(All Album Reviews by daddysangbassdude)
Music supergroups can go in one of two directions: good or bad. There is no "gray area" when it comes to supergroups.
OSI is a supergroup, made up of Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) on guitar, keyboards, and programming; Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater and Chroma Key) on vocals, keyboards, and programming; the ever-busy Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Liquid Tension Experiment) on drums; with "also featuring" credits going to Sean Malone (Gordian Knot) on bass and Stick, and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) handling vocals and sharing songwriting credits on "shutDOWN." This is a supergroup effort that falls more in the "good" category. In fact, it's quite good.
Moore comes across more as the leader behind this effort, the one pushing the "vision" of this effort the most, with his songwriting, vocals, keyboard textures, and the sampling that has become a big part of his songcrafting style. It doesn't take long into the opening track before CBS News anchor Dan Rather's recorded voice is featured in a meltdown panic over some "communications problem" and you realize how much sampling will play a part in this CD, but the sampling isn't overdone anywhere. Moore's keys and the overall engineering give this kind of a Pink Floydish feel. Then Matheos' metalish guitar chimes in, Portnoy starts pounding the snot out of the kit, and Malone provides an understated but eloquent bass underpinning. You quickly realize, "Hey, this could be pretty darn interesting."
It does turn out to be very interesting for the most part. Moore and Matheos' soundscapes are a nice test for any sound system and they force the listener to give it much more than an initial spin to detect everything that's hidden inside this musical box. Portnoy's abilities on the drums are actually kept fairly restrained at times on songs such as "When You're Ready" in favor of Matheos' nice acoustic touches, and the atmosphere that's capped by Moore's haunting vocals.
You can sense a theme in this collection of songs on the original CD that might best be explained by Matheos in the biography page of OSI's official site when he explains how they came up with the name of the group: "Basically OSI, or the Office Of Strategic Influence, was an ill-fated agency that was dreamt up by the Pentagon, I think, shortly after 9/11. Their purpose was basically to disseminate information mostly abroad, and if need be, false information, to put the U.S. war on terrorism in a more favorable light."
The lyrics are spacey, mysterious, secretive, like some covert government agent working on your brain. It takes a little while to come to grips with Moore's vocal style, but once you do then an enjoyable CD becomes even more enjoyable. This should go down as one of the best releases of 2003.
For those willing to plunk down a couple extra bucks for the limited edition CD, there are some nice extras on the bonus with a cover of Pink Floyd's "Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun" dating back to "A Saucerful of Secrets" (fitting, since there seem to be so many good Floydian influences throughout this CD -- and check out the timely sampling of George W. Bush in this one) and Neil Young's "New Mama" that receive decent treatment.
The unique limited edition packaging also features a videoclip of the instrumental "Horseshoes And B-52's" on the first disc, and a video documentary of the band in action on the second. I managed to find this for around $17 at a Circuit City store so it's a great investment.
OSI goes well beyond being progressive metal. It's one of those pieces of work that demands full attention from the listener, and it could end up getting heavy play once you make the investment. But it's well worth that investment.