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Alice in Chains are certainly a heavy metal band. Perhaps they are better known for being a grunge act, but they are heavier than Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. Alice plays their own blend of alternative metal but it just so happens that they were from Seattle where the grunge scene exploded. The bands plays this alternative style because one song they are practically doom metal and the next song has a radio friendly chorus. Just contrasting and comparing the songs Rooster to Junkhead shows you the different moods that Alice can conjure up.
Dirt is the legendary album that Alice will be known for. It is certainly their flagship album with the band at their peak performance. Both heavy and light, Dirt encapsulates Alice perfectly. Dirt shows the band hitting their stride. Facelift was very well done but inconsistent while the tripod album is a very depressing affair. Dirt is an album that stands head and shoulders above Alice's discography and the entire grunge rock scene of the 90s. It's unique, it's brooding, it's scary and it is drug fueled. It's a rewarding and sometimes depressing journey that has a lot to offer a first time listener. Dirt is an album full of radio rock singles, but they do not become stale or overplayed in the context of the album. It's one of those albums that has so much to offer, that repeat listens are warranted and revisiting the album remains appealing.
The musicianship is insane on this album. Mike Starr's last major bass effort is a monster one. Sean Kinney is solid and reliable. Cantrell channels Tony Iommi and the radio rock of the 90s but in his own unique harmonizing way. Mr. Layne Staley is at his vocal peak on Dirt. The way he can harmonize with Cantrell proves the chemistry between the two. He has such a range and he perfects the signature Alice sound with his mournful wails and drug induced cries. If you thought Man in the Box was a great song, just wait until Dirt has been played in its entirety. The entire album is chock full of Man in the Box quality songs. There's no doubt that Dirt is a 90s masterpiece and the songs of a generation.
Dirt features many excellent songs. Songs like Would and Rooster classic radio staples. Junkhead and Dirt are so heavy while being full of doom. Down in a Hole shows the bands softer side and hearkens back to their Sap EP despite being electric. Many other songs are just so bizarre because of a vocal delivery method or a really crazy harmony from Layne. Each song pack a unique punch to put it plainly. Every song should there and is present for good reason. The band is firing on all cylinders.
This album is not for the faint of heart. It is for the sick minded and the castaways. It's definitely not an album for everyone. Some cannot handle Layne's singing or have tired of hearing the singles on the radio. Some can't handle the darkness of what drugs can do to and the terror they are associated with. I wouldn't judge you if Dirt is not something you are passionate about. For me it will always be life changing and something worth passing down to future generations. Alice carved their way into my soul and Dirt should be celebrated as the essential AIC album.
If Alice in Chains released 'Dirt' in hopes to achieve some commercial success, then they used the correct formula for it, because that's exactly what happened. There's really no wonder why this album is often considered Alice in Chains' finest work, since it's got some of the sharpest hooks and simplest "sing-and-play-along-to" music in rock.
The band's two biggest hits are present on 'Dirt' - "Rooster" and "Would?" - these two are most definitely the most overplayed and overrated Alice in Chains songs ever, but are built in the way that makes 'Dirt' such a popular album. The music is very simple; there's nothing overly-complex and mind-blowing with the riffs or song-structure; it's very straight-forward and uses the ancient verse-chorus-verse formula,, but the choruses to these songs are memorable enough to leave prints on people's minds, even if they don't know the band or listen to this type of music, in general. The very same can be said about a few other songs on 'Dirt'; most notably "Them Bones", "Rain When I Die" and "Junkhead".
This album also contains some very dark and personal songs, with "Angry Chair" being the stand-out one. It's dark as hell, yet has a strangely uplifting chorus that once again works as a great hook, which is light and catchy enough for radio-play. Another Alice in Chains classic would be "Down in a Hole" - a dark, melancholic rock-ballad with exceptional vocal harmonies and calm, melodic instrumentation, and then of course, the memorable chorus.
The songs mentioned above are the ones that are made to leave an impression on the listener - thanks to their strong choruses, they're very accessible and enjoyable by just about anyone, and make up the bulk of this album's strength.
There are, however, some rather underwhelming tracks, too. "Sickman" is a bit all-over-the-place and sounds like a left-over song by Acid Bath that wasn't used for any of their two albums. The same can be said about "God Smack"; though, this one is much more enjoyable than "Sickman", and Layne Staley sounds almost identical to Dax Riggs of Acid Bath here. These two, along with the title-track and "Hate to Feel" leave are significantly weaker than the other songs mentioned. They are the opposite of what makes the other songs good and memorable, and while it's often "more metal" to have songs that aren't golden for radio and other ways of commercial success, these ones just sound somewhat forced and are, at best, filler material.
'Dirt' is a good album, but a tad inconsistent; even if the majority of the music here, is very enjoyable. Despite the few songs that are a bit iffy, Alice in Chains proved that their song-writing was good enough to create radio-worthy rock hits without becoming a desperate cash-hungry band (Metallica, coughcough).
How the hell did Alice in Chains get so popular? I mean, really, they had all the narcotic shit going on, they weren't averse to tampering with musical formulas, and they sounded totally out of their time. Looking back, it's easy to say that Layne Staley's drawling, slurring vocals pulled them into the grunge wave (maybe their home in Seattle too, hehe), as well as Jerry Cantrell's propensity for putting out riffs alongside some pure noise and ugly guitar frolics; then there are those vocal harmonies, which go closer than Nirvana ever did to Kurt Cobain's supposed blueprint of The Beatles-meets-Black Sabbath; also, the kind of depressing themes, which really scrape the bottom of the human condition - angsty, self-doubting, self-loathing. For these guys to be big, we sure know that the early 90s were a strange time.
However, Alice in Chains had (and continue to have) more metal credentials than any other of the Seattle bands, and satisfy in a slightly offbeat way that caters as much to 70s fuzz devotees as to the cool modern kids. To describe the elements that make up their sound is easy, yet to compare them to other bands is difficult: there's a stoner element that doesn't go all the way to Kyuss or Sleep, but actually verges on the more conventional songwriting style that Queens of the Stone Age have been so successful with; there's that retro edge that borrows from Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and even dips a toe in the 80s doom pool to add a dash of Saint Vitus and Pentagram; added to that are some more extreme tendencies that are not extensively seen on this album, such as the sludge scene of Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, and Down; finally, some of the offbeat spirit of the 90s alternative bands is certainly there in the form of Faith No More's shadow, Nirvana'a snottiness and catchy abrasiveness, not to mention Soundgarden's experimentalism. Seriously, show Alice in Chains's Similar Artists list to a mate and see if their head doesn't explode.
This album is a little less complicated than all that, and - to all extents and purposes - can be viewed as Alice in Chains's "commercial" album, though that's not really conceding very much. You can sing along to most of the songs here if you don't mind hurting your throat and there are several riffs to hum or to provide the timing for stabbing the cushions on your sofa, whichever appeals most. When the song 'Dirt' starts and you find yourself nasalling along to Staley's "aah"s (trust me, nasalling is the right word), you'll start to realize why it's so hard to pin this band down to a particular sound. The vocals are instantly distinctive, pretty hooky, and very memorable, yet they aren't exactly good in any quantifiable way, just appropriate for the music, except for Cantrell's harmonies, which actually are great. Cantrell is also a fucking amazing guitarist and spends most of this album looking like he's doing fairly little while actually showering class and detail all over the place. The basic riffs for most of the songs are reasonably simple, but always have plenty of character: some of them are ballsy as fuck ('Rain When I Die' anyone?), some of them are darkly brooding ('Angry Chair' sounds like the next James Bond theme), while a few of the slowest numbers draw more overtly from the doom scene, even if the sick atmosphere absolutely hits the nail on the head. Mike Starr's bass is a significant part of the picture too, making up a huge wall of sound behind the more classic guitar. Sean Kinney is key to this album, keeping those influences from becoming too obvious by playing his own thing, which means that 'Dirt' never errs too close to the extreme or commercial side of things, continually adding complexity to hookier sections (the chorus of 'Angry Chair') and loosening the screws a little when the band hit the sludge and doom treacle.
There are songs on 'Dirt' that everyone has heard, though the relative consistency of the album means that there is a lot to enjoy beyond the radio hits. All of the singles (5 of them, this was a big boy on the charts) are decent, though I've never quite understood the fuss about 'Rooster' or 'Would?', which is perhaps more hype than anything. It's true, 'Would?' soars up into a big chorus with a nostalgic vocal, but looking elsewhere, 'God Smack' has one of the grimmest riffs this side of Norway, 'Rain When I Die' manages to be touching and all about the guitars, 'Dam That River' is so easy to sing along to, and the title track is a culmination of everything that makes the album great. Admittedly, 'Hate to Feel' is a tad disappointing, lurching about like a car with the handbrake still on, and 'Sickman' represents another dip, yet there's not a great deal wrong in an hour-long album, and that's an achievement in itself.
I thought 'Dirt' was pretty good when I bought it as a 15 year old, and almost 10 years on, I can still listen to it with active enjoyment, even if the reasons have changed slightly. Both accessible enough for the mainstream and heavy enough for the metal community, this is one album that unaccountably succeeds, despite the mess of the scene that it sprung from and the influences it melds together. A weird triumph.
Alice in Chains, possibly along with few over bands of their time such as Soundgarden were famously regarded for their, almost fusion of the two styles of Seattle-spawned grunge (of which Alice in Chains always found themselves at the forefront of, both commercially and musically) and just straight-up heavy metal.
At this point in the game it's rather unfair to just tie Alice in Chains in with all the infamous grunge bands that had become somewhat of a scapegoat for more or less eradicating metal from the mainstream, as particularly in this release there are so many metal elements to be found that can be traced back to the "Sabbathy" kind of vibe in songs like Dam That River, and the long, emphasised vocals of Layne Staley in songs like Rooster that on many occasions in this album. Rain When I Die, regardless of the massive instrumental shift is more of a doom-infested re-enactment of "Man in the Box". He confirmed in this that his vocal range hadn't remotely deteriorated.
There was only a two year gap in the time between the previous full-length, "Facelift" and 1992's follow up, "Dirt", but despite all the touring, and undoubtedly drugs and alcohol intake that would have undoubtedly been a necessity of the tour in supporting their debut just judging by the lyrics alone in this album, if anything Staley's vocals had evolved more. There were times when his vocals sounded deliberately fragile and inconsistent to contribute to the "doomy" kind of vibe the instrumentals shifted to, contrary to the melodic tendencies of their previous release. This was evident in songs like "Sickman", home to multiple outbreaks of Staley screeching, only to almost immediately convert to simply mumbling alongside a slow, chilling tempo.
If you're a fan of the grunge, or even nineties metal scene, then chances are you'll inevitably fall in love with the depressing but nonetheless beautiful melodies of the 90's radio dynamite, "Them Bones". However, be warned. As classic an album this may be, itt was a rather misleading single as it by no means speaks for the signature sound of the album, it is simply so varied with atmospheric and progressive elements that probably outnumber the haunting melodies of the radio songs like "Would?" and "Them Bones". At times, (once again, most notably Sickman) it sounds like a totally different band, at least instrumentally. Layne's vocals have always been identifiable, for all the right reasons, even for the deaf.
Favourite tracks: Them Bones, Dam That River, Rain When I Die, Rooster, Would?
Alice In Chains are renowned as being one of the best bands in grunge, primarily due to their first two albums. Originally fronted by Layne Staley, they put out three albums before that particular man died due to his long-standing heroin addiction, leaving behind a legacy, before they reformed under the guidance of DuVall for two modern albums. The most recent of these albums was released in 2013 and marked a return to the sound they created on Dirt, which inspired many people to dive back into their previous releases to check out this particular album. Those who decided to do this will be exceedingly impressed by what this album has to offer, whilst those who are yet to do so should consider doing that as soon as possible, as this album will change your life.
Dirt is frequently cited as being one of the best albums in grunge music, although it has more of a metallic tint to it than, say, Nirvana or Pearl Jam. It combines that monumental vocal talents of Layne Staley with the extremely tight instrumental work of guitarist Jerry Cantrell to create one of the most unsettling atmospheres in musical history. This was a release captured at the height of the band's personal troubles, with every member struggling with some form of addiction, ranging from heroin to alcohol, and the band acknowledges this within the album, adding to the unnerving feel each of these songs have. In fact, the lyrics are one of the main reasons that Dirt succeeds. Opener Them Bones kicks things off in bleak fashion with lyrics pertaining to mortality, whilst Junkhead and Godsmack are two extremely open and honest songs about the addiction Staley was battling, Rooster deals with Cantrell's grandparent who fought for his country and Down In A Hole is just a depressing rout. Rarely is there an album that is as flat-out open and honest as Dirt, but it truly works to its advantage here, conveying the emotions that the band felt and the true hopelessness of the situation Layne found himself in.
Of course, lyrics are only half the story and in order to give them even more feeling, a solid vocalist is required, and this is exactly what Alice In Chains provide. Staley boasts one of the most powerful voices I have ever had the pleasure of hearing, hitting some unbelievably strong notes on some songs. From the opening staccato screams on Them Bones to the switch between a shouted style of singing into a vibrato note on Junkhead, Staley gives his absolute best performance here. The debate rages to this day as to which of the band's two frontmen they have had to date is the better vocalist, but this release should settle that debate. A signature of the band's sound is the dual vocal lines that Jerry Cantrell provides the other half to, and they are done to great effect here. Dam That River and Angry Chair have two of the best sections of dual singing on the album. The guitar playing that Cantrell provides is also absolutely stellar, with some beautiful solos found on songs like Them Bones, whilst Rooster is pretty much a lesson in how to create a truly dark and horrifying sound with a guitar. He is not the most technically gifted guitarist of all time, but the ability he does possess, he puts to great use here.
The other members of the band are not to be overlooked either, with Dam That River and Them Bones showing off some superb drum playing. Would also contains one of the best bass lines of all time, rumbling along throughout to make for a stellar sound. Every member of Alice In Chains knows their role and they do their job fantastically, to create for one of the best-sounding releases of all time, and anyone who has not checked this out so far should consider doing so. The songs are immensely catchy, from the very powerful chorus of Would to the madness that ensues on multi-part track Sickman, and will hook you right in.
It's a little ironic that Alice in Chains were considered such a popular force in grunge music, considering they were perhaps one of the most sludgy and vile bands of the 90's. Between such maniacal singing and screaming, riffs buried in a huge mound of thick distortion, and such depressing thoughts of the world around them, it was clear that Alice in Chains were in a league of their own. Where Nirvana would tidy up their sound for 1991's Nevermind, this band wouldn't sacrifice how dirty and low their music was, no matter if they got popular or not.
This brings us to their second offering, Dirt. It's an album so sickening and yet so perfect; an album so gloomy and yet so heavenly. What we have here is a flawless collection of 90's metal classics, most of them laced with some of the most morbidly dark and flat-out honest songs written in their time. All of this is wrapped in a musical package that's so consistent and consistently intense that it's very hard to ignore.
Oddly enough, the experience begins with two of the most upbeat tracks, "Them Bones" and "Dam That River." Starting with Layne Staley's high-pitched vocal bursts, "Them Bones" is a song about our mortality; it's basically speaking about how we're all going to die, and of course for everyone it will be inescapable. Uplifting start, huh? Anyway, this is supported by a bizarre 7/8 rhythm with the guitar work being downtuned to high heaven. All the instruments feel hollow, but it only represents the band all that much more. "Dam That River" is the fastest song on the album (debatable with "God Smack" later on the album), and also probably the most uplifting, although that certainly isn't saying much. The pace of the track is akin to "Sex Type Thing" by Stone Temple Pilots, and the chorus is equally aggressive and haunting.
After that's done though, welcome to musical hell. The riffs devolve more into a slow grind, and the pain of the vocals and lyrics only increases as the record wears on. Songs like "Junkhead" and "God Smack" are very specifically about the band members' drug addictions (specifically heroin), while songs like "Dirt" allude heavily to even more brooding images like death and suicide. Many of the songs have more relation to doom metal and sludge metal than grunge at this point, and any similarities to the other members of the Big 4 of the genre become less apparent. Perhaps the best example of this is the song "Hate to Feel." It starts off with a 3/4 riff with an extremely haunting chromatic guitar progression; however, said guitar sound becomes more crunchy on the low end of things, and the power of the doomy grind the song employs feels like the equivalent of being buried under the hot sun.
The members' technical abilities are great, too; each member contributes almost equally to the power of the experience musically, and they react to any quick changes in the songs very efficiently and effectively. Of course, the highest praise still has to go out to Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell for creating such a foreboding and deep atmosphere on the album. Most of the time, both of them go hand in hand with each other, tossing parts of the songs to each other and also harmonizing extremely well with each others' vocals.
There's not much more to say. The album is perfect, a monolith of doom-and-gloom that stands as one of ultimate musical statements of modern music. If you haven't listened to it yet, make it your next purchase; it should be number one on the "to buy" list.
(Originally written for Sputnikmusic.com)
Although my experiences in heavy metal have taken me into a vast sea of various genres and sub-genres, something always pulls me back to Alice In Chains. As one of the first bands I ever truly got into, there has always been a quality about this group that always brought me back to their material enjoying it just as much as I did in days long past. One characteristic I always loved about the band was their ability to use the Black Sabbath medium to create something different, or at least provide a different take on an already established form of metal. To an extent, their "grunge" era brother band in Soundgarden also did the same thing, which always drew me to their music as well, but Alice In Chains possessed a quality not many bands had in the early 90's: authenticity.
As I'm sure most are aware of, the early 1990's found a niche of musicians (of Seattle origin, of course) who tried to present a new take on an already established set of musical ideas. Due to a notion that good music still exists once one had effectively pissed away any iota of creativity, the majority of these bands failed in their quest to establish originality, or at least anything remotely interesting. Alice In Chains and Soundgarden both defied these trends of their time, while also being apart of them enough to be recognized with the scene. Of these two, Alice In Chains presented something rather original, at least in context if not in form.
Whereas Kurt Cobain built himself on his music of Black Sabbath worship without an inkling of skill, Jerry Cantrell continued to show his formidability as a guitar player. This helped to keep Alice In Chains clearly above the majority of their peers, regardless of what degree they could be likened to the Seattle crowd. Alot of this also comes from Layne Staley, whose voice has taken a noticable beating since "Facelift" just two years earlier. His drug addictions had gotten rampant by now, thus helping to influence this album. Staley's own personal demons combined with Cantrell's magnificent songwriting abilities allow "Dirt" to manifest itself as a violent torrent of pain and suffering. When I hear this record, I hear the confessions of a self-aware but seemingly powerless heroin addict unable to escape his own problems, even though he's fully aware that it could be the end of him. As we all know, it was the end of him almost a decade after this album's release and in retrospect adds a sense of ghostly foreshadowing to the majority of the lyrics here.
Yet while Staley provides the tragedy of a heavy metal icon, Cantrell provides the guitar prowess and songwriting abilities. As was present on the previous album, Jerry Cantrell writes the majority of songs here. This includes the most well known hits, particularly "Them Bones," which despite its gloomy lyrics possesses a more jolly feel to it than most of the band's other material of this time. This is seen again in "Down in a Hole," which has more in common with alternative rock than what Alice In Chains is usually known for, but its well written enough to keep it from falling into alt rock's usual sense of banality. Elsewhere, Cantrell pens the brooding "Would?" and also the great but overlong "Rooster," which is lyrically based on his father's time in the nightmarish Vietnam War.
Layne Staley also makes a songwriting debut here, co-writing a number of songs but penning two completely on his own. "Hate to Feel" isn't my favorite song here, as it seems a little long and doesn't draw from sufficient ideas to keep it moving, similar in nature to "Sickman" and "Junkhead." However, "Angry Chair" is far superior, not to mention haunting. It further compounds Staley's lyrical focus of addiction and the damage it causes. The song stands as one of the best on this album, and one of the best Layne Staley ever wrote on his own.
I agree some of the sentiments here in that "Dirt" is an overrated album, but it still stands as one of the best of its era. For Alice In Chains' 1990's catalog, "Dirt" actually sits at the very bottom, which is only a testament to how incredible this band truly was. As far as "Dirt" is concerned, I can recommend most Alice In Chains to seek this out, although it doesn't stack up as well as "Facelift" or the self-titled do. However, its with this album that I feel Staley made the majority of his most convincing confessions about his inner demons, but for those looking for a purely fun heavy metal album, I'd advise seeking out "Facelift" instead as that one is more in tune with what you're looking for.
Alice in Chains sophomore release is Dirt is almost universally overrated and I cannot believe it has received such acclaim. Many of Dirt’s songs have received extensive radio airplay like Them Bones, Rooster, and Would? Dirt is a mix between the slow gloomy doom of 70’s Black Sabbath and the more modern early 90’s alternative grunge scene. Alice in Chains outlook on Dirt is very dark and bleak owing most likely to Layne Staley’s drug induced lyrics.
The songs range from up-tempo groove metal numbers to the mainly mid/slow tempo grungy doom metal numbers with a lot of focus on strong atmosphere. Dirt’s production is done well placing each instrument clearly in the mix. As said above Dirt’s atmosphere is extremely important to each songs identity, giving a dark foreboding helpless feel to every song. Dirt has a very melodic edge to it mainly on the more epic numbers like Rain When I Die, Rooster, and the title track Dirt. Power chords and eerie held notes make Dirt simplistic and very minimalistic in terms of songwriting and complexity (guitar solos are rare and usually melodic).
Layne Staley’s vocals are solid mainly focusing on a mid-range grungy voice reminiscent of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain minus the annoying quality. Jerry Cantrell guitar work for the most part is either of solid or filler quality and he provides effective background vocals. Mike Starr’s bass guitar is audible for most of the record and really adds a big deal to Dirt’s overall heaviness. Sean Kinney drum work is solid and just enough to pass closer inspection but far from evolutionary or excellent. Overall the band members contributions while mainly solid could have been much improved upon and far less restrained.
Dirt has many factors and elements that weaken the overall quality and entertainment value of its songs. Many of Dirt’s songs are overextended and are very repetitive especially on the choruses. Dirt is too long just barely missing the hour mark and too many songs are present. Dirt could have been reduced to 9 or 10 songs and to 45 minutes in overall length for a much more effective impact. Iron Gland is under a minute and serves no purpose besides adding another track to the album (Tom Araya from Slayer quest vocals and he should be ashamed of his participation on this song) Dirt’s material is far from original and has been done before and after much better in terms if quality.
Dirt is overall a below average album and could have been done much better. Dirt seems to be given so much credit because of its high rate of singles appearing on rock radios around the country. Best songs are Them Bones, Rooster, Dirt, and Would? I recommend this album only to fans of grunge rock and alternative metal anyone else please stay away.
-10 points restrained and minimalistic approach to songwriting
-10 points overextended songs that are very repetitive especially on the choruses
-5 points overall length of Dirt and its songs is too long
-3 points Iron Gland serves no purpose besides as a filler track
-3 points Dirt’s material is unoriginal and has been done before much better
Listening to ‘Dirt’, especially for the first time, is an extraordinary event, chiefly because hearing it is like simultaneously experiencing two disparate and seemingly incompatible aspects of the grunge sound of the early 1990s; its apotheosis and its antithesis.
The apotheosis, or the embodiment of grunge, is found on ‘Dirt’ through Layne Staley’s forlorn, wounded, and utterly inimitable vocals on shoegazer call-to-arms ‘Would?’, through Mike Starr’s downbeat and lethargic basslines on ‘Rain When I Die’ and the downward-spiralling and plainly drug-induced rhythms of ‘Angry Chair.’ Such things are irrefutably straight from the Seattle book of alt. rock, and if that was all ‘Dirt’ was composited of, this would be a very different work indeed.
The antithesis, meanwhile, is what provides the album with its wholly unique flavour. Absent are the unmotivated punkish power chords loved by the likes of L7 or Nirvana, and in its place we find the driving (or to be more precise, bulldozing) monstrous riff on album centrepiece ‘Them Bones’, and alongside it the crunching chugging and wailing lead work of the anthemic ‘Dam That River’, all of it complimented by the paranoid schizophrenia of ‘God Smack.’ Hell, Tom Araya of THAT band even rears his head to swiftly contribute to hidden track ‘Iron Gland.’
These two polar opposites are forced by the four-man group to collide headlong, and the result is an album that is as epically maudlin as it is stompingly heavy, as though you have been deposited in an alternate dimension where Judas Priest had emerged from Seattle, USA rather than Birmingham, England. Unlikely bedfellows they may indeed seem, but the shotgun marriage has in this instance worked sublimely, and the fact that AIC even had the gall to weld on some high-flying choruses and lead passages, ranking amongst them amongst the best metal anthems around, is a testament to the band’s skill and the will to force a cobwebbed genre forward.
‘Dirt’ is certainly no thrasher of a record, and it isn’t the disc one should purchase to feel wild experimentation sweep them away in a flurry of fretboard dancing; the person listening to it to hear the last word in extreme speed is advised to pull his headphones off sharpish.
What it IS, fellow metalheads, is one of the boldest and most brazenly successful reconciliations between supposedly implacable musical opponents. As fantastically heavy as its historical renown among metal fans belies, ‘Dirt’ is a stone-cold monstrous landmark in alternative music’s history, and a classic in every sense possible.
The highly acclaimed sophomore effort from established Seattleite grungers Alice in Chains is the album with which the band is most often associated. Simply entitled “Dirt,” this would be the one that would launch them into superstardom. All things considered, it’s probably their weakest overall effort, but the fact that it still rules should be proof enough of this band’s high level of consistency.
First things first, “Dirt” is damned heavy. Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney: none of them ever sounded like this. Actually, I’d even go so far as to say it’s heavier than Metallica’s Black Album, also released in 1992. The sound on “Dirt” is absolutely enveloping: it’s powerful, bass-heavy, and crushing. Not to mention bleak: these guys haven’t cheered up a bit from “Facelift.” Crunchy numbers like “Them Bones,” “Sickman,” and “Rooster” reek of cynicism and depression while pummeling the listener’s face with riffs. There’s still a strong psychedelic influence at play as well. Layne Staley’s somber vocals cruise with Jerry Cantrell’s dark Hendrix-inspired style of guitar playing and Mike Starr’s bluesy bass like a Cadillac on a long desert road. It’s a rough, dirty ride, yet surprisingly comfortable. The engine is Sean Kinney’s percussive accompaniment of course, as it’s his unique style that maintains the album’s sinister groove.
But even though Alice In Chains excels at heavy riffing, they are at their best when they’re in mellow territory. Depressing tunes like “Down In A Hole” and “Rain When I Die” are their trademark, though these kinds of songs wouldn’t appear more abundantly until later in their career.
Again, this is not Alice in Chains’ best work. But with killer songs like “Dirt” and “Would?” in tow, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise. Recommended, along with the rest of their material.
Originally written for: http://www.metal-observer.com
“Dust rise right on over my time
empty fossil of the new scene
I feel so alone
gonna end up a big ole pile a them bones”
Such words from the song 'Them Bones' could be used to describe the last days of Alice in Chains’ morose lead singer, Layne Staley. Much of the lyrical themes on Alice in Chains’ classic album “Dirt” have a similar feel to those above and could serve as an ironically precise and eerie precursor to the death of the known heroin addict. On “Dirt” we gather a dark and gloomy insight to the lead singer’s melancholy mindset as well as co-writing guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s sometimes humorous but more straightforward etchings.
Layne Staley’s voice on “Dirt” gives off the aura of an anguished and agonizingly disoriented human being. His vocals take you on journeys of introspective sedation and drag you through the mud with them as if you’re an addict hitting rock bottom. The lyrics and vocals deal with such hopelessness and despair as only such a person could feel. One can hear and feel the anger, and more prominently the anguish expressed with each word sung from Staley’s mouth. Never has a vocal performance anchored by such pure emotion been present on a metal record. Staley’s haunting voice and style fits the scheme of things perfectly here, from the feelings of a disgruntled Vietnam soldier (based on Jerry Cantrell’s father) on the song “Rooster” to the thought bending “Would?” to the forlorn and somber gloom of “Down in a Hole,” Staley’s performance is right on target. So much can be said about this downright amazing job of singing. The vocal melodies are creepy at times and extremely powerful. Staley’s feverish vocals during the verses of ‘God Smack’ and the slow dejected chorus of “Sickman” take the listener on a trip through a drug addicts mind. Jerry Cantrell’s dusky vocals provide an excellent transition from Staley’s on tracks like “Would” as well as great backing vocals. Cantrell’s palpable and sometimes humorous lyrics can be found on tracks such as ‘Dam that River,’ and ‘Rooster.’ The former was written after a fight between drummer Sean Kinney and Cantrell because Kinney wouldn’t give Cantrell a ride. The power here however, is in Layne Staley.
Musically, “Dirt” is an often very murky, bass-driven, sludgefest, sonically painting the pictures to go along with the album’s dark lyrical themes. Jerry Cantrell’s guitar work is very straightforward and effective. Sean Kinney doesn’t get too flashy with the drumming, instead, keeping the music going with very solid rhythms. At times, however, this is a hindrance. There are moments where some good fills should have been used like right before and during the chorus and bridge sections of ‘Rooster.’ Mike Starr’s bass is very prominent in the mix. The bass takes center stage in the song ‘Would?’ and is ever present throughout the album, sometimes going along with Jerry Cantrell’s untidy rhythms and others guiding the song along as in the desolate ‘Rain When I Die.’ Cantrell’s guitar playing is very interesting. Cantrell uses haunting dynamics, grimy riffage, and odd bluesy solos to show us a landscape of inner torment throughout “Dirt.”
An excellent example is the transition of the somewhat dissonant clean main riff of ‘Rooster’ into the dark and crushing heaviness of the chorus riff. Cantrell posseses and unconventional palette of curious and eccentric soling and it shows on this album. The solos are not overtly technical but are eerie and dissonant, which brings the music to a new level of gloominess. The guitarist creates an ominous almost sinister presence with the title track’s main riff using a series of bends and slides. Mike Starr provides the main rhythm in parts of this song as well. Cantrell plays what is arguably his most conventional solo of the album on this track. “Dirt” the album is possibly the crowning moment of Alice in Chains’ entirely too short-lived musical career with Layne Staley.
All in all, “Dirt” is a classic album made by a legendary band. Layne Staley’s vocals were so unique and passionate. The music on “Dirt” isn’t the most technical, but the band gets the feeling right on. The biggest downside is the drumming, where some more intricate stuff could have been used at times, though it’s not too bad of a gripe. This is the album that best represents everything that Alice in Chains is about and stands for.
Alice in Chains' 1992 album, "Dirt," came out at the perfect time. Self-pity was just taking hold as not only the popular emotion, but was almost forced into kids by a generation of adults once again trying, and failing, to understand what goes on in a teenager's mind. Due to the media's obsession with catering to teens' mood swings, not to mention a certain fascination with the return of garage-band mentality, Seattle's music scene was pushed to the forefront, with constant airplay on all rock stations.
Yet "Dirt" succeeds where every single other album of that scene failed. While "Dirt" wasn't the only depressing album released from that movement or even that year, it was the only album that successfully conveys the emotion that is expressed through the lyrics. Many of the lyrics deal with the idea of death. It's not as if Alice in Chains was the first band to explore the subject; the second half Judas Priest's "Stained Class" dealt with dying, while all of Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" was about different ways of dying. Both bands pulled it off surprisingly well, given the stereotype of metal lyrics having the intelligence of a screen door. But what separates "Dirt" from those two albums is the angle that death is approached. Instead of lyrics about killing others or being killed by others, "Dirt" paints death as a relief from all the problems that the world has to offer. Metallica's "Fade to Black" did a fine job approaching the subject, but it merely scratched the surface of the idea of suicide. "Dirt" digs deep into the mind of a human who believes that he has nothing to live for.
Layne Staley's conflict with suicidal thoughts is prevalent, and adds credibility to a subject that has been overdone in today's watered-down musical climate. Instead of wanting suicide as a way to lash out at the fact that he can't get a girlfriend, he seeks suicide as a relief from the stresses of touring, stardom, and most of all, the lows that are synonymous with frequent heroin use. At times he seems trapped by emotions that he cannot control:
"I'd like to fly
But my wings have been so denied"
Other times he described suicide as a way to get his detractors to take him seriously:
"I Want To Taste Dirty, A Stinging Pistol
In My Mouth, On My Tongue
I Want You To Scrape Me From The Walls
And Go Crazy Like You've Made Me"
Even at its most upbeat, (Junkhead), Staley seems to nonchalantly accept that his addiction will lead to his undoing; almost as if he could see his demise that would occur nine years later. The only song that steers clear of this mood, at least lyrically, is "Rooster;" a rock radio staple that still receives airplay to this day. The lyrical content makes it stick out like a sore thumb, but the minor-key chords are still present, along with the Staley/Cantrell harmonizing that gave this band such a distinctive sound.
This harmonizing between the two anchors the album, making the choruses all the more powerful, yet also ready for frequent airplay on the radio. The title track, "Angry Chair," and especially closer "Would?" are the best examples of these harmonies, but nearly every song features the two singing together at some point. And when they aren't singing, Jerry Cantrell lets loose simple, distorted riffs which are surprisingly effective at keeping the choruses in their place. That Middle-Eastern sounding riff in the title track? Amazing. Without the music being this strong, the lyrics would be easily overlooked. To the casual listener, the differences between this and any other CD circulating around would barely be noticeable, other than the fact that these lyrics don't suck. Musical credibility must be established before lyrics can be dissected and admired.
Any experienced metalhead would be likely to dismiss this based on the album's chart success. Most likely the majority of the kids that bought this album were impressed by the album's well-polished sheen that is given off, especially by the songs that received time on the radio as singles. Like any other pop album in their collection, this CD or tape was in and out of their players in less than a year, if not six months. Yet closer scrutiny reveals that this album's foundation that it was built upon is much stronger than several listens through would suggest. Staley does not seek pity when he sings, Cantrell does not seek respect when he plays his guitar. Yet each earns it regardless of their intentions.
The only time this album falters is when it gets too superficial for its own good. "Sickman" and "Hate to Feel" are pure filler and "Godsmack" defines mediocrity; how humorous that such a mediocre band would choose that song as their namesake. Of course, these missteps barely hurt the album and are easily skipped.
"Dirt" stands out from the thousands of albums released in this genre (and yes, this is metal, not grunge) because an overdone subject is approached in a mature manner that does not force the listener to pay attention; instead subtly calling upon the listener to feel the words, and as a result the listener experiences the pain through Staley. The atmosphere that surrounds this album is much more convincing than anything else released in that time period.
It can be clearly stated that 1992 was not a good year in the realm of music, and a good deal of it is owed to the severe lack of perspective on the part of those trying to define its direction. Everyone was under the rather ridiculous perception that something new and original was happening at the time, but despite what the masses believe and what their intellectual leaders told them, there was nothing that happened from 1992 to 1996 that had not already been explored between the years 1970 and 1975.
As I had stated in my reviews of Pantera’s 1990s albums, everyone was trying to resurrect the spirit of rock/metal by digging into the past. The recording companies were looking for a Birmingham in the United States, the fans were looking for a Black Sabbath minus the religious connotations that defined their image (not due to the intent of the band), and bands were looking for something new and progressive to explore. The problem is that you don’t get anything new, original, or progressive by dwelling upon the past. When one looks to the past for ideas, that is one thing, but when someone tries intentionally to recreate a moment in history one does not progress. Minus the nihilistic punk rock of Nirvana and a few others, Alternative Rock was nothing more than Black Sabbath dressed in flannels and specialized only in the dark and depressing realm of their more doom inspired music.
Having said that, this does not mean to suggest that this album is bad by any standard, it was actually the most accurate depiction of how Black Sabbath was ahead of it’s time. But what it does mean is that a group of 4 gifted musicians paying homage to the god-fathers of Metal defined an entire scene, and the result was a large collection of sub-standard bands that had no musical direction and no actual identity of their own. The copy of a copy, as they say, lacks a true link to the original, and eventually the result is the extinction of the spirit of the source.
This album caters to one side of Sabbath in terms of lyrics, and that is the most morose and depressing side of them that was on display on tracks such as “Hand of Doom”, “Killing Yourself to Live”, and “Into the Void”. Drugs are the primary theme, filling the lyrics with disturbing images of self-hatred and insecurity that almost make you want to pity the lyricist. And when not dealing with the subject of drugs, we see everything else stream from Sabbath as well. The rather touching story present in “Rooster” of a soldier in a war sounding a bit similar to Vietnam have been told, though perhaps in a less personal form, on “War Pigs”, “Electric Funeral”, “Wicked World”, and a few others though not from the 1st person point of view.
The music follows suit from the lyrics, as with a band that truly wants to be consistent will write equally morose sounds to match their words. “Them Bones”, “Would” and “Down in a Hole” are probably among the more original sounding tracks on here, though they still contain the overly dark imagery common to the other songs. They have a very dense atmosphere to them, especially considering that there are only 4 musicians in the group, although this was also the case with Sabbath. “Rooster” has a similar atmosphere to it, but differs in that it’s a bit under-developed and overlong.
“Dirt”, “God Smack” and “Junkhead” are pure stylistic rip-offs from Black Sabbath’s pioneering work in the doom department, meshed with their tendency to vary sections in a sometimes abrupt manner. I’m sorry, this will probably piss a lot of people off, but I’ve listened to this album all the way through dozens of times and that is exactly what I hear. On “God Smack”, in particular, the vocals tend to sound almost exactly like Ozzy’s rather agitated and tonally sloppy sound on Sabbath’s earlier work. Jerry Cantrell’s solos strongly reflect Iommi’s tendency to keep it short and heavily reliant on patterns and musical motives. “Iron Gland” sounds almost like a silly spoof of the beginning of “Iron Man”, and segues straight into the rather uninspired “Hate to Feel”, containing another set of spooky riffs borrowed from the Iommi collection of variations.
The remaining songs on here are more of the same, Sabbath worship with an emphasis on the dark side. Of them, if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Angry Chair” as it has a nicely distinctive riff, though we couldn’t get away from sounding like Sabbath here either. One of the better solos is on this one too. It’s a bit short, but it gets the job done in a song that is pretty much dominated by minimalist riffs.
In conclusion, this album will probably find a home amongst Black Sabbath fans, although core fans will obviously not be taken in by it as they will only accept the original rather than a second hand version of the music they love. Fans of the heavier mainstream metal of 1998-1990 will also like this as it still has moments where it passes for the same heavy style that bands like Saigon Kick, Soundgarden and Extreme would often exhibit in their heavier tracks. It’s a good album, it just isn’t as great as everyone is making it out to be.
Alice In Chains... very possibly the most unknown band from the grunge scene, to people who don't listen to rock. But if you've listened to rock radio, you've probably heard this band dozens of times, and this album is the reason. Here present is the classic line-up (say what you will, but Mike Starr is by far their best bassist), who start off right from the get go to pummel you into submission with heavy riffing and awe-inspiring lyrics. Though many an album by this band is excellent, "Dirt" remains the definitive one. Maybe it's 'cause HALF their best known singles appear here. Ah well, let us proceed.
As I said before, the album begins furiously, with "Them Bones". Morose, longing and morbid, Jerry and Layne's gloomy song of mortality is like a harsh wind, keeping up with the chugging pace of the guitar work. Also present are two blistering guitar solos, providing even more power to the behemoth song. From that song's conclusion, you know you're in for a wild ride.
Overall, the band provide a wonderful balance between melody, technique, and raw power. "Dam That River" is a bitter song of rejection, failure, and addiction. "Rain When I Die", beginning with Jerry's haunting guitar intro for me remains the perfect unknown song from the album, featuring the duo's best singing on the album in my book. Then, the more fan-familiar "Down In A Hole" and "Rooster" bring it through again. None of the songs appear to be speeding up, but rather, becoming more and more droning. But it's the dark, heaviness of these tracks that make them so wonderful.
Side 1 (Or up to Rooster for the CD users), leaves no doubt to the band's delivery. But, torward this end, they start to waver. "Godsmack", "Hate To Feel" and "Junkhead" seem uncoordinated, compared to the intensity of all the prior songs. Riffs will be heavy, but vocals will be really sloppy and wavery, or they'll be too light and the vocals... a little too polished. They aren't bad mind you, just... possibly unfinished?
What revives the album from this stumble is the infamous "Angry Chair". Here, the riffs, the melodies, and the lyrics all compliment each other, giving an almost vicious air. Concluding this comes "Would?", a song that though not recorded along with the rest of the album, captures the vibe of the first side, taking it suddenly up-tempo. On each of the verses, the haunting dual attack of the Stayley/Cantrell team just takes you away.
So in conclusion, this album solidifies AiC's quality as a band. However, a few of it's weaknesses get thrown into a more vivid light. The album removes any of it's failures, but takes quite a while to get there. The band's variety is limited, so new converts may not take to it instantly. So if discouraged, listen the album through once or twice. Certain songs do grow on you. And of course, the fans will hardly be dissappointed.
Dirt by Alice In Chains is, without a doubt, an interesting piece of popular American music history. This is when bands from the gloom n’ rain state of Seattle reigned supreme in American music during the early 90’s spearheaded by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney, with their brand of Sab-inspired, moody riffs and tons of Gen-X-isms appeal. And then, there was Alice In Chains.
They stuck out like a sore thumb in the scene, because unlike other bands, and disregarding Cobain’s suicide, they bore the gift of suffering in Layne Staley’s drug addiction, which eventually led them to spiral down into obscurity, and Staley’s death years after. Whereas some artists swoon over listeners with their uplifting sound inspired by their drug consumption, Dirt makes sickened emotions and dejected feelings drawn from drug use painfully unsettling.
The band takes us to a harrowing journey with every song, giving us glimpses of a man’s tortured soul, where his addiction becomes tangible with every howl he musters, and Jerry Cantrell’s talent for crafting distinct guitar shapes and strange melodies. In ‘Sickman’, the occasional drug-induced portion before the chorus throws off the listener into this hallucinated, drugged state, before bringing them back into the reality of its damning effects with a heavy lurching dirge. The dejected mood resurfaces once again, as the harmonized vocals above the clean part creates this menacing wall of confusing drawn from the disturbing atonal voices. The muddy and quick-sand feeling that ‘Junkhead’ incites further attests to the disconcerting content of the album. ‘Dirt’ is where Staley bares himself and confesses his dejected state. It is clearly one of the most painful tracks crafted by any band, where the lyrics are self-defecating and the exotic tinge makes the message of the song more brooding.
Despite these songs, there is a fair mix of tuneful and potently strong tracks amidst the muddle. ‘Them Bones’ and ‘Dam That River’ are chugging classics with mixes the band’s heavy edge with mainstream elements and catchy vocal performances. ‘Rooster’ is a touching ode to Jerry Cantrell’s father who fought in Vietnam. Another slow number, ‘Down in a Hole’ becomes some sort of a statement for this album, where Staley’s desire to escape his addiction drags him back even deeper, perfectly captured by the beautiful lyrics. ‘Would?’ is another sterling track with a catchy hook and pop sensibilities.
In the end, it is disheartening that such a talented band is made great by the adherent use of illegal drugs. Dirt wound up becoming one of the best albums of its genre. Unfortunately, it is not only the album, let alone their music, that the band would be remembered for.