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An Oddity - 38%

jontayl, June 29th, 2017

This album is more of a rambling ideation than it is a well-put together concept piece. A work of art whose train of thought never quite got out of the station, if that metaphor makes any sense. Kevin Moore is known for shenanigans like this, but he'd done much better work prior to this album. Office of Strategic Influence is mediocre musically and, from a conceptual standpoint, it's forlornly directionless. There's no technical deficit as it pertains to instrumentation, nor are any of the musicians obvious weak links in the chain. The songwriting, however, is stupidly irreverent and lacks any semblance of succinctness.

Indeed, the album's biggest offense is simply that I don't know what it's supposed to be. It's a bit heavy to be prog rock, it's a bit whimsical and loose to be prog metal, and the music is too composed for it to be some odd post-rock album. Simply defying categorization into genres is seldom a negative in and of itself, but it does beg the question: Does this music have an identity? OSI's answer seems to be a resounding no, unless the intention was to define the music by eluding definition. If that's the case, then the album is just a big middle finger to those who attempt to understand it.

There are a couple of standout moments in the album, despite its inability to put anything noteworthy together for an extended period of time. Take the title cut, for instance: The guitars sit very well in the mix as we get to hear Jim Matheos shred through a couple of cool riffs. Sean Malone plays some great bass guitar, most notably on Horshoes, in which there's a spine-massaging main bassline that is sure to impress.

However, for all the diamonds, there's still a lot of rough. When You're Ready, for example, is just terrible. And I never quite figured out what the point of all that acoustic guitar on Helicopter is for.

All this just goes to show how schizophrenic and amorphous this album is. I'm a fan of progressive music, and I love some good prog, but there's a point at which it's just too much and becomes self-indulgent mediocrity as opposed to interesting and stimulating music. OSI is just about at that point. 38/100.

deep, multilayered, misterious, psychodelic and su - 88%

diedne, March 20th, 2004

There is no need to say that any of the members of this project is a master with his instrument, because of a simple reason: If he were not, he wouldn't be here. This use to be a safety factor when one gets al album of one of these mixed prog bands, let the name be TransAtlantic, Liquid Tension Experiment or whatever, so one always knows from the beginning that the sound will be wonderful (after all, non-gifted musicians never dare to do progressive music, do they?).

The problem lies that one can also figure how the music will be, just looking to the cast of musicians. That's why I were very interested in listening to this album, as I'm a big Porcupine Tree and Chroma Key fan and I was curious to see how Kevin and Mike would sound together again so many years later, and to see if there were anything about Porcupine Tree in this album, as I also heard that thing about Porcupine Tree's members here, but at last the only Porcupine thing here is Steven Wilson himself, singing in the track shutDOWN, and surely taking some control over the song, in mixing, composing or producing tasks, I'm not very sure. But this album isn't so predictable, as even when it holds two old Dream Theater's members, nobody should expect something even similar to the old Dream Theater material.

So, moving from the expectations of the album to the album itself, it's nice to see that this isn't just "another prog metal band": Reading Mike Portnoy's notes about the album (they are in their homepage and they deserve a read) its clear that Kevin gained a lot of control over the music and the sound and managed somewhat to tame even Mike Portnoy himself, being the resulting product like a more metal side of Chroma Key... with the obvious big advantages of counting with the rest of the musicians that OSI haves aboard. For example Jim and Mike had that long and epic song (that comes as in the bonus CD named as The Thing That Never Was... having that name because the song, as it's shown here, didn't end on the album), a progressive beast that sounds mostly to Fates Warning, with Tool and even old-Metallica glimpses here and there, and Kevin picked the scissors and pieced and reordered it in a handful of different songs, so once you know the album you can play the long instrumental and play to remember wich song fits with each passage.

So the sound is progressive but not in the way we are used it to be, but in a darker and more psycho approach. The music is deep, multilayered, misterious (can someone explain me from where comes the name Horseshoes and B-52's?), psychodelic (there is a track named Hello, Helicopter!... one of my favourite song names ever), variated, beautiful and original (specialy if you don't listen to Chroma Key, this is), and it doesn't have place for extremely long tracks that in some moods can be boring, so in fact this is an album that a lot of people, in and out of metal, could enjoy, if they only have a chance to listen it.

The album opens with The New Math (What He Said), that puts you into the atmosphere of the album, with politicians' voices speaking here and there while the music grows, being it 100% more or less habitual progressive stuff. The O.S.I. theme follows, explaining you what this office thing is about and introducting you to Kevin Moore's soft, cold and evocative voice. These first two tracks have some jumps and step changes, as we could expect, that make them very interesting and variated even being so short, none of them reaching four minutes.

The third song, When You're Ready, opens with a cristal clean acoustic riff that could come from the core of a dream (...or from minute 8 and a half of the ending bonus track, more exactly). That acoustic guitar keeps on going through all the song, evem when distorted keyboard and bass stains it opening an space for another acoustic lead, leaving a the song as a beautiful calmed theme, with some strange things here and there.

Horseshoes and B-52's is an instrumental song that also comes straigh out from the last bonus track. Head is a song that Kevin built playing with some riffs Jim passed him, and well, among other things it explains why I think that Kevin Moore is a genious... Hello, Helicopter! is peaceful track, with acoustic guitars and soft keyboards, and quiet drums at the bottom of it.

shutDOWN is God's contribu... er... I mean Steven Wilson's contribution here. It seems that the band were interested in having Steven implied into the project in any way, but the first things they sent him didn't catch his attention. It was after Kevin started to remodel and reshape the music when Steven finally found himself liking the stuff they were sending him, so he sung this track, that is the longer one of the album (not counting the bonus tracks). It starts slow and subtle, dark and low, to climb from time to time to places that indeed seems like coming out from an old Porcupine Tree album. About half ot the song it steps up the pace, entering another passage of The Thing That Never Was, so the song ends being stronger and faster.

Dirt From a Holy Place (another brilliant song title) carries from the last phrase of shutDOWN, banishing while the keyboards starts this new instrumental song, variated and beautiful as progressive instrumentals can be, without any specially adorn by any instrument, but leaving a good taste in the ears.

Memory Deaydreams Lapses is a fast song, even when being so subtle it's kind of hard to notice at times, and shows again a great Kevin More influence over it from beginning to end, as guitars and drums sometiems are there and sometimes not, but Kevin distorted keyboards are the spine of the song. The drumming, remarcable as usually, is indeed beautiful, when it breaks out, always finding a place where to change a hit or to add another touch here or there.

And the album closes with Standy (Looks Like Rain), that is the opening of The Thing That Never Was. One curious thing of this song is that Jim says that when he was recording it, in the studio, the window was open and at the end of the song , when the last guitar was letting the last note die, a bird sung through the open window and it was actualy recorded by the studio's microphones. And they liked it and they used that guitar track for the definitive version, so there is a bird somewhere in there... one can actually heard it, if you rise up the volume when the song ends, more or less at 2:06. You hadn't heard many albums ending with singing birds, do you?

About the bonus tracks, Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun is a Pink Floyd cover by Kevin Moore and Mike Portnoy, New Mamma is a Neil Young cover by Kevin Moore, and The Thing That Never Was is the track that pieced, reordered, mutated, painted and rearranged lies in the soul of the whole album, so it's very interesting to see how it sounded at first, when Jim Matheos and Mike Portnoy recorded it, and when all was supossed to be a lot less experimental and ChromaKeyish, and can also works as a good epilogue for fans of more conventional progressive metal, who surely will enjoy it from the first to the last note of it.

A good album, and a not conventional view of what progressive metal can mean.