Tag Archives: Alice in Chains

Black Gives Way to Blue

Initially when I heard about this album my thoughts were negative, as I felt that the Alice In Chains moniker should’ve died with Layne. Let’s face it, if Cantrell’s solo career had taken off this reunion likely would’ve never happened, but then I got to thinking that Alice In Chains were primarily his band (essential though Layne was to their overall sound), and it’s not their fault that Layne died on them. What’s shocking to me is how good this album is; though it doesn’t scale the mindbogglingly great heights of Dirt or Jar Of Flies (both of which this album recalls at times), this is another really good album that’s comparable to the rest of their back catalog.

Somewhat controversially, rather than continue as a three piece the band replaced Staley with one William DuVall, who shares lead vocals with Jerry and who also plays guitar and happens to be black, thereby increasing the surprise factor (but not in a bad way). And while he’s no Layne Staley (one of the best vocalists ever), he’s plenty good enough and their harmonies are still uniquely haunting (in fact when DuVall sings harmony at times he does sound eerily like Layne), while the band’s overall sound is still wonderfully atmospheric and heavy as hell. Although Layne is not around anymore, his ghost haunts this entire record; whereas earlier albums were the narrative to Layne’s drug-fueled self-destruction, this album can be seen as what happens after that self-destruction takes his life and how it affects those around him. In a way it’s both an epilogue and a fresh new beginning, albeit one that was 14 years in the making. This is made clear on the leadoff track, “All Secrets Known,” a fitting album opener with great creeping riffs, those harmonies which still rule, and lyrics about this being a new beginning because “there’s no going back.” After that comes the smash single “Check Your Brain,” whose mind melting, disorienting riff is an absolute killer, plus its dual harmomized vocals and catchy chorus also mark it as classic AIC. “Last Of My Kind” deals with the band’s current state as the only grunge band from their era, besides Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, to still be standing.

Maybe it’s a bit generic and overly reminiscent of “Damn That River,” but more good twisting riffs and a deliciously dark aura more than compensates. The next song, “Your Decision,” is the emotional centerpiece of the album. Musically recalling “Nutshell,” lyrically this song is obviously about Layne’s drug addiction and death. Filled with sadness, pain, regret, and even a sense of betrayal, the song also features more affecting harmonies and some soulful, searing guitar work from Cantrell, whose playing is in fine form throughout. Rather than get into a track-by-track analysis, I’ll note the rest of the songs that I consider highlights. “When The Sun Rose” is more acoustic and somewhat exotic due to its creative percussive flourishes, with more nice guitar work, while “Lesson Learned” flat out rocks and has a good chorus. “Private Hell” is mellower and has more haunting harmonies, but it also has massively powerful surges at times and is lyrically affecting, while the title track ballad, featuring Elton John on piano, again directly addresses Layne’s death, but this time it’s a soothing and kind remembrance, which fittingly ends the album on a hopeful note.

As for the rest of the songs, “A Looking In View,” “Acid Bubble,” and “Take Her Out” aren’t bad either, they’re just less impressive than the rest and bring the album down a bit on the whole, as it seems a bit samey sounding at times over its hour plus duration. Then again, releasing a shorter album would’ve seemed cheap after such a long absence, and the album holds up well as an entire entity and gets better with repeated plays. They may have spawned a lot of inferior imitators, but with or without Layne few can replicate the emotional resonance and impact that this band achieves when they’re on their A game, which happens far more often than I expected.

Indeed, with this album Alice somehow managed to make a heavy rock album that appeals to rock radio without selling out, that’s true to their past without being a retread, and which pays the proper respects to Layne while proving that there’s a future for this band after all. In a way it’s their Temple Of The Dog tribute to Layne and it finally closes that last chapter in satisfying fashion. Whether future albums by this new incarnation of the band will measure up remains to be seen, but if not that won’t take away from the fact that this album has earned its place in the band’s legacy, and unlike the lead up to this album I won’t be negative about the next Alice In Chains album. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

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Alice in Chains

After Layne’s Mad Season side project, Alice in Chains came back with this much-anticipated album, the one with the sad three legged dog on the cover. And though I’ll readily admit that these guys are one of my all time favorite bands, I must also admit that it took awhile for this album to sink in, and that I initially regarded it as a disappointment. That’s because the hooks aren’t as ready made, nor do they sink in as deeply as on Dirt, an album that I consider to be an absolute masterpiece. Drug references again invade the lyrics, which is a little tiring at this point, but they say to “write about what you know,” and lines like “you’d be well advised not to plan my funeral before the body dies” would prove eerily prophetic.

On a more positive note, the band continues to expand their sound, as a middle ground between the ultra heavy Dirt and the more melodic Jar Of Flies appears to have been reached, though they generally lean toward the heavy side of things. The songwriting chores are also more evenly split up than in the past where Cantrell had dominated the songwriting credits, while Cantrell sings lead on a few songs rather than Staley, who writes the vast majority of the lyrics. “Grind,” “Heaven Beside You” and “Again” were the fine radio tracks, but also excellent are the bludgeoning “Head Creeps” and the evocative sing along “Shame In You.” “Nothin’ Song” likewise demonstrates the band’s ability to be both catchy and weird (in a good way), while intense mid-tempo tracks such as the rocking atheist anthem “God Am” and the soulful finale “Over Now” (my personal favorite) showcase the band’s haunting harmonies and Cantrell’s searing guitar work.

True, some of these songs occasionally wallow in their own sludge, and several tracks, most notably (the still good) “Sludge Factory” and “Frogs,” could use a little trimming. Also, perhaps there are few instantly identifiable classics along the lines of “Man In The Box,” “Nutshell,” “Rooster,” and “Would?,” but perseverance will reward listeners with yet another highly satisfying and in my opinion quite underrated album.


Jar Of Flies

Once again Alice in Chains showed their collective greatness when they released this experimental EP in early 1994 (though at over 31 minutes this EP is longer than many classic LPs from the ‘60s).

Sporting a versatility that shocked many listeners upon its release (a bigger shock was its ascension to the #1 Billboard slot upon its release, a first for an EP), Jar Of Flies showed that good things could happen when a group is allowed to “just mess around” in the studio, provided that they have the chemistry and talent to make it work. As with Sap, the band shows off their mellower side here, but again the music retains its dense potency. Acoustic guitars are often the primary musical ingredient, but the band’s increased melodicism makes Jar Of Flies even more impressive than the previous EP, while Jerry Cantrell’s versatile guitar playing, including many a stellar solo, reinforces his standing as a major talent.

This album is a coldly beautiful yet often harrowing experience, and the vulnerable countryish ballad “Don’t Follow” can be seen as Cantrell’s pull no punches take on Staley’s drug addictions (“sleep in sweat the mirrors cold, see my face it’s growin’ old.”). Likewise, the less musically successful “Swing On This” can be seen as Staley’s ominous answer: “let me be, I’m alright, can’t you see I’m just fine.” More convincing is the desolate “Nutshell,” arguably the best song here, on which Staley states “and yet I fight this battle all alone, no one to cry to, no place to call home.”

Other highlights include the weirdly moody, wah wah-infested epic (6:59) “Rotten Apple,” the anthemic “I Stay Away,” a popular radio track on which strings lend a powerful hand, and the groovy, melodic hit single “No Excuses.” Even “Whale & Wasp,” a mere mood enhancing guitar instrumental, seems perfectly in place, as, one album after delivering one of the best heavy metal albums ever, Alice In Chains delivered one of my favorite “chill out” albums of all time.


Dirt

It turns out that Alice in Chains were just getting started, and there’s just no way that I can do this masterpiece justice with this measly little review. Simply put, the relentlessly heavy Dirt is one the darkest, most exciting, despairingly beautiful albums of all time. Layered, churning riffs and a powerhouse rhythm section move along the strange vocal harmonies, which are as brilliant in their own disturbing way to create a dense, foreboding sound that you can almost feel.

Many of these songs contain complex, shifting dynamics that show off an awesome musical unit, while the tortured vocals often focus on the destructive dangers of drug addiction. In fact, Staley would afterwards confess to a major heroin addiction (his “drug of choice,” so to speak), surprising nobody who listened to this album. Rather than celebrate or preach about their chosen lifestyle, Alice in Chains simply tell it like it is (or at least how they see it), and pretty it isn’t. But it is incredibly powerful, and the band’s increased sophistication was duly noted by the critics, who in particular appreciated “The Rooster,” a poignant tribute to Jerry Cantrell Sr., a Vietnam War veteran.

Both the best heavy metal album of the decade and the best drug album ever made (a dubious distinction, to be sure), Dirt is certainly not for the faint of heart. However, listeners who like their music heavy should find the album hypnotic; highlights include “Them Bones,” “The Rooster,” “Angry Chair,” “Down In A Hole,” and “Would?,” but my sole recommendation would be to put it on, press play, turn it up to 10, and prepare to be awed.


SAP

This four song EP came as quite a surprise when it was first released (a fifth unlisted “song” is merely the guys messing around). Simply put, Sap proved that Alice in Chains were more than merely an exceptional heavy metal band. With vocal support from Ann Wilson of Heart, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, and Mark Arm of Mudhoney, this EP turns down the amps from Facelift while still maintaining the band’s trademark intensity.

Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting sparkles, while Staley’s singing with his assorted partners remains riveting. Cantrell also takes his first lead vocal on “Brother,” though Wilson’s haunting backing wails steal the show. “Got Me Wrong” is another catchy winner that was featured in the hilarious cult movie Clerks, and the lighter “Right Turn” takes off when Cornell turns up and various voices (including Mark Arm’s) start to spectacularly fly all over the place (as usual, Cornell steals the show). The evocative “Am I Inside” is also memorable, as Alice in Chains bring acoustic instruments to the fore rather than bludgeon listeners with brute force. Yet the band’s chemistry and sound remain intact, as this was one band that refused to be restricted to straightforward heavy metal clichés. Their growth would be spectacularly realized with their masterful next two efforts.


Facelift

This album predated the grunge explosion, though the band would thereafter get lumped in with the other major Seattle bands (Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam) who “broke” at around the same time. Still, each had their own distinct sound, and Facelift was an ultra heavy and dark debut album with a brilliant beginning barrage.

“We Die Young” immediately introduced Jerry Cantrell’s crunching guitar riffs and singer Layne Staley’s intense vocal delivery, while the heavily wah wah-ed “Man In The Box” became a signature song and the one that first got the band noticed. Next, “Sea Of Sorrow” surges along on a sing along chorus before the band gets more atmospheric for “Bleed The Freak” and “I Can’t Remember.” On the latter song you can really sense Staley’s feelings of helplessness, and (the overly long) “Love Hate Love” features an equally tormented vocal performance. “It Ain’t Like That” and the brighter, bluesy “Sunshine” keep things rolling right along, but aside from “Confusion” the rest of the album can’t quite maintain the impressive pace of the album’s first half.

Still, the albums less than exemplary conclusion doesn’t too badly mar this strong introduction to the band’s singular sound. A big part of that sound is the band’s eerie vocal harmonies, which add a unique, otherworldly element to their thick and muscular attack. This is Alice in Chains’ most straightforwardly metallic album, and it’s extremely effective as such, but this mighty quartet would soon broaden their palette considerably and deliver even more richly rewarding efforts.


Psi chapter re-activation

I remember hearing about Madison chapter being closed for quite sometime during my pledge process in 2008. So I was stoked to learn that colony was finally ready to become an active chapter in the professional fraternity of Delta Sigma Pi

I knew Cody, who was the President of all the pledges (22 in total, I think). He was able to gather good group of Business students. Much props to him how much navigated this process, starting out as a freshman.

I went with Rachel and BF (not a brother) to this event. Few other brothers (Zach, Mitch, Casey and her BF Joe (also a Brother)  from my chapter Xi Chi also joined us in. As I was standing outside the hall where pledges were suppose to have their final interview to be done, I met Kim (former VP of Great Lakes Region). Interestingly, this was my last time seeing her as words was out she was expecting. I know it will be quite a while I’ll see her next time around. So I managed to had discussion about future. She knew it that I was moving to Phoenix within two weeks. I was able to get info about Phoenix Thunderbird Alumni chapter from her. Also, I had good discussion with former Grand President, Kathy J!

..with Kim, former VP of Great Lakes Region

As I ended conversation with Kim, I spoke to Belyn who flew all the way from California to the reactivation process. Apparently, Belyn and Cody have been long time friends and she was there to support him and the colony. How cool is that! One thing I have learned being in the fraternity our brotherhood goes long ways. We’ve to stay connected to be able to help each other out. Another Brother Jacob from Georgia State University flew from Atlanta to represent the chapter. Major Major props to him. I mentioned to him that I did meet his chapter at St. Louis LEAD. Jacob was there too, but I was too much consumed with Rachael and Keayia. Hahaha

...with Belyn and Rachel

Xi Chi represent...with Mitch and Rachel

I was a bit surprised that none of the neophytes got the Purpose right. It was a bit stunning. I know everyone screws up credit and debit question. But none of neophytes got it correct in multiple tries. Perhaps nervousness finally caught up with them?

After initiation was concluded, everyone relaxed hit the bar and then to the dance in the near by club. I ended up meeting NIBs, met with Burton Bridges, 2009 COY, and lost the dance off with Dennis (newly VP of Great Lakes Region)

with Burton and Marianne

On the dance floor with Belyn.

...with Belyn, Dennis and Christine...Yeah..we rocked the dance-off party!!

All in all, a great night. Made new friends and the first experience of the reactivation of the chapter was quite amazing. Now, only event that needs to be check off from my list is, Grand Chapter Congress.

Here’s hoping I get to go to Seattle in 2013 where Grand Chapter Congress will be held. Plus, it will be a bonus to see the place, where Grunge music broke the mainstream media. I hope I get to go..I hope…I hope..