Of course, O.S.I. is a band and not a government office, so there’s no need for us to get our knickers in a twist. O.S.I.‘s main men are prog-rock Wunderkinds Jim Matheos (Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos) and Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, ex-Dream Theater). There’s is a long-distance partnership. Both the writing and recording for fourth album, Fire Make Thunder, (in fact, all except the final overdubs and mastering process) is done at each musician’s respective home studio. Even the drums get a home-recording – this time at sticksman, and final piece in the puzzle, Gavin Harrison’s house far away in London. With their various other projects all ticking over nicely this is clearly an arrangement that works to their advantage.
Following their frankly stunning debut album (so good it warranted a recent re-release) they have been steadily churning long-players out on a regular basis. Their last couple have seen the band produce subtler, more mellow albums that stand accused of sacrificing hooks for emotion, but Fire Makes Thunder aims to correct that imbalance. Tracks like “Cold Call”, “Guards” and “Big Chief II” all wallow hard in the groove and serve up plenty of riffs and catchy lyrics that had me helplessly mumbling along whilst en-route to my various destinations, headphones askew from gently nodding in time. Others like “Indian Curse” or “Invisible Men” drop the pace and spark moments of deep contemplation with their crafty use of psychedelic, synthetic layering.
It may yet become tiresome, but the currently innocuous recycling of riffs and lyrics is a wonderful feature of the band. It ties tracks and albums together and draws comparison with the exquisite way Porcupine Tree do the same. Good examples here are the way “Guards” continues on from “Cold Call” by linking it back using lyrical content; or when “Invisible Man” picks up its big, heavily-fuzzed riff halfway through, it immediately recalls a riff that was used to great effect in “Bigger Wave” (from 2006′s Free). All these neat touches means the album flows beautifully from piece to piece, diligently threading emotional responses together. There’s true method in their madness, y’know.
The deft instrumental, “Enemy Prayer”, with its rinsed-out lead and bucking bass, rocks its listener from pillar to post with sections of delicate piano, wild tremelo and driven guitar, and stands up as one of their finest moments. Other album highlights can be find in the dreamy, waterfalling riff, background wash and dynamically-clipped vocal of “Wind Won’t Howl” and in the searing guitars which streak across Moore’s rich, menacing delivery (curiously reminiscent of Oasis’ Liam Gallagher) during “Guards”.
“Cold Call”, despite initially biting down hard with a fierce lick, after numerous plays, quickly gets repetitive and “Big Chief II” fails to initiate lift-off with a simplistically hard heart and with little else to stir the soul. However, despite these small failings, the album is an assured winner, proving that it’s not all beer, shits & giggles in the Matheos/Moore households, and heralds a welcome return to form for the band.
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