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It's always going to be a big challenge to replace a classic band member that was loved by the fans, and even more so to carry on releasing good quality albums and maintaining a level of success. However, Alice in Chains have succeeded in carrying on without fallen bandmate Layne Staley, reforming a few years after his tragic death and hiring vocalist/guitarist William DuVall to take his place in the band. Sure, it's easy to say that you can never really replace someone like Layne Staley, or that "there's no Alice In Chains without Layne" but this album does nothing but great justice to the legacy of Alice in Chains. Nowhere will you find anything even potentially embarrassing, or anything that might tarnish their good name. This is a comeback that has been done properly.
Now, of course, aside from DuVall, the lineup consists of mainstays guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney, as well as bassist Mike Inez, who joined during the band's original run, replacing original bassist Mike Starr (who, like Layne, is no longer with us today). DuVall fits into his role in the group seamlessly. Most of his vocals are shared with Cantrell, which is no problem at all. Cantrell has always had a strong voice which was becoming a more significant part of the band's sound even when Layne will still there, and also shone through in his solo work. The dual vocal style of the band adds more power and energy to the music overall.
This album maintains pretty much all of the trademark elements of the band's sound, including their dark, moody guitar riffs and their metal sensibility. They sound just as confident as they always have, and have no problem finding their feet even after their many years of dormancy (this is the band's first studio album in 14 years) some of the songs, especially "All Secrets Known", "Last of my Kind" and perhaps also "Acid Bubble" remind me of the albums Dirt and their self titled, and wouldn't sound too out of place on either of those albums. I don't mean that in a bad way. They haven't ripped off those albums, but they sure still have the ability to write the same strong kind of stuff. "All Secrets Known" for example, is slow moving but heavy, and carries a deterministic feel, which makes for a great album opener. "Acid Bubble" is also slow, with a sinister feel and some slightly faster, heavier parts throughout.
Alice in Chains have never been a "happy" band, but there's one fairly upbeat song on here named "Check My Brain" which is also one of my favourite songs on the album. The guitars are crunchy and dominating, and the vocals and drums are strong enough to accompany them amidst the loudness. On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of melancholy, soft moments to be found on the album. While we are provided with many trademark dark songs, the more melancholy parts are a welcome change of pace, and it is because they are done so beautifully that they enhance the listening experience. "Your Decision" is a sad and eerie mid-tempo song, with orchestral elements and passionately sung vocals. "Private Hell" is a slower moving song, again with orchestral elements, that takes you on a 5 and a half minute journey of loneliness and despair, sending shivers down your spine.
The title track, which closes the album, provides a suitable final farewell to Layne. Drums are absent, and It features a guest appearance from Elton John on the piano, and creates a haunting atmosphere that sounds ghostly, almost like our lost loved ones are looking down on us from the afterlife. It's difficult for me to express how it makes the listener feel in this review. All I can say is please listen to this song, at least. It's one of the most moving pieces of music you will ever hear.
This album has a lot of standard Alice in Chains fare, but also plenty of surprises thrown in the mix to keep the listener interested, such as percussion and orchestral parts, and songs that sound unlike anything the band has done before. And it should not be forgotten that the material is consistently strong and does the Alice in Chains name justice. It doesn't sound like a typical grunge album, or a typical metal album. It sounds like Alice in Chains being themselves, full of confidence and energy to make a powerful and satisfying comeback album that you can't afford not to have in your collection.
Anyone with even a passing interest in Alice In Chains knows the story. Drugs, years of silence, dead frontman, comeback. What a glorious return it is. I didn't know what to expect here, i'd seen the band live in 2006 and just before this came out and thought William DuVall was a great choice of frontman. But would a new album live up to the past material and the hype of a return after a long hiatus? In a word, yes!
Jerry Cantrell assumes pretty much full control here, taking a more prominent role on vocals, although DuVall sings more lead on here than the following album. I own both of Jerry's solo albums and while i don't mind them, i'm quite glad they aren't AIC albums. This album almost sounds like he was saving up his best material for a comeback. The other members contribute to songwriting but this is very much Jerry's band now.
'All Secrets Known' kicks things off with brooding semi-doom and haunting vocal harmonies. Right here you know this album is going to be good, like they never went away. 'Check my Brain' is the lead single with an insanely catchy chorus and the familiar vocals. The next track isn't quite as good but it's still enjoyable. A couple of acoustic numbers sandwich the gargantuan 'A Looking in View', probably the heaviest song the band ever wrote. This is huge! The acoustic tracks add a welcome respite to the heavy riffing and oppressive atmosphere that the majority of this album offers.
'Acid Bubble' is another lengthy song with a dark atmosphere and a neat little change of pace at the chorus, great song. The next pair of songs are more commercial sounding, shorter and catchier. Very good but not quite as brilliant as the previous 7 tracks. One thing to note about the album up to this point is a distinct lack of solos. Don't get me wrong they are there, but more often in short lead bursts and not as frequent as the earlier albums. There's nothing on here like 'Down in a Hole' or 'God Am' for example. 'Private Hell' has the best harmonies on the entire album. The title track is the saddest song they've ever written, obviously it's about Layne's passing and the subtle piano accompaniment from Elton John (!) really adds to the somber mood. A fitting ending to this and a great tribute to their fallen brother.
Individual performances: Sean Kinney's drumming is solid, tight and appropriate as always. Mike Inez's bass rumbles beneath without being either overbearing or smothered. William DuVall plays guitar live but i don't know how much he contributed on here. Vocals are excellent, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Layne without being a mere clone. His occasional solo vocal moments are great and he should be allowed to sing more in future. Jerry Cantrell, the man is a god. Top notch songwriting aside, his riffs are heavy, his melodies and leads are beautiful, his vocals sound better than ever.
The songs are a combination of old AIC and Jerry's solo style. This works well as it doesn't sound like a rehash of old songs, this is a logical progression. Having the best set of songs since 'Dirt' helps too. The album is 54 minutes long and keeps me interested at all times. The self titled album was good but flawed, a telling sign of the drug issues plaguing he band in the mid 90's. Drugs no longer dominate the lyrical themes either. This is a very reflective album, contemplative lyrics about change, regret and inner turmoil are the focus here. It's a dark album but it also feels like a cathartic release, both for the fans and the band members.
I think this is the best album by any band in recent years. Metal, rock or whatever style, this blows away everything else. I'm usually very skeptical about band reunions particularly without a key member, but this one worked out better than anyone could foresee. The songs are brilliantly balanced between the full range of AIC's repertoire, from long, heavy doom-like dirges to mellow acoustic numbers and their standard catchy, more rocking style. Long may they continue in this rich form.
I won't recommend any tracks as i love the whole album, just buy this if you like their old albums or if you're after something a bit different with great songs.
Alice in Chains had hardly anything to do with grunge, the catchphrase for each and every early 90's hard rock band that came out of Seattle. They sounded nothing alike their 'grunge' contemporaries, song structures usually consisted of eerie atmosphere, Black Sabbath like proto-doom metal riffs, wah-driven subtly textured solos and dark, gloomy lyrics. Anyway, 'grunge' is long gone but Jerry Cantrell had other plans. He opted to resurrect AiC from ashes. It becomes nearly impossible for most of the bands to continue after a tragic demise of the frontman and prolonged inactivity. And talking about frontman, dealing with the loss of such an iconic frontman like Layne Staley, who made AiC special with his astounding vocal abilities and harmonizations with Cantrell, it's hard to believe that AiC could return with a different vocalist and deliver something as good as their previous materials like 'Dirt' or 'Facelift'. But AC/DC has done it, why can't AiC? Yes, AiC can and they did.
Beside Layne Staley's dark, gritty voice and songwriting, Jerry Cantrell has always been the driving force behind the band. His harmonizations with Layne produced the trademark sound as I mentioned above, he has written almost 70% of the lyrics and he has written some mind boggling riffs. With Black Gives Way to Blue he has done the same as well as re-inventing himself in certain ways. At first, I wasn't too sure about William DuVall but he sure has got a cool and diverse voice which reminded me of something in between Chris Cornell and Ronnie James Dio.
"All Secrets Known" announces the rebirth of a tragedy-ridden legendary band when Cantrell sings ''Hope, a new beginning.....Calm, all wounds are healing''. A cracking opener with gloomy and pulsating main riff driving heaviness all the way through. The single "Check My Brain" is a sludgy delight with sort of a stoner rock thing going on. There are enough mellow contents present to complement the overall heavy context of the record. Such as the single "Your Decision" which is a reminiscent of 'Jar of Flies' era, the psychedelic "When the Sun Rose Again" or the title track "Black Gives Way to Blue" featuring legendary pianist Elton John which is a tribute to Layne.
The freaking creepy "Acid Bubble" is my personal favourite. It's an out and out doom metal composition with 7 minutes of gruesome heaviness. William DuVall sounds really good when he harmonizes with Cantrell in traditional AiC manner and successfully displays some sparks of his own on "Last of My Kind" and "A Looking in View". I've heard some complaints about the production of the album but I haven't noticed any such issues maybe because I've always preferred this kind of murky production on heavy metal albums which brings the heaviness out.
Altogether, 'Black Gives Way to Blue' is an impeccable album and nothing short of a comeback masterpiece. Each and every song is rock solid, well written and contains vintage AiC feeling alongwith some fresh new hints on the band's direction. I'm extremely excited for the follow up to this majestic comeback.
"All Secrets Known", "Last of My Kind", "Your Decision", "Acid Bubble" and "Private Hell"
First off, everyone should stop bitching about Jerry “stealing Layne's band”. Sully Erna already tried to do that and failed miserably. Now onto the review. This album is well put together. The songs flow very nicely and I like how the production came out overall, making this a solid comeback for this band. I don't think DuVall was the best replacement for Layne, but those were some pretty big shoes to fill. In some spots you can really tell that Jerry was the main song writer, mainly because at these places this sounds like it could be a 3rd/4th (depending on what you call D-Trip Vol. 1 & 2) Cantrell solo album.
This album had its ups and downs, one of the ups being the song entitled "Last Of My Kind". This song features DuVall doing some modernized AiC vocals, and doing a damn good job at them. Like said before, he's no Layne, but no one but Layne is. The guitar work in the pre-chorus is eerie and dark, which is a nice allusion to old AiC. The chorus vocal melody is very classic AiC, making this track a great mix of both old and new. The solo reminds me of something I might hear off of "Dirt", again making this song a nice mix of both “eras", if you will.
A song I did not particularly enjoy off this album was "Acid Bubble". I don't exactly understand what it is about it, but I find this song boring. Slow, nothing special riffs that really lead nowhere. The solo is alright, but doesn't really deliver in the way I'd like to see it. This song is probably my least favorite and I typically skip it when it comes on. Vocal lines seem weak and the drums are a bit bleak. I don't know...it's ust not very well put together.
"When The Sun Rose Again" is an awesome little acoustic interlude. I really like this tune. The auxiliary percussion is a nice touch, sounding like a nice jam with a few buddies around a fire. The vocal melodies are very nice and I'm totally digging all the harmonies throughout. The lyrics are very nice, and like every other song on the album, gives the sense that Layne is still in the heart of Jerry. It's nice to see he hasn't been forgotten.
Speaking of references to Layne, you all know I’m going to talk about the title track. Simply breathtaking. I love this song. Jerry really hit it home with this one. I really like how the guitar imitates what a vocal melody could have been if there was someone to sing it. It leaves the strange feeling like something or someone is missing, and I know that’s exactly what he was going for. Very nicely done, Jer.
There are many more things that I really liked about this album, including the songs “Lesson Learned” and “Private Hell”. Both are amazing songs, but for the sake of time I’ll simply say this:
This album is NOT an album to tell people to listen to if they’re just getting into AiC. This album is more for the diehard fans that are looking for something new and refreshing. It is NOT the “real” Alice in Chains, but that band was gone almost 10 years ago. If you’re looking for something to get yourself into this band, I’d suggest “Facelift”, “Dirt”, or even “SAP”. This album is awesome for people that already know the classic shit, which is why I feel it is a solid return album for the metallic grunge gods, Alice in Chains. Very nicely done. Can’t wait to hear what’s next.
Its been slightly over a year now since the return of Alice In Chains to the studio front, after a difficult fourteen year silence. Over that time, the band went consistently down hill before the bottom fell out upon the unfortunate passing of Layne Staley in 2002. As someone who latched onto Alice In Chains early in their music listening lifetime, I will be the first to admit how resistant I was against the band carrying on without Staley. Sure, I always acknowledged that Jerry Cantrell had been the driving force behind the band, but I was not about to recognize that he could resurrect this band without the iconic frontman.
Well, I was completely wrong. Instead of trying to recreate the past, Cantrell ventured into a different avenue but with familiar landscapes. To be fair, this was always the case with this band, whether we're discussing the Black Sabbath worship sessions of Facelift, the mostly mellow excellency of Jar of Flies, or the perpetual darkness of the self-titled. All of these works are related, no matter how opposite they may seem but never in their career did Alice In Chains go about repeating themselves. Therefore, its no stretch of the imagination that Black Gives Way to Blue ends up being as good as it is.
If one had to liken this to any of the band's past work, I would perhaps go on to say it mostly resembles Facelift. Although there is a distinctly dark nature to the majority of these songs, it avoids the self-inflicted abyss of Dirt. There is even a particularly rocking nature to some of these songs, like the catchy "Check My Brain" and even a hint of it in "Take Her Out" which remind of the band's hard hitting rockers like "Put You Down" from way back in 1990. Yes, folks, here we actually have rock songs that are not only catchy but don't lose their appeal after hearing twice like the vast majority of overproduced drivel leaking out of radio stations everywhere. Even better, is the fact that they released the seven minute monster "A Looking In View" as a single and it worked.
One of the more interesting stops on this return effort is "Your Decision." As someone who has admired this band for their ability to channel diverse environments, this song really came as no surprise. It manages to revisit the nature of the EP releases, challenging the better moments of Sap. Of course, I can't really that it will replace songs like "No Excuses" and "Nutshell," but then again, any song that manages to be 70% as good as those two is a definite winner in my book.
This album truly surprised me in more ways than one. This is every bit as good as the work done with Layne Staley, though I'll be the first to admit the star here is still Jerry Cantrell (William DuVall is no doubt commendable, however.) The album pushes the band into familiar territory but at the same time is hinting at something new. With this in mind, I must say I'm totally optimistic about this band's future, and so long as Jerry Cantrell is willing to meet and exceed expectations set by Alice In Chains fans, everything in the world of melodic yet dark as hell heavy metal will be in perfect order. Highly recommended.
Black Sabbath wasn't the only band to make a kick-ass comeback in 2009 after nearly 15 years of silence. Having said that, this was an album that no one expected to be good at first. Early critics of the band's reunion called it an insult to the late Layne Staley's legacy and anticipated that this release would be a complete failure. I can only imagine how surprised they were when this album finally came out and collectively kicked everyone's asses...
Musically, I like to think of this album as sounding like a cross between "Jar Of Flies" and the band's self-titled effort with elements of "Facelift" here and there. In spite of Layne being gone, the band has included just about everything that made the old Alice sound so damn awesome. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly dark, the vocals frequently use the signature harmonizing techniques, and the guitars range from sludgy riffs to acoustic picking. It may not have a lot in common with "Dirt" but there is something here for every AIC fan out there.
Going along with this, the songs all manage to sound different and represent just about every era that the band has gone through while still managing to look ahead. You've got plodding doom numbers ("All Secrets Known," "Last Of My Kind," "A Looking In View," "Acid Bubble"), fairly upbeat rockers ("Check My Brain," "Lesson Learned," "Take Her Out"), and a large collection of ballads that wouldn't sound too out of place on the band's EPs ("Your Decision," "When The Sun Rose Again," "Private Hell," "Black Gives Way To Blue"). While the slower songs are where the album truly shines, I can't help but love "Check My Brain" for its infectious vocals, memorable riffs, and oddly optimistic lyrics. Definitely a song that will be stuck in listeners' heads for years to come...
But one thing that must be said that others have mentioned is that this album is all about guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell. New vocalist William DuVall does a pretty good on lead and backing vocals and the rhythm section does stand out on a number of occasions, but the guitarist's presence on this album is one that's exceedingly hard to deny. Of course, it's not too surprising when you consider how he took the reins on "Jar Of Flies" and played such a huge part on the self-titled album. The setup does make one wish that DuVall played a bigger part due to the pressure that he's surely been under since he joined, but Cantrell's dominion seems to nicely reassure fans that very little has changed since the 90's.
Speaking of changes, it is also only inevitable that there are a few moments that recall past songs. While "Check My Brain" has a vibe similar to that of something on "Facelift," it has a riff that seems to have been pulled directly from one of the songs on "Dirt." I can never remember which one though. Also worth noting is the incredibly downtrodden "Acid Bubble," which comes off as an interesting cross between the misery of "Frogs" and the dissonance of "Hate To Feel."
I find this to be an incredibly hard album to criticize and think it may have been one of the best albums to come out in 2009. It not only showcases a stunning comeback but proves to be a magnificent album on its terms. In fact, it's one of the best albums that the band ever put out and stands on the same level as "Dirt!" Here's hoping that this won't be a fluke and that great things will continue to flow from this particularly ambitious zombie!
My Current Favorites:
"Check My Brain," "Last Of My Kind," "A Looking In View," "Acid Bubble," and "Black Gives Way To Blue"
Having been a die hard Alice in Chains fan since 1992, I had been greatly anticipating this album, even though I never thought it would actually become reality after the death of Layne Staley. While Layne had a truly unique voice and stlye of singing, I always said that Jerry should just do vocals for the band, and just carry on, because he’s equally a great singer.
And that’s what they’ve done, basically. Even though they now have William DuVall as their new frontman, it’s Jerry Cantrell’s presence which really shines on this album. The dual vocal harmonies of the band are of course present, as its a huge part of their sound. DuVall seems to fit the role quite well, considering that he has some mammoth fucking shoes to fill.
One thing I’ve always liked about Alice in Chains is that they don’t know the meaning of the word “filler”; every song on every one of their albums is top notch. They cut the fat off of everything, and that continues with this album.
The sound and mix on this album is modern, but still undoubtedly Alice in Chains. From the very first notes of “All Secrets Known”, it’s very apparent that the band have not lost a single spark of their fire which fueled them in the first place. Melodic, slow and haunting, the song grinds away slowly and painfully in true Alice fashion. At first, you don’t even notice DuVall – Jerry seems to carry most of the track, and most of the album in fact, with DuVall supporting him in the vocals department. Hell, that’s fine by me.
First single on the album, “Check My Brain”, is up next. Though extremely simple, it’s a very effective track, and one which will be sure to stick inside your head. The riffing is just so ridiculously simple that you just can’t help but smile at the whole thing. The song talks about Cantrell’s desicion to move to California, so it’s pretty uplifting, even though they can’t help sneaking in some dark lyrics. “Tears have filled my bones..”, well, it is Alice in Chains after all.
“Last of My Kind” is the track that really did it for me. It just nails it in every way expected of Alice in Chains. Awesome intro, excellent riffing, excellent drumming, excellent lyrics – excellent everything. This song has it all in spades, and the riff at 3:26 doesn’t get you moving, then move along to another band please. “Your Decision” is one of the ballads on the album, and with the first few chords it will take you right back to the “Jar of Flies” era of the band. One of the most impressive songs on the album by far, the vocal and guitar interplay is quite exceptional.
“A Looking in View” is the longest song on the album, and features many great moments – yet another monumental Alice track. The album continues without any distractions really, because here you’re getting what you’re getting – an Alice in Chains album packed with quality tunes. “When the Sun Rose Again”, “Acid Bubble”, “Lesson Learned” and “Take Her Out” are all fine tunes, taking the album in many different directions, something Alice has always been known for. They mix in hard rock, metal, country, blues.. whatever goes. And it annoyingly always sounds like them no matter what they play.
“Private Hell” is a song that could have come straight off their self titled album. It’s just one of those tracks I can never get enough of. Slow, haunting and sorrowful, it’s another bullet right dead between the eyes.
In tribute to their fallen singer and friend, Layne Staley, the band end the album with “Black Gives Way to Blue”, with Elton John providing the piano tracks. I won’t say another word about this track. It’s just too personal to talk about. But I will say this – rest in peace, Layne. You are not forgotten.
It is just so great to hear these guys play again. In a world where most rock music sounds the same, Alice in Chains have always sounded like themselves, and that sound is so badass it’s hard to put into words. Many bands have tried to copy them, yet have failed. And the reason is simple – they just don’t feel what Alice feels. This band has walked through hell – drug addictions, deaths, depressions.. and have survived all of it. And even for that reason alone, they will have my respect forever.
"...haunted by your ghost..."
Without going into such a reminder on how much Alice In Chains means to me as a fan, and I have been since the early 90's, they are probably the single most heaviest band to ever grace my ears and possibly the mainstream. Out of all the grunge/metal/hard rock bands, Alice In Chains managed to never fit one genre and are a band you can say are their own monster. Such a monster that their lead singer, who's vocals will always be some of the most schizophrenic-sounding next to the first 4 Sabbath albums, could not overcome his addiction to heroin and drugs which lead to a very sad ending of his life. Fast forward about 7 years; the band re-unites with William Duval singing. Now I'm not a rocket scientist but goddamn those are HUGE shoes to fill. After hearing the first two singles, I couldn't wait until the new album was out. I prayed "Please whatever guiding force there is, give me another Alice In Chains album that sound like Alice In Chains. Please don't let it be hype."
God, Allah, Buddha, Odin, even the flying spaghetti monster....they all heard my pathetic mortal cries and delivered.
"Black Gives Way To Blue" is the sound of a band continuing the path they paved, progressing forward but never forgetting their dedicated fans. They stick to the core of what made them popular and that's one thing that so many bands miss. The main reason why Jerry Cantrell picked William Duvall? Because when he harmonizes with Jerry, it almost sound like Layne Stayley is standing right next to him. But then there are times where Jerry gives William singing room and I don't even imagine William, I imagine Layne. That's how damn good he is. Jerry, oh Jerry your riffs. Crush my fucking soul and play with my heart strings with your riffs. Jerry's amazing ability to make some of the most amazing riffs doesn't let up for the ENTIRE album. Riff after melody, after darkness, after doom, Jerry doesn't let up with his guitar reminding you just who wrote some of the most heaviest songs ever played on the radio in the 90's and beyond. Of course not forgetting Mike Inez and Sean Kinney. All-around spectacular performance from a band who basically picked-up where they left off.
Again, the entire album is amazing. For a band with a shitload of odds stacked against them and the terrible "comeback" album curse....there is not one filler song. Not one. The albums starts off re-introducing you with "All Secrets Known", and furthers that re-introduction with "Last of My Kind" which has one of the more angriest choruses and "Your Decision" which turns "Nutshell" around and asks the question "Why"? "Acid Bubble" is a 7 minute night terror of Jerry's riffs and anxiety-inducing riffs that's like someone taking a baseball bat to your kneecaps. Completely crushing. "Private hell" starts off with a riff that is very reminiscent of Candlemass, and the title track is the most depressing and possibly saddest song Alice In Chains song they have made. And trust me, there's a lot of competition when it comes to that. It's a tear-jerker. At the end of the album, Alice In Chains doesn't try to re-write classics such as "Facelit" or "Dirt"; they simply pick up their instruments and made another classic.
Where so many had failed at in trying to make the heaviest music, Alice In Chains simply walks back into the room and doesn't even try; they just do it. They remind you who made some of the darkest music for the last 20 years. And they are here, hopefully, for another 20 years. What they do is nothing short of genius. This is simply the best album I've heard in 14 years. The wait was well worth it. Welcome back gentlemen, we've missed you.
I have been a long time fan of Alice in Chains, from their groundbreaking debut Facelift, to their acoustic eps, all the way to one of my all time favourite albums Dirt. I am also a Social Service Worker student, now this ties in to the fact that one of the courses covered in the program is one on the nature of addiction. Having this knowledge gave me a new appreciation for the songs written by Layne Staley (especially the ones on the Dirty album). Now, I will be honest when I heard AIC was reuniting I was how you say, disappointed because I felt it would not be the same without Layne Staley and of course it wasn't, however it actually wasn't the same in a good way.
Once I heard that William DuVall was the new vocalist for Alice in Chains I took it upon myself to check out his other band Comes with the Fall. Hearing how good that band was actually changed my mind about his joining Alice in Chains and gave me renewed hope for the new album. After hearing the album, I can safely say this is one of the few times where a new vocalist for an established band worked out extremely well.
What first strikes me about this album is the way it alternates between slow tempo gloomy songs, to heavier angrier songs and still other adding songs that almost seem uplifting in some instances while not shying away from the classic Alice in Chains sound full of wammy-bar usage and the sighing vocals that we come to expect from AIC.
On the album there are some instances where DuVall actually sounds like Staley in fact if I was first being introduced to the band and heard "A Looking in View" for example I would swear that Staley himself is singing that song. That is just a testament to how good of a job DuVall has done to remain true to the AIC sound.
I also found it really interesting that Elton John of all people would make an appearance on this album, however his piano on the title track is absolutely breath taking. It also really helps to drive the point home that layne Staley can be forgiven for his drug habbit and finally rest in piece. Also, the title Black Gives Way to Blue provided me with an odd way of understanding the meaning of this new album. I feel that the black is the void that Staley's death left behind for the foudning members of AIC and blue being a lighter colour than the shade of black is the light that Staley's legacy has left the fans of alternative rock.
This album has a lot to offer for fans of the old Alice in Chains while providing an easy way in for new fans of the band as well. This is one of the few times where an extended hiatus was benefical for a band that still has a lot of fight left in it.
Alice In Chains's Dirt, released in 1992, almost singlehandedly got me interested in heavier music. Since AIC's eponymous last official album in 1995, an unbelievable 14 years ago, my musical tastes have evolved and expanded dramatically into realms well outside of hard rock, but AIC has remained as one of the most hallowed acts in my CD collection ever since that time. When I heard that AIC was reforming with new co-vocalist William Duvall succeeding the inimitable late Layne Staley, I was immediately both intrigued and frightened, lest the legendary track record of AIC be derailed by a sub-par imitation. Those fears were dispelled upon seeing AIC live, on their first tour with Duvall, last year. Duvall's voice, along with the songs I had grown so accustomed to hearing, was absolutely mindblowing.
Then came the announcement by Jerry Cantrell, main AIC songwriter and vocalist, that AIC was going to release their first studio album since Alice in Chains. While I was overly excited at that notion, I couldn't help but be worried that Cantrell had a bigger set of balls than brains. A platter of anything less than AIC legacy-quality new material would undoubtedly destroy a good portion of the AIC fanbase. Upon first listen of new album Black Gives Way to Blue, however, I can tell you that my worries should never have existed; in fact, never again will I doubt the AIC crew.
Put simply, Black Gives Way to Blue is the best material AIC has done in their entire careers since Dirt, and in some parts it even surpasses the 1992 opus. BGWtB encapsulates all the different sounds with which AIC experimented over their previously short lifespan, from Facelift all the way to Alice in Chains. Cantrell's songwriting quality, having decreased somewhat on his solo outings from 1998-2002, is back like it never skipped a beat. BGWtB contains all the elements that made AIC a unique band: dark, gloomy, and mysterious lyrics, dirgy and heavy chords and song structures, tons of sound layering, and most notably, vocal interplay and harmonizing. Some of BGWtB's songs could easily have been located on albums of old: opener "All Secrets Known" sounds like a heavy incarnation of Jar of Flies's "Rotten Apple," the acoustic-based "Your Decision" wouldn't have been out of place on Cantrell's solo Degradation Trip (save the dual vocals), the first single "A Looking in View" crawls at a doomy and heavy pace first shown on Facelift, and "Private Hell" is the modern-day accompaniment to Dirt's "Down in a Hole." That's not to say that AIC's sound doesn't continue to evolve, though. "When the Sun Rose Again" takes the wonderful acoustic notes illustrated on Sap and converts them to a tried-and-true AIC tune. "Acid Bubble" plays off of Alice in Chains's "Again" and flows back-and-forth between slow melody and neck-snapping, chugging heavy riffs. Album closer "Black Gives Way to Blue," featuring piano work by Elton John, is perhaps the first true depressive ballad the band have constructed since Jar of Flies's "Nutshell," consisting solely of dual vocals, emotive piano, and weeping guitar leads.
What's most impressive about BGWtB, though, is how absolutely effortless it all seems to be. The sheer urgency of BGWtB's sound is easily evident, as if AIC somehow never ceased making music, certainly not for 14 years. What I thought would be the toughest part to swallow, the inclusion of William Duvall, is actually the best part of the album. Layne Staley's trademark voice certainly cannot be duplicated, but Duvall is so similar in tone, though slightly more nasal, that during certain points of BGWtB it sounds exactly like Staley never left. Duvall pulls off the co-vocalist job with casual aplomb, sounding like a breath of fresh air when he sings on his own (as in "Last of My Kind" and "Acid Bubble"), and to spine-tingling effect when his voice coalesces with Cantrell's.
With Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains has constructed a musical work of wonderful, masterful quality. Undoubtedly aware of criticisms that will roll in as a result of Duvall's work (unfair criticisms at that), Alice in Chains has created an album of which the late Layne Staley would be very proud. If the meaning of "Black Gives Way to Blue" is akin to that of a healing bruise, and if this record is simply the "blue" portion of that bruise on its way to disappearance, then I cannot wait until Alice in Chains is in full recovery. Doubts be damned, Alice in Chains is back and better than ever.
No self-respecting man of the way of metal, no matter what the persuasion, ought to have nice things to say about the sub-par art form that was the grunge explosion of the early 90s. However, no man should make the mistake of assuming every band that came out of Seattle at that time was crap, even if they did have a brief run with Sub Pop. Alice In Chains were, from the viewpoint of a traditionally oriented metal head, more of a victim of this era rather than a beneficiary of it. They were never tied in with Sub Pop for even their earliest releases, and toured with a number of 80s outfits that were largely despised by the backward looking, “I hate the world and refuse to play music competently” crowd in Seattle at the time, but were lumped in with it so that the industry could capitalize on their already established anti-glam persona.
But the history of the war between grunge and heavy metal not withstanding, Alice In Chains always had a gift for delivering deep, murky, doom inspired musical brilliance, spearheaded by a highly original and haunting vocal harmony approach. “Black Gives Way To Blue” continues this tradition in a near flawless fashion, as if the band had not been silent in the studio for 10 years or lost their original lead vocalist to a drug overdose. The songs are as fresh here as they were when the band rolled out their first collection of masterpieces on “Facelift”, as pummeling minimalist riffs and slow developing melodic ideas converge to deliver a closed fist clear to the jaw of the last threshold of hard rock’s extreme edges. No rock, save perhaps something on precious jewel spectrum, is hard enough to match this, nor would any amount of rolling put out the fire that the sparks this metallic offering are sure to create in your ears.
This largely opts for the shorter, more compact version of songwriting that the band displayed in the early 90s, rather than the longwinded cave of darkness that was most of their previous self-titled release. There are a couple of longer and swampier draggers such as “A Looking In View”, which ironically enough was the album’s first single, that could compare with “Alice In Chains”, but largely what emerges here is a musical compromise between the classic heavy songwriting heard on “Dirt” and “Facelift”, and the mellow acoustic balladry of “Sap” and “Jar Of Flies”. Highlights of the former sound include the epic riff journey “Acid Bubble”, which combines all the best elements of “Dirt” into one really fun and intricate, though often plodding anthem of fear and loathing, and the catchy melodic number “Take Her Out”. Those looking for a really good ballad in the tradition of the EP’s will find a nice, somewhat bluesy friend in “Your Decision”.
Though there are no slouches on this album, and William Duvall does an excellent job picking up the slack left by Layne Staley, the real driving force that puts all these stars into alignment is Cantrell’s vocal work. Though often buried under the rowdy shouts of Staley in the past, this album reveals that Jerry’s lower harmonic counterpoints were the key ingredient in giving the band their unique harmony sound. Even and especially on really simple, radio friendly numbers like “Check My Brain”, the ear grabbing contrast of Cantrell’s plain sung baritone and the more flamboyant higher vocalizations just carry every song, despite the fun guitar solos that pop in and out of the album.
Those looking for a full blown comeback, which seems to be something of a common thing this year in the Metal world, will have their expectations both met and surpassed. There are basically no flaws to be heard here, save perhaps a production that is just a tiny bit too polished for my personal tastes. Now if only Chris Cornell could get over his goofy obsession banal songwriting pursuits with the likes of 3/4s of Rage Against The Machine and revoltingly cliché pop music abortions, heavy metal can reclaim its both of its token grunge era bands.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on September 30, 2009.
Okay, being what you'd call a casual fan, maybe I'm not one to call the shots on that. What this album does for sure, however, is kick my ass senseless up and down the fucking street beyond all recognition - no, this is not a review of Dark Angel (as much as I wish they'd make a comeback this strong too some day), I mean of course as a metaphor for my senses being consumed by its soulful and hauntingly atmospheric mastery, as well as for how much it surprises the living shit out of me, considering how cynical I tend to be about comeback albums. Much has been made about Layne Staley's irreplaceability and whether this thing qualifies as a "real" new Alice in Chains full-length, hence my choice of review title to answer the question that is on many people's minds coming into this album. Again, while I may not be in a position to make a qualified assessment, I can say with utmost certainty that there's more to it than the name on the cover.
This is not a previously unreleased 1993 album of theirs, you say? Could've had me fooled; really, just one spin is sure to clear any preconceived notions one may have of this not passing off as the real deal. Jerry Cantrell's ultra-grooving, drugged-out riffs? Check. That supremely melancholic, bleak and chilling mood? Check. Those ever so soothing and emotional vocal harmonies that are so pure AiC they might as well trademark them? Check. Which brings us to the issue of the new vocalist, William DuVall, and the inevitable Staley comparison. While somewhat less gritty and not quite possessing the same "tortured" qualities, his tone and emotional delivery is so close to Staley it's positively eerie. More than half the time when playing this, I don't take notice of any difference at all. As pure and unabashedly Alice in Chains as it could possibly get (given the available personnel), that's how to describe the music on here.
Better yet, it's fucking AWESOME music. Again, holy shit, this is their first album in 14 years? Certainly a legitimate reason to be skeptical, but even if we assume that this is just the product of old AiC members going through midlife crisis and reforming for the sole purpose of trying to recapture their glory days, they're sure doing a good job at it. This thing just drips with mood, soul, heaviness, everything any fan of Alice in Chains could ever hope for and more. This band is well-respected by rock and metal fans alike; similarly, Black Gives Way to Blue is recommended to both. Here's hoping that their next release drops sooner than 2023.
Fourteen years of inactivity is far more than enough time for a band to lose direction and begin to suck upon reemergence. Throughout the history of metal and music in general, this has been well documented. So many things can go wrong – the musicians’ playing and style get rusty, the band can lose the spark of creativity… such difficulties tend to crop up when bands lay low for extended periods of time. Thankfully, exceptions do occur, and Alice in Chains falls into that category quite nicely.
When Layne Staley died of a speedball overdose in 2002, fans were shocked, and many lost any hope of a reunion. However, William DuVall later stepped into Staley’s former role, and with his arrival came fresh speculation of a comeback album. These hopes have now been fulfilled, as Alice in Chains has now released the mother of recent comebacks with Black Gives Way to Blue, an album that rivals Dirt as the magnum opus of not only the band, but the genre as a whole.
Despite the extended breakup period, the band still sounds as fresh as ever. Jerry Cantrell’s sludgy, demented riffs are once again on full display as he churns out such spectacles as the monstrous bends of “A Looking in View.” Cantrell’s vocal interplay with DuVall (who sounds much like Staley) is as harmonically pleasing and as powerful as his collaborations with the previous vocalist. The rhythm section provides a much-needed low end to the band’s sound, even if the bass cannot be explicitly heard most of the time (except for its prominent role in "Acid Bubble"). When these aspects work in tandem, the band’s trademark atmosphere presents itself in all its former glory.
The musical spectrum on display covers both the aggressive, melancholic pieces at work on Dirt as well as mellower, acoustic pieces akin to those on the EPs. The former category includes “Last of My Kind,” whose chorus progresses from a venomous vocal assault to a more reflective repetition of the song’s title; “Check My Brain,” which employs creepy verse melodies and riffs while becoming anthemic in the chorus; and “Acid Bubble,” a droning monstrosity of a song that alternates between dark and ritualistic segments. The latter portion encompasses “When the Sun Rose Again,” a chilling number that becomes all the more haunting by way of acoustic minor-key passages, and the title track, a beautiful song completely at odds with the majority of the album, complete with piano backing from Elton John (say what you will about him – the man can play). The musical diversity manifests not only through separate pieces but also via interspersion throughout most of the songs.
Alice in Chains further establishes their already legendary career with this outstanding comeback album, a serious contender for the top spot of the year. Black Gives Way to Blue is a truly remarkable album, representative of a band revitalized after a tragic loss. It remains to be seen whether the band can continue this level of proficiency into the next decade, but judging by this offering, there’s quite a respectable chance of them pulling it off.
Long live Alice in Chains!
Fourteen years spiraling; patterns replicated from seizures abrupt in a haze. The feeling of fear, not artificial but overwhelming, undermining, and awestriking – you’ve felt it before. Your deepest fear tickling your senses, assaulting the weakest of your body before it stabs the weakest of your mind like a dagger piercing through unguarded honor. The feeling is painless, yet unbearable… friendly, yet uncomfortable… it’s not something we look forward to when the moment is upon us. It isn’t something we loathe, but the connection is mutual and in the end a sensible human will overcome this treachery.
This urgency need not require a defense on our part, but acceptance on this one occasion. Fourteen years through the darkness, the pain, and the sorrow; it took the life of one fateful individual, but with it the band, like us, overcame the anguish to persevere – an archetypal journey with more personal drive than reflection. The band found a new beginning without looking at the past; duplicating what they’re already capable of wouldn’t portray their lack of motivation, but it would destroy the main goal the band attempted to achieve.
Black Gives Way To Blue does more to satisfy everyone it comes in contact with, like an octopus lurking in the abyss in the face of opposing life. It acts as a beacon, luring those of all shapes and sizes to its beck and call. The ocean is more diverse than we could ever imagine, but the octopus stands out in the crowd as a menacing enemy and an honorary foe. Alice In Chains were a band of yesterday, but already with this album did they prove that they could shatter the bands of today. Triumphant in the face of changing times, the band remain timeless, as this album will as the decade closes, within the coming decade, and thereafter. Much like Princes’ Purple Rain, I feel as though this album touched society, filling an impenetrable, emotional gap.
The album destroys with a monstrous tone: powerful, monolithic, towering – a colorful tsunami of passion blinding ignorance and igniting a revolution of reconstruction. This is much to take in all at once, and with an unshackled soul one must prepare for the tide. The album definitely has this oceanic, bulky tone to it – unlike anything they’ve done before. Like the ocean, it serves as a host to a good dose of different tracks, all bred with bitterness, buoyancy, resilience, and a multitude of sentiments conquered one by one.
Beginning with the very first track, you’ll come face to face with wave after wave of the melodiously crushing guitar, churning out a riff outshined only by the haunting vocal combination of Cantrell and DuVall. The duo pull off the signature sound masterfully, sounding just as good as Cantrell and Staley back in the day while still delivering their own harmonious touch. DuVall manages to make up the more melodic and clean of the two, while Cantrell still pulls off his conspicuous groan. Cantrell’s voice hasn’t given in at all; he still manages to brood along as the most hateful (but heartfelt) energy resonating through the chasm.
The mixing is fantastic, with the vocals embedded well amongst the rest of the instruments while still being the primary driving force – depth charges blasting with the aftershock of the riffs following suit in merciless eradication of all life in the euphotic, bathyal, and abyssal zones. Bass support fills all voids like the water used to sustain life: thriving, refreshing, invigorating, and moody with a jazzy touch. Layer upon layer can be heard, but the taste is unique and sweet, especially with the lighter songs such as “Your Decision” and the closing title track. The experience is heartwarming and true; no signs of falseness bear witness to what we face with this album. The drumming only capitalizes on the colossal tone, sounding very rich, lush, and deep; all marks are made at a primarily mid-paced yet always beckoning style. The drums actually have a life of their own, creating a persona based on each song: personalities range from uplifting, to aggressive, to comforting, and many others.
While polished, the album has this naturally squelchy tone,; we have a naturally flowing, naturally sounding album that knows what to accomplish without treading over the past. It looks forward into an orphic nothingness where the only destiny that awaits is the path it chooses to construct, rather than looking back to let destiny assemble the road of the future…
…and thus the octopus lurks forever more. As we see it thrash off into the endless abyss, we can only ponder henceforth at its enduring life. Man must endure struggles until man is no more, but this octopus will continue to live, feared by many without a fear of its own. Beyond its own lifespan are the octopi, continuing their unopposed lives until the earth itself cannot withstand time. Until then, this octopus will continue onward like every hero before it. Unopposed… unabated… into the abyss it roams…
…a new beginning… in the darkest slumber…