The difficult follow-up that more than meets its target
It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years since OSI released their last release Blood. But then again, it’s not all that surprising given that I still consider the album one of 2009’s strongest releases, and as a consequence, having been playing it on a semi-regular basis since. Returning with the same line-up that created Blood, progressive rock act OSI (comprising of ex-Dream Theater/Fates Warning/Chroma Key vocalist/keyboardist Kevin Moore, Fates Warning guitarist/bassist Jim Matheos and Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison) are back with their fourth full-length effort Fire Make Thunder.
Those with only a passing interest in OSI will no doubt conclude that Fire Makes Thunder is nothing more than a continuation of where the band last left things with Blood. And to some extent, they would be correct in thinking so. I mean after all, OSI haven’t radically changed their sound or direction all that much since the release of Free back in 2006. But calling this new album a mere extension is really only a half truth, as the subtle differences that emerge after repeated listens highlights the subtle changes the band have made between their past release and their new one.
Cold Call opens up the album in a suitably heavy fashion, and is almost like a bridge building track between Blood and Fire Makes Thunder, with the overall feel and construction of the track echoing elements of the past (Matheos’ distinctive riffs, the radio program samples, Moore’s trademark half spoken/half sung vocals and the underlying dark atmospherics), while showcasing their steps towards the present sound (the dynamics highlight the sparseness of instruments and the decidedly minimalist approach to the song writing, and their renewed focus on strong chorus structures and bridges).
Sounding very much like a natural progression from the opening track (particularly on the lyrical front), Guards is dominated by a strengthened bass and drum groove which is broken up with some heavyweight riffing from Matheos, while on their instrumental effort Enemy Prayer, Matheos demonstrates his varied approach on the guitar (Both in terms of sound and approach), while Moore shows restraint on the sample front, and instead allows the song to stand on its own by remaining purely instrumental throughout.
In terms of personal favourites, Wind Won’t Howl is a real stand out with Moore providing some beautifully layered textures and harmonies in the song’s choruses to give it a real catchy appeal that hasn’t been heard in some time, while the acoustic based Indian Curse is another stunning example of OSI’s experimental bare-bones musical approach coupled with Moore’s distinctive melancholy/dream-like vocal style.
The downbeat For Nothing is somewhat of an oddity on the album with a sound that would be more accustomed to a Chroma Key release than OSI, while Big Chief II sounds reminiscent of No Celebration off Blood in the musical sense, and therefore comes across as one of the album’s more disappointing efforts.
But OSI do manage close the album on a high note, with the moody and darker toned Invisible Men, which not only allows the band to stretch out a little more in terms of atmospheric elements and changing extremities/tempos (heavier passages linked beside quieter moments), but the song also allows Harrison a little more freedom to show off his percussion skills over the course of a full song.
While some fans were a little disappointed with Blood, I actually consider the album a real return to form for the band after their lacklustre Free release from 2006. Given my high opinion of Blood, I wasn’t expecting too much from Fire Makes Thunder. But to my surprise, barring a couple of tracks, OSI have managed to add a few new tricks to their sound, and make an album that qualifies as a strong follow-up to the exceptional Blood. To these ears, that’s quite an accomplishment.
(Metal Blade Records/Riot! Entertainment)