I’d not heard OSI before reviewing this latest record from the dual creators Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore. On first listen it didn’t really grab me; it’s high production a little cold and, for want of a better word, contrived. In a way I’m still getting used to listening to music that’s not made by a band all, or mostly all, in the same place at the same time. I still like to think there’s something that comes out when a band plays together that is bigger than the sum of each instrument and vocal line.
So in the interests of moving with the times I put my quill, inkpot and parchment away and decided to listen for the way OSI use the circumstances of the production, and you know what? I found a level of warmth I missed the first time that by the end almost had me thinking of a valve radio. Almost.
“Fire Make Thunder” has at its core a relaxed but strong pulse. Even when things become frenetic, you can feel a calmness deep, deep inside. It’s not an angry creature by nature, just one that gets cranky now and then.
“Cold Call” opens with synth and other electronics both thudding deep below and dancing high around your ears. This is built to be listened to through a pair of headphones. A riff is set by the electronics before guitar snatches it away as if to say “here, let me show how it’s done”. It’s a full but mellow sound, the vocals also starting muted before moments of clarity. I love the reigns that are kept on throughout this track, inviting you to stay and find out where the rest of the record will go.
Where it goes next is “Guards”, which is more of the same but with drums and drum loops playing a much greater role. Rhythm continues to be provided by a wall of generated sound and the vocals become almost pop in feel. The metallic percussion really makes this track, setting out each phase of the song with subtle variation.
Twelve minutes from pressing play and we are into the third song “Indian Curse”, a beautiful piano and acoustic-guitar-led track that could be seen as a filler between loud songs but manages to avoid that trap with precision. There’s a close resemblance to the melody, structure and darkness of Tool‘s “Undertow”, but so much lighter and more delicate (can I use that word on a metal site?).
Then it’s into the chugging entrance of instrumental half-way point “Enemy Prayer”. It’s the sort of electronic and metal guitar tune that brings this record closest to progressive rock/metal and I’m in my natural element, the sounds swirling around my head and punching me in the guts. Bring it on.
“Wind Won’t Howl” takes it back down again with crackling macbook providing the skeleton that gradually takes on flesh and skin before proudly walking determinedly, defiantly. I would love to hear this without vocals, but I’m satisfied enough with the gentle flow they provide. The melody this time reminds me of parts of “Walk Unafraid” by R.E.M., but it’s far from the same song.
The fast/slow feel continues through to the end of the record – closing track “Invisible Men” fading out with a wavering guitar and strobing background as moody as Alcest.
One of the things reviewing music has taught me is that I can’t judge a record by just one listening. This record won’t suit those with a narrow musical focus and if you can’t let go and try something different you won’t enjoy it. I myself am still not convinced you can produce a record long-distance that’s as good as you can after gigging and jamming together over time and recording in the same building. But that doesn’t mean this is not a strong album.
“Fire Make Thunder” is not the first to grow on me after a rocky start and won’t be the last.