without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Alice in Chains are easily my all-time favourite band, so the album that introduced them to the world is no doubt going to be held in high regard in this review. Aside from being known based on what the success that the band behind it achieved later, the album is famous on its own merits as being the first grunge metal album to reach mainstream success and also to be certified platinum. The debut album, as its title would (in retrospect) suggest, gave the grunge genre a "facelift". Previous to the album's release, in 1980s, a new type of heavy metal was being created in the middle of the Seattle music scene. But in that decade, what would eventually become grunge was a sludgy mix of punk and metal, as even AiC contemporaries Soundgarden had hints of a garage band in their sound at the time. Nirvana's debut "Bleach", that band's only remotely grungy album, is an example of pre-Alice 1980s punky grunge, as well as anything by the Melvins. Then along came Facelift to completely reinvent grunge metal by removing the punk influence (and whatever punk was left was weeded out before the next album) and replacing it with the ambient, melancholy sound of blues as well as a dash of country, no doubt thanks to guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell's background.
With background out of the way, let's dig into the music itself. The album's A-side is generally the then-fresh grunge metal sound with the occasional glam inspiration creeping out. Towards the end of the A-side, one will hear the exact moment where Alice in Chains found their sound, with the tone of music slowly turning darker, becoming a mix between clean reverb guitar parts and heavily distorted ones, topped off with extremely harrowing vocals. The ultimate result of this progression is "Love, Hate, Love", legendary to Alice fans who universally consider it to be Layne Staley's most impressive vocal performance. If you ask a hardcore AiC fan to prove why they consider Staley to be such a God-like vocalist, they will usually point you towards this song. Musically, it is also a fine example of using a clean guitar to make something so dark and sinister, which is a very defining element of grunge. The lyrics are pretty brutal, too. The track ends with pure heavy metal distortion as the guitar and vocals get as heavy and loud (respectively) as the mood of the track will allow.
On a vinyl or cassette tape, the B-side will obviously be separate, so you'll find the album is organised with the dark and heavy grunge on the A-side, and something... different on the B-side. As any true Alice in Chains fans will know - but probably not tell you - that they started off as a glam metal band; a heavier version of Guns 'n' Roses, and that's not even mentioning the pure glam rock crap that Layne Staley's previous band, Alice 'n Chainz, spouted out. While Alice in Chains did to their credit ditch this music and go towards the depressing heavy metal sound, this didn't happen instantly. This album carries a lot of glam influence on it, and while it still lingers around in the first six tracks (the A-side), it is completely up-front on this side: Hell, those last 6 songs could easily just qualify as "glam metal". With that said, the glam metal that appears on Facelift, while sounding typically upbeat, is actually always accompanied with pretty depressing lyrics (though nowhere near as bad as post-heroin AiC lyrics). That's not to say that non-glam fans won't enjoy the stuff - I abhor glam rock and I still love this album - but it's impossible to avoid noticing. To hammer the point home, the album ends with Cantrell yelling "sexual chocolate, baby!". I am not even kidding. The song in question is "Real Thing", a story about a cocaine addict who rejects his friends' plea for him to get help. Your guess as to how that phrase (a reference to some movie as a Google search will tell you) is relevant to such a dark set of lyrics is as good as mine.
On to the band members themselves and their performance. As I hinted at earlier, if you ask an Alice in Chains fan to point you to vocalist Staley's finest performance on record they might even direct you to this album as a whole. This is because he had not yet become addicted to hard drugs, and not only does this make his vocal energy unstoppable, but it also changes the tone of the album completely. This is the main - if not sole - reason why the album is far less dark than anything Alice in Chains did later. Guitarist Cantrell of course introduces his typical playing style here, but the one big difference that sticks out is that while it is experimental for the time, it isn't to the extent of later albums. For example, while there are clean electric guitars at times, there are no truly acoustic elements and the blues and country influences aren't as prominent outside of the guitar solos. As a result, the album is generally on the border between "standard" and "alternative" metal, compared to later albums which plainly sit in the latter territory. Bass on the album, courtesy of Mike Starr, is actually audible and done superbly. Drummer Sean Kinney actually performed the drum tracks with a broken wrist, and given that they turned out great anyway, he demonstrates that the band doesn't fuck around when it comes to playing.
In conclusion, you should get this album. It's a solid debut, and a fine introduction to the stuff that would follow. The band hasn't quite found their sound yet, but it's still superb. Key tracks: "Man in the Box", "Bleed the Freak", "Sunshine" and "I Know Something"
Going from the 80s into the 90s was like going from plastic to tree bark. Gone were the hollow yet catchy tunes that plagued FM radio from the years of 81-88. Fads of cross dressing and quasi rebellion were flushed into the great trend toilet. The underground punk and metal scenes had pretty much remained in a drunken stupor in the back bathroom of the heavy music mansion. But when glam and new wave moved out to their beach house in a well deserved musical purgatory, grunge came poking it's head out from the lavatory.
Grunge was pretty much the most subtle meetup genre of the late 80s. Part revivalist and part idealist, it broke new ground by treading old roads. Borrowing all of the lead heavy chops of early metal like Sabbath and Purple, while pulling the experimental side of noise rock/punk bands like Flipper and Fugazi. And while bands like Mudhoney and Hammerbox were more willing to fly the punk flag above all else, metal had it's star players in this rugby game with Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. Borrowing the gloom and doom from bands like Saint Vitus and Trouble, whilst keeping the dread and meandering experimentation of Killing Joke and The Sisters Of Mercy. But where Soundgarden aimed for the strange and off-kilter, AIC leaned for the dirty and downtrodden.
What "Facelift" proved, was that not only was metal alive, but it was willing to mingle with it's dorm-mates. The opiate soaked wails of Staley mixed with the bag of cinder blocks that was Cantrel's guitar made for an eclectic, yet pinpoint focused project. All of the subtle and meek inflections got blended with the overt and blatant heaviness. As the album drowns you in melancholy and forlorn haze, it also delivers some of the most wicked licks of the entire scene. Where Soundgarden might follow extremely close, AIC just couldn't be caught from their travelling cloud. Staley pretty much slithers by in the production, as he coils into a nicely fit hole in the center. The guitar tone brings about a typhoon of hammer-like sounds. Pounding and crushing every vacant hole in the sound. And during all of this, the rhythm section blares by in an underlined roll. Busting apart each part of the song structure, and grabbing it by the heart.
From the doomy and grumbling power chords of "Bleed the Freak" to the rock-fisted face punch of "We Die Young", this record reminds you in a very obvious manner, that it is heavy metal at it's very core. And as it layers it's influences on like blankets to a dog without fur, it starts to melt and mold over the sound. Where metal is in the front drivers seat, alt.rock and shoegaze are in the back with the map. The dreamy and wispy chorus of "Man In The Box" reminds me a great deal of My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless". Foggy and abrasive, yet warm and almost dripping. Dialing down to a deep and conclusive sound culminating in a strong and noble finish. Borrowing bit by bit from the late 80s outputs of Samhain and early Danzig.
There seems to also be a fair amount of nostalgia-tugging in songs like "Sea Of Sorrow" with some nicely played piano chords over a riff that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the first KISS album. Every twist you hope this album takes, it does in strides. It's the best form of predictable that an album can be. You listen to the start of a riff and say, "If they give this some good vibrato at the end, it will be stuck in my head the rest of the day" and then they do it. Constantly. It's so hard to make an album accessible and catchy while also keeping the newly-bred ideas and experiments in place. It requires an exquisite skill for songwriting. An understanding for correct placement. And I think this pretty much stems in it's entirety from Jerry Cantrell. He has so much soul in his playing. He's the Muddy Waters of grunge. His tone is electric and gravel laden. He forms his riffs into concise and pertinent grooves.
It really grasps your mind, and keeps you in the know of where it's going. Much like the old roads it treads. it travels in a crushed and dipped tone. Scooping it's sounds from the dirtiest and most grime-slicked parts of the underground. This mixing perfectly with how Layne Staley delivers his mournful and distressed cries of alienation and anxiety. And this would go on to give a disgusting CREED *cough cough* for many sub par redneck idiot vocalists to attempt. But the lines that Layne burned on the wax on this recording are far beyond what any of these useless human PUDDLES OF MUDD *cough cough* could even dream to have written.
For as well written and crushing as this album is, it's only real flaw is the bastard children it spawned. If my pathetic play on words in the previous paragraph didn't state it well enough, the bands who were influenced by AIC are what ruined the road that AIC paved. And it was such a well paved road, so much effort was put into the most insignificant details. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. These lesser bands have molested this influential and gravitational sound. Alice In Chains were an anomaly of their time, and the fact that they continue to release albums just as good as (or better than) this one, is a testament to that. They didn't sit by and allow the musical environment to use them like wet putty. They formed their sound like Michelangelo formed a sculpture, with pure prerequisite ambition. Music wasn't ready for Alice In Chains. And rock especially wasn't ready for them. Their dirty and mud-caked sound was foreign to all else in their little independent dome.
And that is the point of this album's brilliance, you can't find the origin point. With most bands, their obviously die cast ideas bring down the mystery and spontaneity of their otherwise brilliant music. But Alice In Chains weren't plagued with that problem, they were as independent as a heavy metal albatross. This album's artistic expression and experimentation, mixed with it's overtly catchy riffing and tortured vocals, brings it to being one of the best albums of the entire grunge scene. And honestly, one of the best metal outputs of the entire decade.
FINAL RATING 10/10
Calling Alice in Chains a grunge band isn't very accurate. I can see why people would, though, since they were from the same area and rose to fame at the same time as the big grunge bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and most notably Nirvana. Sure, Alice in Chains have some songs that can qualify as grunge and their lyrics often deal with the same somewhat-angsty things grunge bands would come with. Additionally, Alice in Chains' original front-man Layne Staley had a singing voice that would work perfectly in grunge rock. He had a somewhat comparable voice to Kurt Cobain, only he could actually sing. Cobain was never a good singer, but Staley was an amazing one. He could make Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder sound like Bill Cosby choking on a peanut.
Anyway, Alice in Chains' debut album 'Facelift' was released in 1990. It's essentially an 80s rock/metal album, since it has way more in common with the 70s and 80s scene than it ever had with the 90s grunge sound. This is already evident in the first song "We Die Young". It's got a little punky-thrashy vibe to it, but with some stoner/doom rock elements to it. It's short, fairly straight-forward, but features some great leads/solos from Jerry Cantrell. His axe-work is awe-inspiring throughout the whole album.
This brings us to another topic regarding the "Alice-in-Chains-isn't-a-grunge-band" debate. The members of the band are far better musicians than the ones in, say, Nirvana. Jerry Cantrell's guitar grooves heavily at all times with some very catchy and memorable riffs, leads, solos and hooks all over (listen to "Man in the Box", "Sea of Sorrow", "Put You Down" and "I Know Somethin (Bout You)" for some great examples of this) , but there are also some darker, more atmospheric "acoustic-guitar-like" pluckings on tracks such as "Bleed The Freak", "I Can't Remember", the very doomy and gloomy "Love, Hate, Love" and the stunning "Sunshine" and "Confusion".
Mike Starr, who's also unfortunately passed away like Layne Staley, is also a very capable bassist. He doesn't necessarily hide under the guitar-riffs. The bass' presence is felt, it's Geezer-like and tasty. The same can said about drummer Sean Kinney. He's probably the finest drummer from all these 90s Seatlte bands. Fuck that, don't give me this "but Dave Grohl was the best drummer" bullshit. No, he wasn't! I actually think Nirvana's original drummer was better than Dave, too! Anyway. This isn't a "hate-on-Dave-Grohl-post", so let's get on with it, shall we?
Lastly, one thing that has to be mentioned that makes Alice in Chains a very unique (and almost-instantly recognisable) are the dual-vocals of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell. Their harmony is awesome. It sounds amazing and keeps on doing so on later releases, and even today with the new vocalist. This is what makes Alice in Chains stand-out from the grunge-dominated 90s Seattle. They're just far better musicians than the others and unique.
'Facelift' isn't a grunge rock album. It's Sabbath-inspired heavy rock peppered with some fresh originality (the dual-vocals and mixture of many musical styles and genres). To throw Alice in Chains in a bin with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden would be criminal. They're far more than that. There is far more talent present here, far more dexterity, too much technicality and far too much progressiveness and different song-structures to call this grunge.
In the 90s, rock music did away with its spandex pants, leather jackets and big, poofy hair and instead tried on a new outfit, consisting of ripped jeans and flannel shirts and scruffy beards. And with the change in attire, the mood suitably changed from the over the top theatrical expressionism and upbeat, rebellious attitude to a darker and more serious mode. The rock bands of the 90s no longer sang about fantasy and romance and pulp horror/sci fi, but instead about introspective themes and vague, streetwise themes of the real world. Of course there was some overlap between the two – that’s inarguable. But one of the flagship bands to herald that change and bridge the gap was Alice in Chains, with their debut Facelift.
This is a very formative, rough sort of work, without the refined character and mood of later releases. The band hadn’t quite found their signature sound yet. But it is impressive how good they could get even here, in their infancy of only five years or so, and some of these songs are very, very well done. The basic sound is old school Sabbathine metal mixed with a more American character and some atmospheric guitar playing. It’s a very 90s-sort of sound, in retrospect, and the album’s lyrics fittingly talk of self-deprecation, religious doubt and general social ostracision.
Mostly this is ruled by the inimitable Layne Staley’s loud, hollering mid-range and his even more idiosyncratic sense of melody – you will know a Staley-penned vocal line when you hear it. The guitars are rumbling, resonating and heavy as a brick, and the songs are based around catchy hooks a lot of the time. The best songs here include “Man in a Box,” “We Die Young,” and the unstoppable duo of the epic “Sea of Sorrow” and the infectious “Bleed the Freak.” “Love Hate Love” is also very good, a sort of seedy, downbeat number like they’d become famous for later.
“It Ain’t Like That” is the last really good song, before the album kind of slips into mediocrity. I can’t say any of these other songs are bad, because they still feature the trademarked Alice in Chains bluesy, dirgey guitar and Staley’s mournful vocals…but I dunno, I still just think they’re substandard. Sometimes, as on “Confusion,” they come out with something atmospheric, but the rest of the songs on the second half of the disc are mostly just a bit unmemorable and bland. Good chorus hooks could have taken these tunes a long way, but as is, it’s hard to rate this very highly among their oeuvre when only half of it is really anything worth hearing.
This is a good album, and a classic in its own way, but largely inconsistent compared to the ones that followed. The good songs are very good, and the clear production and rampant energy the band has are youthful and exciting, but the songwriting largely isn’t there yet. This was only their first album, and it shows – the material here is rough and hasn’t quite adopted the unified sound and focused character the band would show later on. A lot of you probably know the songs on this album from the radio or from greatest hits compilations, and those songs are good, but make no mistake – this is a bit of a singles album. Think of Facelift as the genesis, imperfect and unpolished, of a great band.
People should stop breeding naive thoughts and brooding upon them, for it tarnishes the sonic of a record and categorization does it no betterment either. When common folk stop listening to the innate complexity, themes, and start paying attention to the scene a certain band belongs to, it destroys the endeavor, the individuality and the mindset of both the listeners and more than them, of the band itself. Some seminal bands that developed a sound that was fuzzy, murky, spoke of gloom and distress, and totally native to a certain place called Seattle, went ahead to be followed and predecessors of a soon-to-be cult, grunge. What Green River, Screaming Trees, and more diversely speaking Mudhoney, culminated in, formed a cult that though exploded, also caused a few implosions as repercussions. A certain heavy metal band, with a name that recited S&M, which had not the faintest idea what this cult was about, and just inclined to play metal without categorization, came up with a record.
The record, Facelift.
And the band, Alice In Chains.
Fueled by the intense and powerful larynx of Layne Staley, a unique guitar technique of Cantrell, and probably the best bass-playing on any heavy metal album, this album was though a stylized music native to Alice In Chains, but defined pretty much how grunge should be done. The band does it on its own but was regarded as a cash-in on the thumping Seattle scene, a reason that helped them get instant success though. The album starts off with the track : We Die Young, also their single from an EP they released and which had immense success as a single over radio, until it went viral with this record hitting this markets. A track on which, probably there is a balance achieved in terms of everything that makes a record belong with heavy metal. I consider the world music scene pretty unlucky for Layne died at such an age, for he could have done so much more. His deep, hurt voice moves the ears and the guitar-work facilitates the process. The Alice In Chains philosophy was simple, exhibit brilliance on every instrument, but once the voice that sings comes to the microphone, do it much more for it is much more important. 'Dirt' marks Alice In Chains shunning their sound and their ideology and turning more to acoustics and accepting grunge calls and donning it on.
From the definitive grunge track, 'It Ain't Like That' to a creative afflatus achieved in the solo of 'Man In The Box', the album propels you every time you give it an ear. The background tricks by Staley, and the incredible bass support by Starr, everything is just right on just every song. Just once that I thought they lost me was when 'Sea Of Sorrow' starts, and it does rather loosely. Turns out to be a brilliantly done song, after all. Cha-ching. Another song worth a noble mention is 'Bleed The Freak', which after 'Real Thing' is my favorite song off the record. Everything on this album is just the perfect blend of aggression, frustration, and subtlety. The riffs are almost hypnotic, well paced and tremendously catchy for a heavy metal band. They complement Layne in perfect accord, as if they're almost letting him come on to the sound, which he does rather beautifully. I may be biased in this aspect, for I think Staley's vocal talent is almost too good to be true. The little noises he does while the music rips, the dual vocals with Jerry, and the symbiosis and co-existence with Kinney on every composition is rather horrendous, for it is actually true.
Talking about Cantrell, Starr and Kinney now, I sincerely don't believe there has been an album with better bass-playing than this one, all for a man lost in the shadows and disbelief, Mike Starr. Soon to be replaced by Inez, he maybe outdid himself and all other bass-players that existed in his time. Minus the bass on this album, the compositions are just bland and hollow, and it's imperative to say that the whole album was kind of loosely centered on the idea of bass-playing. Solos are vivid, some diverse, others not that much. Believe me, for once these are not even the highlight of the album, not even as much as Kinney's drumming. The riffs and progressions though, vital to any band, suck up all the limelight. It's almost like Layne and Cantrell work together as a machine with one central thinking system, for there is such a beautiful blend of both their elements in the music and not to mention again, incorporated in the powerful bass of Starr. Kinney's drumming is intense at times, particularly in the last track, where he almost blasts the music away. The song, 'Real Thing' dealing with frustration, drugs and much more is my pick from the album, and has the perfect bass-playing and some worth-mentioning guitar-work along with the wah-wah, but the cynosure being the notes hit in the vocals and the lyrical theme. Such vocal excellence is hard to miss, and if you have somehow, that's just sad.
Firstly, the band wasn't grunge at all, for they didn't even know what it was, and the whole scene's sound was pretty collaborative in a sense. Secondly, such an album you should have as an original. I have, and it makes me proud. If you think Jar Of Flies is Alice's best work, you are better suited to flower rock rather than heavy metal. Away with you! Facelift is Seattle's grand opening to the world, and Alice In Chains' more-than-promising debut, a legacy they left along with Dirt. In Staley's own words:
"Sexual chocolate, baby!"
Pick from the album: Real Thing.
Alice in Chains is a brilliant band that fully deserves the respect and popularity they enjoy today, but let's not get carried away. Facelift, the band's first proper studio record, had quite an impact in the early 90s thanks to the success of single "Man In the Box", but in hindsight the record is far from great. Quite good, but not great, especially in comparison to their other works.
On the bright side, there are more good songs than bad. The first four tracks are impeccable; from "We Die Young" up to "Bleed the Freak", AIC boasts an impressive run of heroic metal anthems. "We Die Young" is one of the most killer and sinister song of the record, where Jerry Cantrell blasts a memorable, sludgy Sabbathian riff with attitude. "Man in the Box", "Sea of Sorrow," and "Bleed the Freak" aren't so evil as they are tormented - the tunes are really catchy and the solos are inspired, like Sabbath meets Heart and Queensryche. Elsewhere, AIC attempts successfully to be epic with "Love, Hate, Love", where Layne Staley's singing violently soars, and he is arguably at his best on this one. For the sake of making this review as concise as possible, I'll just say that the songs mentioned nowhere in this review are also fair.
Despite the goods within, Facelift is the least mature record of all AIC albums, due to a noticeable discrepancy in quality between the best songs and not-so-good songs. The first dent in quality is after the excellent first four songs, where the slower blues of "I Can't Remember" is a letdown for not sounding as accomplished. This is supposedly one of the first songs that Alice in Chains has written, and unfortunately in a bad way, that's probably true. "Sunshine" comes up short too; it's a crunchy mid-tempo blues-metal and not a terrible song overall, but it's another disappointment for lacking any definitive hook, both on riffs and the singing. However, "Confusion" is my least favorite AIC song in their entire career. The song aspires to be "Love, Hate, Love" part II, but instead falls flat with lame lyrics ("love sex pain confusion suffering/you're there crying I feel not a thing," says the chorus), accompanied by really forgettable instrumentation.
Overall, the band sounds like they've found their direction on Facelift, but yet to really develop their own style. Jerry went on to become one of the greatest guitarists in terms of expressivity, but his guitar texture on Facelift is generally bland, varied only by distortion/clean difference and an occasional use of a wah pedal. Furthermore, the record sounds like a residue of the 80s glam (especially in the latter half), and band accordingly deals with "love" a lot more than any other AIC records. Such a subject matter makes the album cheesy at times, and sometimes even distracting from the music ("Confusion" is a case in point, once again).
Ultimately, Facelift would've had a real 'facelift' if the band left out the three songs (especially "Confusion"), and instead put some of their other songs like "Killing Yourself", "Social Parasite", and/or "Queen of the Rodeo" in. Aside from the first four songs, "Love, Hate, Love", and solid "It Ain't Like That", I can't really imagine the current, William Duvall-fronted Alice in Chains playing any other Facelift songs live much in the future, if at all. In fact I don't even think Layne would sing some of these songs anymore if he was still with us (R.I.P.).
The well-written songs showed great promise, but the not-so-great songs dragged the record quality down. Fortunately though, these not-so-great songs are far apart and few, thus Facelift is good enough for an occasional spin. However, if you're new to Alice in Chains, do not start with this one. This is the awkward one that sticks out among AIC catalogue, and being introduced to AIC with Facelift doesn't do justice to you OR the band. Go for anything from Dirt and beyond; try Facelift after you digest the other records.
Being in the wrong place at the right time can have bad consequences, regardless of who you are or what's going on. In the music world, I don't think anyone personifies this more than Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. These two bands both got early starts (AIC in 1985, Soundgarden in 1984) before any of their more renowned peers assembled. They were both apart of what was considered the musical directions of the time, Alice In Chains being more so than Soundgarden. For those who havn't heard early AIC output from the late 80's such as "Social Parasite" or "Whatcha Gonna Do," they often exhibited a sound similiar in nature to Guns 'N Roses. That hardly equates to their more renowned doom 'n gloom style that arose later on.
This transition wasn't one of necessity, as Alice In Chains naturally evolved into a darker, more enigmatic version of themselves in 1990 on their debut, "Facelift." Its good to point out that this album was released in August 1990, whereas the "grunge" revolution would begin in September 1991, so AIC not only predated the "scene" but also surpassed it in almost every respect. The thing I always admired most about this band, though, was their distinct isolation from the grunge scene despite being hastily clumped in with it. Their look and introspective, often morbid lyrical matter is the only thing that binded them to the Seattle scene (aside from their native roots in that city) but I'd argue there is more intelligence and authenticity in one Alice In Chains song than in Nirvana's entire musically challenged catalog.
The atmosphere that "Facelift" creates is one of pure Black Sabbath inspired depression. Ironically, this is also a fun album, far more so than anything released thereafter. While it was mysterious and spine tingling at times, "Facelift" also contains traces of the band's bluesy rock past. Evidence of this is located in songs like "Sunshine," "Put You Down" and the brooding closer "Real Thing." A little aspect of funk rock, which was gaining some ground at this time, is found in "I Know Somethin' (Bout You.)" The lyrics are sometimes erratic and immature, particularly as Jerry Cantrell was honing in his skills as this band's primary songwriter. His guitar style was always something that impressed me, as he could be incredible without being flashy. Not that such a thing is bad, but I always appreciate a musician who can wow the listener without really trying and showing off just for the hell of it. Jerry Cantrell also adds a subtle vocal harmonization with Layne Staley, both of whom are more than adequate singers and this harmony creates a haunting yet enchanting atmosphere for the dark subjects that lie ahead.
We kick this bad boy off with "We Die Young" a great opener and speed metal tune about young kids selling drugs on the street. Despite its dark lyrical content and music video, this is an entertaining song. AIC didn't put out alot of songs like this, particularly after this album but they always nailed it. The radio staple and band classic "Man in the Box" needs no introduction, but its crunchy guitars and awesome vocals make it no wonder it is so well known. "Sea of Sorrow" and "Bleed the Freak" are next, both establishing themselves as necessary Alice In Chains song that demand attention. "I Can't Remember" is pretty similiar in atmosphere to "Bleed the Freak," though not as catchy and Staley hits high range, albeit for a short while. "Love, Hate, Love" is another haunting song, though one of the more impressive off the album as Cantrell again shows his abilities as guitar player.
The second half of this album isn't as good as the first but then again I couldn't expect it to be. It mostly runs between the spine chillingly haunting songs in the first half, some fun blues-rockers, and a quirky funky number. "Confusion" fits into the first category, and its one of the better songs in the second half. Definitely a keeper. "Sunshine" and "Put You Down" are both fun songs to rock on to, as they often call back to this band's earlier pre-Columbia era. They aren't quite as obvious with the GNR influence, but are both indeed entertaining and loud. "Real Thing" is the brooding closer with an infectious chorus that sticks in your head. Its rather upbeat for its lyrical content, something a little unusual considering what this band would put forth only two years later. "It Ain't Like That" is a grinding heavy number that I personally like for its unrelenting heaviness. Its probably one of the heaviest songs here, except maybe "We Die Young," though this one is considerably slower. "I Know Somethin' (Bout You" isn't exactly classic material, as it possesses a sense of funk going on here but it doesn't completely distract you. It shows Cantrell's lyrical writing in evolution, particularly something like:
"you're gold key don't fit my crapper,
ain't got no shit today"
Hard to believe that's the same guy that wrote "Down in a Hole" or "Heaven Beside You." That's the kind of improper grammar that would have made my high school English teacher's head explode.
In the end, "Facelift" is the best thing Alice In Chains contributed to, at least in terms of a full length album. "Jar of Flies" might just edge out over this in terms of all out quality, but you can't go wrong with either one. This album shows Alice In Chains with a great well of creativity, definitely taking a cue from early Black Sabbath but with better vocals in my opinion. This band is still the best that the "grunge" scene had to offer, and sure enough they have the goods to make metal fans happy and to secure themselves as a metal band. Alice In Chains fans who own "Dirt" are widely encouraged to seek this one out, as it embodies the best thing the early 90's "alt rock" movement could give you, even though "Facelift" is only considered part of that scene thanks to mindless media propaganda. It shows Layne Staley in stellar form, before encountering the heroin addiction that would later kill him and take away one of the 90's best singers. As such, "Facelift" ranks very highly with me and I can safely say its a sure fire great time to be had for fans of this band.
At the advent of the 90’s, metal had found itself displaced by the rising popularity of the grunge/alternative rock movement, with the former scene leaders taking a backseat to their younger, angst-y counterparts. But metal had not totally dissipated, it had only changed attire. Some of these new bands had kept the spirit alive, but in a more modern interpretation. Of these, Alice in Chains were the best. But though their once popular brand of sludgy grunge metal has been generally ignored amongst the ‘true’ metal community (who label them as far more grunge than metal), their unique sound and undeniable weight deserve far more respect than they’ve received.
As a founding member of the alternative scene, Alice in Chains have a stripped-down sound directly opposed to the increasing technicality of the late 80’s bands. The guitars and drums are simpler, but still impressively heavy, which is why this band’s status is still directly linked to heavy metal. While most of the album runs off a primitive Black Sabbath-like stomp (though I’ll forever insist that aside from the guitar tone and atmosphere, the two sound nothing alike), there are times where the riffs could be easily compared to those of late-period Motley Crue or Guns ‘n’ Roses (see “Put You Down” and “I Know Somethin (Bout You)”). But Alice in Chains sounds nothing like the hair bands, mostly due to the haunting, somber vocals of Layne Staley. This being their debut, his voice is uninhibited by the strain of his impending drug abuse and is at its most powerful. His vocals, often harmonized with the equally unique scowl of guitarist Jerry Cantrell, are one of the band’s trademarks. Speaking of Cantrell, it’s his playing that is most impressive on here. Though Michael Starr’s bass work and Sean Kinney’s percussion both play an important role, Cantrell’s snarling down-tempo riffage set the menacing mood that gives Facelift its distinctive sound. And his lead phrasing is exquisite; not quite to the degree of David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd fame), but at least comparable in that his solos do not require overt technicality to be magnificent. Add in the fact that his thick guitar tone becomes all the meatier from the album’s no-nonsense production and you have a sound that 90’s Metallica should have been quite envious of.
But the most unique aspect of this band is the dismal atmosphere they create. Gothic and doom metal fans: think those genres are the only ones that can competently form a bleak, depressing mood? Somehow, between Cantrell’s playing and Staley’s vocals, this is achieved in what is otherwise straightforward alternative rock. Simple blues rock riffs become completely foreign when played by Cantrell and his use of effects and clean/distortion layering add to this. My favorite songs appear right in the middle of the album, “I Can’t Remember” and “Love, Hate, Love.” Both feature mystical sounding clean riffs and Staley’s most powerful, haunting vocals ever. Of course, Cantrell’s riff minimalism isn’t just at its best here. Tracks like “Man in the Box” and “We Die Young” stomp hard and fierce, while the rest of the album follows suit or demonstrates more of the mellower prowess.
Don’t let preconceived notions ruin this for you. Grunge has never sounded so good and this is Alice in Chains at their very best. Consider it a reward for the open-minded.
Originally written for www.metal-observer.com
When one discusses the subject of “Grunge” or 1990s alternative rock, naturally a great deal of anger and resentment will come out of many quarters in the metal scene, particularly the traditional 80s metal outfits who truly had their faith in the genre tested as guitar novice and musical self-parodying anti-hero Kurt Cobain and an army of pathetic clones stole the masses away from them. One could clearly state that from an objective artistic viewpoint that their anger is justified, as lyrically Nirvana represented a pile of verbal diarrhea and incoherent gibberish, while musically they were, at best, a group of “Melvins” worshippers who had very little of their own identity.
However, when one considers the other bands that came out of the Seattle scene in the early 90s, the true nature of what Grunge was becomes a bit easier to grasp. Far from being an endearing term applying to an original lyrical message or musical style, this genre was defined by the exact same thing that it purported to oppose, image and image alone. I say this because there is no logical comparison that can be made between Alice in Chains and any of the other acts that their era coincided with other than the image of being dressed in common clothing and having a mundane stage persona.
If we disqualify the image factor, what we get in Alice in Chains is a somewhat sludgy and muddy version the harder edged brand of metal that began to hit in the late 80s and early 90s, particularly bands such as Saigon Kick and more rock oriented bands such as Guns and Roses. Indeed, in the late 80s Alice in Chains had no qualms touring with bands like Extreme and was right at home amongst the more mainstream metal bands of that era. So one can only conclude that the association of Alice in Chains with the Grunge scene was the result of a rather questionable marketing game played by the recording industry, the goal of which was to get control over what people viewed as being cool and trendy. However, as Alice in Chains did not fall into the trap of ripping on the bands that were all too happy to support them when they were getting started, they do not get the same level of scorn from me that morbid pukes like Cobain and mentally inept goofs like Eddie Veder.
“Facelift” is essentially a 80s album. Although most non-metal reviewers tend to lack historical perspective and fall into the conventional wisdom of viewing this as a transitional album to the Grunge scene of the 90s, it is too musically similar to other things going on in the 80s to be associated with that period. The most obvious reason for this is Jerry Cantrell’s guitar playing, which has a good bit in common with 80s axe-wielders such as Dave Murray (particularly his wah driven solos), Eddie Van Halen (those wicked guitar sounds towards the end of “Love,Hate,Love”), and Mick Mars. His riff creation is a slow and heavy droning sound that fits well within the style of Doom metal, particularly the original sound found on Black Sabbath’s early work.
It is also important to note that the vocal harmonies shared between Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley have a highly unique nature to them. Somewhere between Layne’s quasi-Alice Cooper sounding voice and Cantrell’s cleaner baritone there is a link that fuses the two together perfectly and makes a rather somber and ghostly sound.
Most of the better known tracks from the album are located in the first half. “Man in the Box” being the most well-known for its Sabbath inspired drone riff and stellar vocal performance by Layne Staley. “We Die Young” is a short heavy rocker with a good amount of mud in the guitars. “Bleed the Freak” was a favorite at live venues for its highly catchy chorus and memorable musical interplay between loud and quiet sections. “Sea of Sorrow” has probably the best guitar solo out of the bunch on here, not to mention a strong supply of solid riffs.
Most of the 2nd half of this release has a good deal in common with the glam metal sound of the late 80s, though with a tiny bit more attitude. “Put you down” is a riff monster from start to finish, containing some shallow lyrics indicative of the period it was written in, which is probably why it is often shelved by the masses of stench-ridden Grunge remnants. “Sunshine” also has a fun and light nature to it, though a bit slower in tempo. “Confusion” is properly named as it dances back and forth between being a slow ballad and being a rather triumphant Black Sabbath anthem in the vain of “Wicked World” and “Symptom of the Universe”. “I Know Somethin’ (Bout You) is another riff dream, reminding a lot of the LA scene, particularly Motley Crue.
In conclusion, this album will probably rest well with people who like Ozzy Osbourne era Black Sabbath, particularly the darker songs of the albums of the earlier 70s. It shares, more so than the other albums Alice in Chains put out, a lot of the progressive spirit that Sabbath exhibited on Master of Reality and Vol. 4. Don’t think of it as a 90s album, better yet, don’t associate it with any time period or with any particular scene. Think of it as a metal album that deserves to be treated as a work, in itself, rather than some token magnum opus attached to a musically bankrupt and dated genre that hopefully will never attain mainstream status again in my lifetime.
Alice in Chains debut Facelift might not be held in such high regard as their 2nd album “Dirt”, but it should be. Plain and simple this album is underrated. The first half of this album is a ‘Tour de Force’.
One thing that stands out is the overall sound and atmosphere of the album. It is not as dark as “Dirt”. Also there are hints of Guns n’ Roses style hard rock, moments of doom metal-ish sludge and mild psychedelic ventures. Layne Staley shows why is a highly regarded singer, while Jerry Cantrell provides solid backing vocals. Besides his backing vocal duties, Jerry Cantrell provides some of the best guitar work I have heard. Cantrell might not have the best technique, but is style is undeniable. The rhythm section of Sean Kinney (drums) and Mike Starr (bass), is incredibly solid. It must also be noted that, in my opinion, Mike Starr is by far a better bassist than Mike Inez, despite Inez’s credentials with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society.
A standout is the opener “We Die Young”, which gets the album off to a great start. It would become one of their concert mainstays throughout their career. A slightly faster version appears on “Music Bank” but this one has a certain vibe in its sludge that just works.
Following is the absolute anthem in “Man in the Box”, not only is this is one of their best songs ever, it has become a radio sample and major hit. Meriting the songs strength is how “Man in the Box” was chosen as their first single and has been used in various movies and tv shows. It also made the 2 times, 9 years apart! (1991 and 2000)
“Sea of Sorrow” is a song that possesses a sound that would fit right into “Dirt”. It is one of my personal favorites. The chorus is a signature vocal style of Alice in Chains.
Next up is “Bleed the Freak” a mildly psychedelic song, but still very much metallic. The middle part is a psychedelic venture, which reminded me of parts of Pink Floyd, due to the random voices and screams which are really cool.
I bet any reader right now thinks I am going to do a song by song review. I am actually trying to demonstrate how damn good the first few songs are.
The rest of the songs don’t let up this momentum but aren’t as stellar. But some standouts from the rest of the album are “Love, Hate, Love”, “I Know Somethin” and “Real Thing”
As you can clearly see I am very high on Alice in Chains debut “Facelift”. This is an interesting album and one not to be passed up by fans of ‘grunge’.
Don't get me wrong, I love Alice In Chains. They were my first favorite band, and if you look at my collection you will see that most of the stuff I have by them is on cassette - this was before buying CD's really seemed like a good idea.
However, this album really is only about half good, unless you like 80's cheese. The tone, depressing lyrics, and overall gloominess of AIC is what made them awesome, what defined the group and its druggy pathos, what made them METAL instead of grunge or hard rock. And this tone is absent for the back half of this album. Owning it on cassette really highlights this fact - side one rules, but once you flip that tape over - ugh. It's like turning over a stone and finding Motley Crue and Guns and Roses.
But the good stuff is sweet, and well worth the price of admission (especially on cassette). "We Die Young" is fast, mean, good lyrics about bloody water in sewers - a nasty, heavy opener with a catchy chorus. "Man in the Box," as a previous reviewer noted, was omnipresent and you've probably heard it, but that doesn't make it any less amazing - crushing, with Layne's excellent vox backed up by Cantrell - "Feeeeeeeeed my eeeeyyyyyes, now you've sewn them SHUT." Oh yeah. "Bleed the Freak" is cool too, some semi-Satanic lyrics, again a very metal track - no grunge here folks.
There are also a few tracks of middle quality - there is just an element or two that brings them down. For example, "Sea of Sorrow" has an obnoxious guitar solo that makes the song seem too long, and some bad lyrics, but is still pretty good. "I Can't Remember" has some iffy lyrics too, for example - "'scuze the 'tude but I haven't eaten today." Hey man, this is the 90's, please don't say 'tude anymore. "Love Hate Love" is good too, the lyrics and Layne's vocals carry what would be a pretty repetitive track (needs at least two more riffs). And "Real Thing" ain't too bad either, though it is stuck after some dispiriting tunes.
Then there's the E-Z Cheese section of the album. Namely everything I didn't mention - it all sounds like hair metal. AIC had just emerged from a hair metal stage, and I guess they had to get that out of their systems. I just don't want to hear it - at least not from a band I like so much. Gone is the brooding, disturbed AIC atmosphere, lots of bad news guitar, dated lyrics, and Layne doesn't use his voice to the best of his ability.
So that's that. Buy it, because if you want to hear some great songs from Alice In Chains then it is well worth owning. But if you buy it on cassette, do yourself a favor and don't flip to side two. Be wary - some tape decks will flip it for you, and you don't want that to happen. Monitor the auto-reverse function with dilligence.
Before Alice in Chains changed the face of hard rock radio in the mid 90s, they were a pretty heavy, but derivative HR/metal band with tons of potential and a knack for good songs. Facelift is half dark and brooding, half lightweight. Songs like Put You Down and I Know Something 'Bout You remind me of Motley Crue or Tesla, and really seem comical coming from the band that would later DEFINE fucked up. A solid debut with some great shit.
It Ain't Like That and We Die Young in particular are rather METAL.... he who considers the Crue, et. al to be soldiers of steel should take notes. Jerry Cantrell is an awesome guitarist... his leads on Sunshine and Sea of Sorrow, while not exactly virtousic, are amazing displays of emotion and pentatonic rage. Every Cantrell solo tells a story... I can hum most of them from memory. I prefer that over Yngwie Cocksteen shred bullshit any day.
Love Hate Love is a creepy 5 minute jaunt through the mind of a man bent on revenge... really dark and totally Alice. Those strummed discordant chords still make my spine shiver. My favorite AiC song (of all time!), however, is Real Thing... a drug "anthem" of sorts that introduces Layne's heroin struggle to listeners. The riff is led zeppelin with an ominous black sabbath twist... the style that AiC pulled off to a hilt.