The Phantom Tollbooth
 
Acoustic Archives
Artist: Tourniquet
Label: independent
Time: 10 tracks / 46:24 minutes
 
When I first heard of this project, I was simultaneously excited and worried. In response to concert-goers's suggestions, Tourniquet--masters of creative modern metal--were doing an album of acoustic covers of their past songs (mostly recent), plus one new electric tune. My hopes were for perfection in the acoustic tones and in the bass, something an acoustic album needs to get right to be enjoyable, but I was afraid they wouldn't be able to pull it off.
 
Turns out my fears were groundless in that area; Tourniquet retains their reputation for flawless production. The acoustic tones are excellent. With headphones on, some of the fullest and crispest  I've ever heard--Kirkpatrick in the left channel and Guerra in the right, so the listener can fully appreciate the intricate dance of the two players. Strangely, though, there's no discernable bass guitar in the mix, despite Vince Dennis being listed and pictured as the bassist. There are enough natural low tones in the rhythm playing to make up for it, however.
 
The flaws in the album lay in other, unexpected areas. First, the lack of strong percussion. Perhaps due to the band's desire to reproduce their live acoustic setting, Kirkpatrick spends most of his energy on guitar with Guerra. Drumming is Ted's forte, and would have pushed the music to an amazing next level if he could have made it a vital element to the album. As it is, we get some quiet percussion and tambourines on a few tracks like "Viento Borrascoso" and "Phantom Limb" (unfortunately the only two tracks from the early days), but usually back in the mix so that you barely notice it. Most of the tracks are bare of any, which gives them a unique flavor but ultimately weakens their potential.
 
Easter thankfully softens up his vocals half the time, but in such spare surroundings you can't help but notice how limited he is. He's a solid mid-range metal vocalist, but he just doesn't have the melodic range and personality of somebody like James Hetfield (Metallica). At other times he sings way too loud ("Twilight"), with an awkward shout that overpowers the guitars. Tourniquet's vocals have always been a bit mismatched with the music, though, so fans may not even notice.
 
This review may come across as one big complaint, but it's only because I'm such a fan, with huge expectations. This is actually one of the coolest, most original-sounding albums ever, and Tourniquet fans as well as lovers of intricate, amazing acoustic guitar rhythms and leads must pick up Acoustic Archives. Unplugged versions of heavy music are popular and overdone these days, but Tourniquet's one-of-a-kind metal makes for an ear-opening experience in the format. It makes me wish some other band would come along that could play odd, complex rhythm-and-lead acoustic music like this on a regular basis.
 
By the end, however, you're definitely ready for some distortion. And the new electric song fits the bill perfectly--Tourniquet's heaviest song yet. The vacuum of drumming on the rest of the album is made up for in the intro to "Trivializing the Momentous, Complicating the Obvious" as Kirkpatrick punishes the skins with whirlwind pounding. The building stomp of a serious riff marches along with the drumming for about two minutes before the double-bass and wicked lead kicks in. Then an almost death metallish riff takes command for the middle of the song, until some spoken word debating plays out the needless arguments people get into over faith and practice. It concludes well, with the line, "He came to set the prisoner free/a message of simplicity". The song definitely brings to mind the old days of Psycho Surgery and Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance, with tons of variety in the vocals, cool drumming, heavily aggressive music, and intelligently verbose lyrics. If their next regular album produces more songs as good as this one, fans will undoubtedly fall to their knees in thanks.
 
 Songs covered/track listing:
 1) Viento Borrascoso
 2) Vanishing Lessons
 3) Claustrospelunker
 4) Bearing Gruesome Cargo
 5) Phantom Limb
 6) Bats
 7) Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
 8) Twilight
 9) If Pigs Could Fly
 10) Trivializing the Momentous, Complicating the Obvious
 
By Josh Spencer   (2/4/99)