The good news is that the new Chroma Key album is here! The bad news is that it was supposed to be the new OSI album.
OSI began when Mike Portnoy, the phenomenal drummer from Dream Theater, and Jim Matheos, the guitarist from Fates Warning, decided to get together and do a prog-metal side project. They wrote a typical half-hour proggy song and then brought in Kevin Moore, former keyboardist of Dream Theater who left because he was sick of the typical progressive metal excesses. Moore took their work, chopped it up and rearranged it into four-minute songs, adding mountains of his organic synth tones to create an amazingly compelling album. Moore was there from the beginning for their second album, while Portnoy seemed to take a back seat. The album was quite good but seemed to be softer, lacking a bit of the muscle of the debut album.
For the band’s third and most recent album, Blood, Portnoy has ducked out completely, and Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree has taken his place. No slouch on the kit is he. Once again, however, the music slips more and more toward that of a Chroma Key album, the name Moore uses for his solo albums. There’s less of the innovative, hard-hitting magnum opus that was their debut. Thankfully, a few of the tracks manage to maintain the energy of the original, namely the opening number, “The Escape Artist.” This tune is six minutes of mysterious chiming guitars colliding with a massive groove in an unorthodox meter (14/4 for those who care) with room for a brief guitar solo and slower passages of Moore’s sonic tinkerings. “False Start” is a great prog-rock song with double kick drums a-flyin’ and gutsy guitars belting out low riffs sure to get your blood boiling. “Radiologue” is perhaps the closest to the original merger of prog-metal and avante-garde world music synth-pop that graced their debut. Here, too, are passages that repeatedly build up the intensity and back off, only to come at you from another angle.
The rest of the album is pretty much laid-back Chroma Key. I really like Chroma Key, so it’s no great shakes for this reviewer. “Terminal” has lots of squiggly synth sounds and the same quivering, watery keyboards Zeppelin used in “No Quarter.” Plus, there’s a melodic bit that sounds like a hooting owl being stretched like a rubber band. No, really – it sounds good. “We Come Undone” and “Microburst Alert” are full of bell-like synth tones and ring-modulated sounds zooming around the stuttered, studio-processed drums. Minimal guitars provide contrast. Guest vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth brings a refreshing change with “Stockholm,” his voice less forlorn than Moore’s usually melancholic delivery. Most of this song is mired in tranquil keyboards, but at the last minute they drag out the chunky and stuttering distorted guitars to end with a bang.
I guess it’s not exactly fair to say that this album is entirely a Chroma Key release. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a double EP from both Chroma Key and OSI. There really isn’t a dud on Blood if you like adventurous rock music and unique sounds lovingly coaxed from synthesizers. So here’s three cheers for the new OSI/Chroma Key album, Blood. (Jason Hoffman)
Originally published 2009 in WhatzUp.