OSI - 2006 Free

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ARTIST: OSI
ALBUM: Free
LABEL: Inside Out Music
SERIAL: IOMCD 245
YEAR: 2006

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image

LINEUP: Jim Matheos - guitars, programming * Kevin Moore - vocals, keyboards, programming * Mike Portnoy - drums * Joey Vera - bass

TRACK LISTING: 01 Sure You Will * 02 Free * 03 Go * 04 All Gone Now * 05 Home Was Good * 06 Bigger Wave * 07 Kicking * 08 Better * 09 Simple Life * 10 Once * 11 Our Town

RATING: image

Background

OSI, short for Office of Strategic Influence, is an imaginative ambient-electronica-meets-progressive-metal project by longtime friends and partners in musical crime, Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore, and 'Free' is their very best album so far. How's that for an attention grabber?

The Songs

'Sure You Will' starts with a bass line that's so cool it'll make you cry, continues in an almost urgent pace, tells important life-lessons sardonically, while managing to reference Frank Sinatra a few times.

Not bad for an opener, but the merciless riff attack of the following track, 'Free' convinced me that the album should have really opened with the title track instead.

Moving past Kevin Moore's deadpan vocal delivery of sarcastic statements, 'Go' seems refreshingly emotional, and I can't help feeling like a little worried, that a ghost is sitting on my shoulders every time I play it. Moore's innovatively electronically mangled vocals in the second verse, followed by the turnover point where the previously dominating sequenced guitar melodies sunk into futuristic soundscapes make this one an instant classic, and a song I love dearly.

Matheos quickly assumes creative control in the following song, with some trademark Fates Warning-styled riffs that somehow exude indecisiveness and caution, and Moore's additions in shape of echoing vocals and keyboard flourishes create that trademark tension OSI is known for, that only grows as the track progresses.

'Home Was Good' is completely Moore's baby, minimalist electronica at its best, with lyrics that seem to be painting an impression of a very persistent, solemn spirit hanging around the same old place as always, passing through the walls. Can you die from being 'caught in the phone'?

The structure of 'Bigger Wave' fits the song completely, as its previously established fragile musical narratives are completely washed away by a monster riff halfway through.

'Kicking' seems like an account of subdued rage that eats away the sanity of the soul in which it resides, until, with a small click, their worldview shifts and their motives become dangerous in a primal way.

'Better' is sung in major key, which always seems to mark strong irony in OSI songs, and the meaning of this one is still a mystery to me several years after I first heard it.

'Simple Life' echoes with influences of Boards Of Canada, and is probably the least progressive metal song on the album, but it is also one of my favourites.

'Once' strongly reminds me of work Moore and Matheos have done on Fates Warning albums together, and the instrumental intro lasts for almost two minutes, so it is probably the most stereotypical progressive metal song on the album, lodged into a nice sandwich where the non-progressive metal bread is made of aforementioned 'Simple Life' and 'Our Town', a soothing acoustic ballad that almost brings country music to my mind.

In Summary

An album full of open space and heavily varying tracks and quality on an all-time high, it's probably one of my favourite records of all time and a dear possession in my library.


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