"Free" (InsideOut; 2006)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Most supergroups are one-off deals – expressions of creative restlessness that exist simply for the reason that it can be done. I tend to view supergroups as “hit or miss” affairs – with a whole lot more misses than hits.

O.S.I. is the rare “hit” to my ears. Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, ex-Dream Theater), Jim Matheos (Fates Warning), and Mike Portnoy (Fates Warning, Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic) comprised the heart and soul of O.S.I. The band’s 2003 debut, “Office of Strategic Influence,” was an impressive display of progressive rock/metal prowess featuring contributions from progressive heavyweights Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and Sean Malone (Gordian Knot, ex-Cynic). In fact, “Office of Strategic Influence” almost made it into my Top Ten picks for 2003.

“Free” starts off with a bang with the heavy hitting “Sure You Will” and the title track which pack a catchy punch rarely heard in music these days.  Overall, “Free” seems a bit more low-key than the debut, but certain elements of the disc rock out with panache and verve. “All Gone Now” and “Bigger Wave” contain parts propelled by massive guitar riffs that we’re used to hearing from Matheos.

Even the tracks that lack a certain heaviness still have a lot worth hearing. “Simple Life” allows Matheos to stretch out with the type of solo not heard ever from him. “Kicking” and “Once” veer into progressive ‘funky’ territory not heard on the O.S.I. debut.

A couple of small complaints regarding “Free” are worth noting. First, without the added contributions of progressive stalwarts Steven Wilson and Sean Malone, “Free” is lacking in diversity compared to the band’s debut. This is not an entirely a bad thing, but it is a very noticeable difference. Second, it appears that bit of same-ness weighs down “Free.” It sounds as if Kevin Moore dominated the “Free” recording sessions as a number of tracks sounds like Chroma Key’s “Graveyard Mountain Home” with guitars. That’s not necessarily a knock on Kevin Moore or Jim Matheos – sometimes the final product of a supergroup may unintentionally sound more like one of the participating artists.

Despite my small complaints, “Free” is a satisfying listen (even though the complaint paragraph is the longest paragraph in this review!). “Free” is incredibly enjoyable to listen to – it just wasn’t inspiring to write about. Basically, I love how talented musicians like Moore, Matheos, Portnoy, and other hired hands can continually challenge themselves with projects that take them away from what made them so recognizable in the first place.

“Free” was produced by Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos. 

O.S.I.: Kevin Moore on vocals, keyboards, and programming; Jim Matheos on guitars, bass, keyboards, and programming; Joey Vera on bass (certain tracks), and Mike Portnoy on drums.

 For more information visit http://www.osiband.com/

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 22 Jan 2023 16:29:44 -0500.