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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.