The fourth release from my favorite prog supergroup has been much-anticipated by many online communities for very good reasons. The first OSI album generated a lot of interest mainly because it was touted as a “reunion” of Mike Portnoy and Kevin Moore, but by their second album, Free, it became apparent to prog fans that OSI is not your typical prog metal fare, and Mike and Kevin still don’t really get along all that well. Portnoy and OSI had a mutual break-up after that, with Portnoy being replaced by the impeccable Gavin Harrison, and I am guessing that some of the early interest in the band died off after that.
But then an interesting thing happened. OSI’s sound was so innovative and unique that it has really begun attracting a new kind of fan – many of whom were never Fates Warning or Dream Theater fans to begin with. This is the organic sort of growth that a band like this really deserves, because it signals the change from a band that was known as a supergroup novelty, to a standalone band that will hopefully be known on its own merits for a long time. Blood took their sound even further, as a darker, heavier, artsier style of music emerged. While Free still focused on catchy hooks and pop-length songs, Blood took it to the next level.
For those of you familiar with the band, their fourth album, Fire Make Thunder, is going to remind you more of Blood than their previous releases. With just 8 tracks, compared to Blood’s 9 tracks, we see a tighter, more focused album than past recordings. Fire Make Thunder is a strong step forward for OSI, and though it lacks the hooks of Free and the power of Blood, it still displays a remarkable maturity as OSI demonstrates it has refined its signature sound.
The now-familiar OSI formula is there – there are headbanging metal riffs, paranoid sound montages of emergency warning broadcasts, and Moore’s now-canonical delightfully overprocessed vocal style. The difference is that the twitchy and strikingly electronic sounds have given way to more acoustic and organic-sounding instrumentation. “Cold Call” is a catchy first track, strongly reminiscent of “The New Math,” that unfortunately plods along a little more than is necessary given the material. Fans of Kevin’s hauntingly gripping, distantly emotional songs will find a home with “Indian Curse,” and “Wind Won’t Howl,” the latter of which has a downright melancholy yet major-key repeated ending. Fans of their heavier tunes will enjoy “Big Chief II” and “Enemy Prayer.” The second-to last song, “For Nothing,” sounds like a lost jewel from the Graveyard Mountain Home sessions (Chroma Key), featuring a surprisingly down-to-Earth melody.
Finally, the crowning achievement is the last track, “Invisible Men,” a hypnotic, drifting, powerful synth-beat that belongs in an equally brilliant film. This almost 10-minute track is worth the cost of the album, and will be remembered as one of the greatest songs in OSI’s catalog. Kevin’s voice punches you in the gut, despite the fact that it’s so understated and cold, and the middle of the song develops into a heavy sludge-fest followed by a Pink Floyd-esque soundscape with a guitar solo (yes, an actual guitar solo from Matheos!). The quiet arpeggios along with Kevin’s restatement of the chorus at the very end of the song might have made me weep, if I weren’t such a macho stud.
Despite how great this album was (especially “Invisible Men”), I was left wanting more. I know inspiration can’t be forced, and composing an album long-distance is not easy. However, Free still gives me a ton of listening pleasure seven years after its release. In seven more years, I can’t see myself listening to Fire Make Thunder the same way I listen to Free. I could be wrong though. Most OSI albums have taken a while to grow on me. There’s nothing on this album that I couldn’t see myself growing into. We’ll see.
Fire Make Thunder is still an incredible feat from an extraordinary band. I really hope to see years and years of this band, because even in their weaker moments they still represent something absolutely and truly unique in today’s fragmented music world, where bands seem to try “everything” just to be different, and “progressive” metal (a tag that used to mean a genre that pushes boundaries) now represents a stagnant morass of same-old same-old. OSI succeeds where almost everyone else fails.