Review Summary: Despite Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore's half-hearted approach, Blood still ends up being a good album.
How often do so-called “super groups” live up to the hype or even equal the sum of their parts? The reality is that it doesn’t happen very often. With that in mind, it wasn’t a surprise when Kevin Moore (Chroma Key
, ex-Dream Theater), Jim Matheos (Fates Warning), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater
) and Sean Malone (Cynic
, Gordian Knot
) couldn’t live up to the hype surrounding OSI’s debut album. The band’s second album, Free
, managed to come a bit closer to meeting fan expectations, but it still wasn’t the dream-album that people envisioned. It was definitely an excellent album, featuring some of the best Jim Matheos riffs this side of 1990 and was as rockin’ as it was inventive and progressive – but it still wasn’t super-group material. Unfortunately, Blood
doesn’t even manage to reach the same levels as the previous two releases.
Overall, the performances on Blood
just don’t seem to have the same energy or level of innovation. The most prominent reason for this is that the creative effects and electronic sounds are almost entirely missing. In their place typical sounds found on any stock keyboard program, and instead of lush effects we’re offered generic blips and bleeps. Kevin’s only saving grace is found in his level of musicianship; it allows him to deliver a multitude of great melodies despite their generic tones. As it turns out, whatever caused Kevin Moore’s apathetic approach has also found it’s way into Jim Matheos’ performance as well.
While playing with OSI, Jim Matheos has always skirted the line between mainstream and progressive metal, providing the best of both worlds, but on Blood
he has opted to push things more towards mainstream metal. Anyone that has heard Jim’s early work with Fates Warning knows that he can play some metal, but he doesn’t even seem to be trying here. Instead of applying his own innovative style to the riffs, he is content to emulate the popular sounds. On “False Start” he becomes the millionth guitarist to blatantly copy Meshuggah’s rhythmic riffs, and “Be the Hero” reeks of Porcupine Tree. As with Kevin Moore, Jim’s only saving grace is that his level of musicianship is such that he is able to do integrate the occasional original idea into his otherwise copy-and-paste method of playing.
As should be expected, the songs that eschew the generic metal approach are the one’s that end up standing out the most. These songs allow enough space to develop the atmosphere that previous OSI albums are known for, and they utilize more then stock riffs and effects. Songs such as “We Come Undone” and “Radiologue” exemplify the kind of quality this band is capable of when they make an effort. They both employ a thick layer of unique synth melodies and rhythmic electronic percussion as their base and allow Kevin’s vocals and Jim’s guitar to act as accentuation. Unfortunately, the song co-written by Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth
) isn’t one of those exceptional songs. “Stockholm” wastes Mikael’s vocal talents by relegating his role to short bursts of lyrics that never allow him to establish himself. The music also reverts back to the stock sounds that plague much of this album, turning a song that could have been a huge crowd-pleaser into a disappointment.
When the band released Free
they set the bar very high in terms of quality and innovation, and they’ve simply failed to hit the mark twice. The thing that makes this realization frustrating is that it often feels as if Jim and Kevin aren’t even trying. Much of their performance comes off as dry and generic, as if their heart wasn’t really into the music. Fortunately, the band’s level of professionalism and musicianship is high enough that even when they’re phoning in their performances they’re still good. The dilemma here is that on its own this isn’t a bad album, but compared to their previous release and their full-time projects this is a disappointment. For those that decide to look into this album, approach it with caution and take it for what it is – a solid metal album with the occasional hint of better things.