attention to itself by design. Rhythmic synth pulses, blips, and st-st-st-stuttering beats mix with hefty, off-kilter riffs from Matheos. While the aesthetic may offend those who cling to the sacred ideal of live performance and the rehearsal-room chemistry of a gigging band, the gentlemen of OSI execute this style with undeniable control and taste. It never tips over into techno tackiness.

The first thing that draws you in is Moore’s voice. His exacting performance lobs melodies into the air that, after many listens, can begin to haunt your day. The other key ingredient is the songs. The OSI sound is flexible enough to encompass some surprising treatments and textures, such as the acoustic guitar-based lament “Indian Curse” and the unabashed prog metal instrumental “Enemy Prayer,” which reveals that three musicians working remotely can bridge the distance and rock out a little. “Big Chief” has a groovy, almost Clutch-like flow. “For Nothing” is as simple and pretty as U2's best work, while possessing a melancholy that only OSI can inhabit. It’s difficult to piece together every detail of the album’s concept, but the theme seems to have to have something to do with the plight of Native Americans. On the album’s best track, “Wind Won’t Howl,” Moore ruefully croons “We were already down before/we were already down on the floor”* as the song soars towards its climax.

Fire Make Thunder’s odd-yet-assured fusion of processed sonics and fragile humanity confirms that not only does OSI own this particular corner of the progressive metal galaxy, but—to borrow a phrase—that all this machinery making modern music can still be open hearted.

*Probably. Ain't got a lyric sheet.

1 comment:

Your Band Is A Virus! - The Blog said...

Definitely checking out this release after reading that review. They've always been on point.

I work with a metal artist I'd love to send for review consideration. Feel free to contact me at james@independentmusicpromotions.com if interested. Thanks for your time,