A veritable prog metal "supergroup," O.S.I. -- the "Office of Strategic Influence" -- was formed by Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos, Chroma Key and former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore, and Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, with help from Gordian Knot bassist Sean Malone. Like similar collaborations, such as Transatlantic or Liquid Tension Experiment (many of which feature the same rotating cast of six or eight talented players), O.S.I.'s debut album is more than the sum of its disparate parts. Office of Strategic Influence masterfully blends '70s-styled progressive rock, heavily influenced by King Crimson and Pink Floyd, with an '80s-era heavy metal aesthetic, and the avant-garde sound of underground indie rockers such as Max Vague.
The album-opening instrumental, "The New Math (What He Said)," is a fast-paced rocker, Matheos' guitar clamoring for attention above the din of Portnoy's crashing rhythms and Moore's manic keyboard work. Like Rick Wakeman-era Yes on steroids, the song showcases the threesome's musical abilities and jump-starts Office of Strategic Influence with a jolt. The following material offers little to disappoint, the band keeping up the frantic pace on songs such as "When You're Ready" and "Dirt from a Holy Place," the performances crackling with electricity and passion. Lengthy instrumental passages are powerful and purposeful: an integral part of each composition rather than an excuse to merely "jam." The individual talents of O.S.I. mesh seamlessly, blending instrumental virtuosity with oblique lyrics, creating an album that is as physical an experience as it is an intellectual exercise.
In any other subgenre of rock, Matheos would be a guitar hero on the order of Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen, the Fates Warning frontman capable of both classically styled acoustic craftsmanship and chaotic metallic riffing, often in the context of the same song. Office of Strategic Influence allows the underrated axeman a chance to spread his wings and fly high, while Malone and Portnoy hold down the bottom line with rock-solid rhythms. Kevin Moore is the other focal point here, the keyboard wizard providing an instrumental counterpoint to Matheos' raging guitar. Moore's imaginative style and natural skill coax a myriad of sounds from his instrument to challenge Matheos in the mix. Offering both power and pomp, O.S.I. would appeal to fans of classic prog rock and modern heavy metal alike. The regular-release single disc version of Office of Strategic Influence includes a video of "Horseshoes and B-52's." The two-CD limited-edition package offers three new songs, including a blistering cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and a five-song video documentary: munchies for your computer.