OSI – Fire Make Thunder (Metal Blade Records)Monday, 25th March 2013
First impressions can be harsh and so it was with “Cold Call,” the opening track on this, OSI’s fourth album. It seemed as if Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos’ low-key, industrial prog project (with Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harris behind the kit again) had lost their legs. It’s a long time before anything happens and when the song finally rolls up slowly it fails to ignite. While not a bad tune it’s hardly gripping and when you’ve got something, like say the new Everytime I Die album lined up for a listen, you’re going to need that immediate impact to keep your attention. It’s as if OSI were deliberately not putting it out there, making you work for it. And it backfired.
So Fire Make Thunder was placed on the backburner for a while, but after putting it on casually again the realisation hit that this is in fact very good stuff. That slow, steady, clinical sound that they’ve had since day one is evident straight away, with Moore’s flat, almost monotone vocals working excellently throughout.
“Cold Call” actually opens out into a fine song, it’s just a bit long and lacking immediacy as mentioned above. “Guards” is better, a burst of light blue and grey, the soundtrack to the opening sequence of a film, cars swinging through streets surrounded by high buildings. Album closer “Invisible Men” comes in at just under 10 minutes and morphs from a Bladerunner-style dreamer into a swirl of Matheos’ simple, yet pronounced guitar hits. It’s what happens in between though that’s really magical.
It’s on the mid-album trio of “Wind Won’t Howl,” “Big Chief II” and “For Nothing” that OSI definitely hit their stride and turn Fire Make Thunder into an album really worth checking out. “Wind Won’t Howl” reveals itself to have a Porcupine Tree feel in its heart, that sepia-toned memory spiral. The skittery, electronica intro, like insect wings on a window, the shimmering notes as if water dripping down glass and Moore’s detached, almost emotionless voice make this really poignant sounding. When he sings “just tell them everything is perfect” you can hear that it’s an urge to lie.
“Big Chief II” then lifts the mood, more of an upbeat rocker, well as much as you can expect from OSI, and again holds elements of Porcupine Tree close, like something from Deadwing. A big, fuzzy guitar chorus riff lunges forward like a motorbike being gunned, while the keyboards are sparks dancing, Moore’s disembodied voice fitting the semi-industrialised push brilliantly. Rounding this out is “For Nothing”, a heartbreaking song that sounds like the core elements of Pear Jam’s “Nothingman” or “Better Man” being played by OSI. “Don’t feel like the sun’s coming out, don’t feel like it’s going to get better” sings Moore and it’s the musical equivalent of a sad, half-smile at some lost love, remembered unexpectedly.
Fire Make Thunder may require a little work initially from the listener but it’s a great addition to the OSI catalogue. Their pared-back approach to progressive electronica/rock is worthy of your ears and here they’ve got a real charmer of an album.
(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)