Review Summary: An odd variety of guest appearances fuse with Tourniquet's signature thrash for mixed results. Ironically, the album's fair animal treatment concept comes across as beating a dead horse.
Tourniquet is Ted Kirkpatrick in the same way Megadeth is Dave Mustaine. Musical seasons come and go, disgruntled band members may leave to greener pastures, but Tourniquet lives on until Ted puts down his sticks and throws in his sweaty towel.
Like Mustaine, Kirkpatrick is a virtuoso, having been highlighted on drum magazines as one of the best drummers in thrash metal. On top of that, he laid down most of the guitar parts for his last albums. Not only does the man have a passion for playing music, but he has other curious interests as well. Early on, Tourniquet stood out among the heap of thrash bands in the late '80s to early '90s for not only their razor-sharp riffs and complex drumming, but also their peculiar lyrical content. Tourniquet had the following three signature themes: Christianity, medical science, and animal rights. The latter is best exemplified in their first minor MTV hit "Ark of Suffering," making the argument for animal rights from a Christian perspective…through a rollicking Slayer-influenced thrash channel, too. All those elements have been retained to some extent in Kirpatrick's latest. Though it was initially a solo project, the Tourniquet brand fits this set of songs at least as well as their awkward mid-90s hard rock albums.
That's because, 20 years later, not much has changed. Sure, Tourniquet has been through tough times. They replaced departed vocalist Guy Ritter with Luke Easter, and they no longer have any presence in pop culture as they did in the thrash heyday. However, with their previous album Antiseptic Bloodbath, Tourniquet hit all their usual targets. They had classically-tinged thrash equally influenced by Slayer as Bach, Christian themes mixed with bloody images and medical terminology, and "86 Bullets", a song that addresses the final checkmark on every Tourniquet fan's list. Why, the album's animal rights song, of course!
Kirpatrick's latest Onward to Freedom attempts a few new tricks, most notably in the vocal department. Guest metal guitarists such as Marty Friedman and Christ Poland (both of Megadeth) and Rex Carroll of Whitecross add their own flavor in the guitar solo department, but having a vocalist range as wide as Doug Pinnick of King's X, Michael Sweet of Stryper, Matt Montgomery of For Today, Kevin Young of Disciple, and 16 year-old prodigy Gabbie Rae will surely add some interesting flavors to Tourniquet. Some sound fresh yet at home…others will have you covering your ears and longing for the Luke Easter years (and he does fulfill your wish for a brief moment).
Try to hold still, dear Tourniquet fan. I can’t say this won’t hurt a little.
The title track is a great representation of the album as a whole. It starts with a classical piano prelude in classic Tourniquet fashion before entering into chugging mid-tempo thrash riffs. Behold, Michael Sweet begins to sing in his grittier style before giving us his signature, operatic, hair metal-like chorus. Though much of Tourniquet’s music is barked ala Tom Araya, they've had some comparably good melodic moments, so it comes as an interesting and welcome addition to the Tourniquet sound. However, Matt Montgomery from For Today leads the bridge in a jolting shift to a straight-up, metalcore breakdown. Now, Tourniquet has had heavy riffing predictive of metalcore in their third album Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance, but fusing hair metal with metalcore using thrash as the supposed gap-closer…or should I say, tourniquet…doesn't work in my book. "The Slave Ring" is similar but more aggressive, with Matt Montgomery spearheading the mid-tempo thrash verses into a moody 6/8 chorus. This features Chris Poland unleashing a tasty melodic guitar solo. It turns out to be one of the more entertaining songs, with the metalcore style vocals surprisingly complementing the traditional heavy metal style.
With the fourth track "The Noble Case for Mercy", the biggest blunder of the album becomes apparent. The track is basically a 3 minute, spoken word sermon on why mankind must have more respect for animal life. While fair animal treatment has been an interesting staple of Tourniquet’s arsenal, Onward to Freedom is basically a concept album focused solely on this issue. While hitting the issue from a variety of viewpoints like the aforementioned "86 Bullets" (about the life of a circus elephant) could have been successful, the listing of general mistreatments of animals and the victim’s helpless response becomes redundant quickly. Tourniquet had a plethora of interesting ideas before, but now Kirkpatrick has narrowed his focus to a fault without much new insight.
The following songs continue the theme of questioning mankind’s treatment of animals, with a few working better musically and lyrically than others. Doug Pinnick sings "No Soul" which wrestles down the question if animals have souls. This one really does sound like a heavy King's X song with Beatlesque harmonies and all, at it’s probably my favorite on the album with an emotional bridge asking "are we being fair?" in excluding animals from having souls. "If I Had to Do the Killing" deals with someone facing the choice of killing an animal. The verse starts a bit like the classic Tourniquet song "Broken Chromosomes," but Disciple vocalist Kevin Young unsurprisingly ads a nu-metal/hardcore vibe, especially in the spoken build into the bridge recalling "Killing in the Name of." Strangely, the song "Stereotaxic Atrocities" from their acclaimed Psycho Surgery album gets a remake here. The song choice is obvious since it is the token animal rights song on that album, but I don’t think they added anything important other than current Tourniquet vocalist Luke Easter.
"Drowning in Air" is probably the most faithful Tourniquet song on the album, thrashing at high-speed with complicated drum patterns and neo-classical riffs. Once again, metalcore screams are meant to take this song into the twenty-first century, but fall on reluctantly non-deaf ears. The final song takes a left turn in presenting a heartwarming story about a girl played by Gabbie Rae visiting a pet pound and promising to do what she can to help these poor animals. While that’s all cute and dandy, I still don’t think it warrants the countryish, power ballad format it goes for. To put it in Kirkpatrick's favorite medical terms, it sticks out like sore phalanx.
In conclusion, there are things Tourniquet fans will like about this album. Maybe it will even turn a few fans of modern metal like Disciple and For Today onto Tourniquet. Overall though, it is too all over the place stylistically, and it doesn't execute any of these parts exceptionally well to get my enthusiastic recommendation. Past Tourniquet thrashed harder. King's X still sets the mood and harmonizes better. Matt Montgomery…Lord help us…breakdowns more elsewhere. And lyrically, Kirkpatrick is treading well-worn ground at least for the band. Sure, they may be one of the few artists forcefully hitting this subject, but the arguments have already been made. Sorry, you have to have new evidence to validate a retrial.
I give it a C+ for chronic schizophrenic metalcoritis.