The first OFFICE OF STRATEGIC INFLUENCE album was a big hit for the Inside Out label. A prog-metal dream team — FATES WARNING guitarist Jim Matheos, DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy and his former bandmate, keyboardist Kevin Moore, and bassist Sean Malone (CYNIC, GORDIAN KNOT) — assembled a truly collaborative record, one that played to each member's strengths.
This time around, Malone is gone altogether, replaced by Joey Vera (ARMORED SAINT, ANTHRAX) on five tracks. Portnoy is relegated to guest musician status — the emphasis in clearly on Moore and Matheos. And of the two, it seems like Moore is running the show, turning in a vocal-driven performance heavy on electronic manipulation, full of the sort of melancholy, dour, fuzzy-headed electro-gloom that permeates his CHROMA KEY project.
Atmosphere-wise, PORCUPINE TREE would be a fair reference point. Dour, minimalist songs like "Once" are textural, electronic exercises with isolated bits of guitar flying in and out of the cinematic keyboards and programmed drums, building into a shuffling, driving, insistent tune as Portnoy and Matheos ease into the mix. Opener "Sure You Will" is a bit more traditional, almost simplistic in its attack and "did it my way/on the highway" refrain. There's definitely a healthy dose of Moore weirdness in even the most straightforward songs here, though — his is the dominant personality here, perhaps to the detriment of the collaborative vibe.
Those wanting prog-metal theatrics (no pun intended), or even dominant guitar, will be let down by "Free". But without those preconceptions, it's quite an interesting trip of a record. The mentholated cool of Moore's arched-eyebrow of a vocal, the electronic flourishes that gradually take over as the record progresses, the production tricks and hiccups that create strange ripples in the sound… it all melds together pretty seamlessly, and rocks pretty hard, in its own rainy-day sort of way.