Office of Strategic Influence – eventually Office of Strange Influences nowadays – is a project started originally by Fates Warning (Arch/Matheos, John Arch, Gordian Knot) guitarist Jim Matheos in 2002 and the only other constant full-time member is keyboardist Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, ex-Majesty, ex-Dream Theater, ex-Fates Warning). Although, the band’s name is a reference to the Office of Strategic Influence, a short-lived American government agency formed in 2001 to support the War on Terror through propaganda.
Jim Matheos originally intended to create a progressive metal supergroup while Fates Warning went on hiatus. He recruited then-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy to work on the project. Matheos then asked Chroma Key and ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore to contribute by adding keyboard arrangements to the music he had written. Moore instead heavily edited the music, changing the song structures and adding vocals. Matheos decided to pursue this new, more electronic direction. The members and contributors write and track most of their material independently, sharing and developing tracks long-distance, only coming together at the end of the process for mixing and additional tracking.
For the self-titled debut album released in 2003, Matheos and Portnoy briefly considered having a different vocalist perform on each track. Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation wrote some vocal melodies and lyrics, but Moore ultimately performed most of the vocals and wrote most of the lyrics. Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree wrote lyrics and performed vocals on one track. Cynic and Gordian Knot bassist Sean Malone performed bass, but was credited as a guest musician because his schedule meant he was unable to join Matheos, Moore and Portnoy for the basic tracking sessions.
Matheos and Moore did not plan to make a second OSI album, and returned to their own projects after the first album’s completion. In 2005, they both had free schedules, so decided to produce a follow-up album. Joey Vera (also of Fates Warning) played bass on the album. Portnoy originally told Matheos and Moore that he did not want to perform drums on the album, but was persuaded to perform on the album as a session musician.
“Free” was released in 2006, and critics noted that the album was darker and more keyboard-focused than the band’s debut album.
Portnoy was replaced by Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison and the third studio album, “Blood” was released in 2009. Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth and Tim Bowness of No-Man wrote lyrics and performed vocals on one track each.
The first track of the new album, “Cold Call” is streamed exclusively by Decibel Magazine HERE.
1. Cold Call 7:10
2. Guards 5:03
3. Indian Curse 4:42
4. Enemy Prayer 4:54
5. Wind Won’t Howl 5:05
6. Big Chief II 3:04
7. For Nothing 3:18
8. Invisible Men 9:54
“Cold Call” reminds me of Ozzy, as several other tracks (“Enemy Prayer”, “Big Chief II”) are also taking down on a path to dark, riff-oriented (Groove) Metal. But “Fire Make Thunder” is still a quite experimental, contorted release full of colorful layers, subtle electronics and exciting twists and turns, shifting between different sounds, styles and genres from quite classic Progressive Rock to banging Metal explosions and noiseless electronica.
Creative work, not conventional, still having a charming classic aroma, OSI delivered a dark, but interesting album again.