Review Summary: After three previous attempts that failed to live up to the high standards placed on Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore by fans, Fire Make Thunder actually comes really damn close.
OSI’s debut album was most likely more renowned for the members that participated than for the music that was contained within, and it’s not hard to see why. That debut brought together the songwriting skills of Jim Matheos (Fates Warning
) and Kevin Moore (Chroma Key
, ex-Dream Theater
), and featured an all-star supporting cast. It had Sean Malone (Cynic
) on bass, guest vocals from Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree
) and it was the first album to feature Kevin Moore and Mike Portnoy playing together since Awake
. The problem with OSI’s debut was that it failed to live up to expectations – an issue that each subsequent release has also suffered from. One of the main problems has always been that Jim and Kevin have never really been able to blend their individual styles into one homogenous sound; instead individual sections were easily attributed to one member or the other. Also, the duo’s (often) lethargic approach to song tempos really tended to bog down their albums. After three albums of trial-and-error, though, it appears that the fourth try will almost be the charm.
For the first time in the band’s history, the songs are a near-seamless blend of Jim Matheos’ riffs and arrangements in Fates Warning with Kevin Moore’s electronics and keyboard prowess in Chroma Key. What’s more, each member finally seems to bringing their A-game to the project. Jim Matheos’ riffs have brought the band an attitude and swagger that was largely missing from previous releases. They’re heavier, more energetic and compliment the electronic elements better than they ever have. Even the mellower sections benefit from Jim’s renewed vigor (as first witnessed on his Arch / Matheos
project). His melodies are dark and moody and simply seem to wrap themselves around the layers of synth that dominate each song. Kevin Moore is also firing on all cylinders again. On Fire Make Thunder
he has returned to the experimental sounds that made the first two OSI releases as good as they were.
The biggest improvement, though, comes from the increased diversity found throughout the album. There are obviously still archetypical OSI tracks such as album-opener “Cold Call” with its mid-tempo delivery, electronic backing, simple riffs and chill vocal delivery, but there are a few surprises too. One such surprise is the album’s second track, “Guards”. It features a looped, energetic drum beat, funky bass and a few of those excellently aggressive, yet proggy, riffs that Jim has just been belting out for all of his projects lately. As a whole, the album definitely has more peaks and valleys when it comes to tempos and moods. Even the slower numbers, often the detriment of previous albums, have benefited from a much more refined blend of each artist’s individual style. These songs generally take on much darker atmosphere than previous releases and are much more memorable due to excellent interplay between Jim’s moody guitar melodies and Kevin’s layers of synth.
It’s quite possible that OSI will never live up to baseless fan expectations, because those desires might very well be outside the guidelines set by the members themselves. What is certain, though, is that Fire Make Thunder
is OSI’s first album to even come close to achieving a lot of the objectives that were previously deficient. A lot of the songs on this release finally contain a swagger and bite that had almost never been previously present. Also, there’s an increased range of diversity and moods throughout Fire Make Thunder
’s runtime which allows the chill, laid back moments to remain enjoyable instead of simply bogging down the pacing. The element that brings all of this together is the seamless blending of progressive metal ideas with moody, electronic components. After four albums, it can finally be said that Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore have perfected the OSI formula and that Fire Make Thunder
is their first truly excellent album.