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This is Alice in Chains’ definitive work, and although it is only an EP, it listens like a full length album. Unlike "Dirt", which is lauded as being a revolutionary work of genius, this release is worthy of all the praise that it receives as it truly breaks new ground. While it does mostly an acoustic album with some highly blues inspired moments, I would argue that this is the most metal album that they have ever put out. It has great vocal work, intricate guitar soloing, the best overall exploitation of the rhythm section and an overall spirit that reaches for greatness.
“Rotten Apple” is the gloomiest and most atmospheric work on here, and the longest song that I believe AIC has ever put out. Plenty of good blues soloing on here, be it the wah pedal driven leads at the beginning, or the clean toned guitar that dominates the ending. The lyrics are a bit dark, but the overall feel of the song doesn’t quite cross the line into being morose.
“Nutshell” and “I Stay Away” have great acoustic work driving them along; the latter is probably the more well-known due to its many dramatic changes and triumphant sounding chorus. The former was widely imitated by bands such as Seether and Stained, though they never came close to capturing the same emotion in the vocal department, nor could they rival Cantrell’s nostalgic leads.
My pick for the highlight of this album is probably the most well-known song on here. “No Excuses” sees some of the most memorable lead playing I’ve heard, in addition to some great work by the rhythm section. The drum intro is an instant give away that a great song is coming, I don’t know how they got that sound out of the snare, but it works wonders on this song. This song also takes my pick for the best vocal delivery, as Jerry’s and Layne’s voices meld together perfectly.
The rest of this album is not quite as amazing as what preceded it, but it’s still solid. “Whale and Wasp” is a short atmospheric instrumental with some dreary sounding guitar drones. “Don’t Follow” and “Swing on this” are more blues driven and don’t quite have the same amount of hooks as the first 4 songs, but they work well and showcase some of the strengths of the bassist and drummer.
In short, this is the album that I most associate with Alice in Chains’ greatness as a metal band, and yes I call them a metal band. In their day they were labeled grunge because they came from Seattle and didn't wear mascara, but if you compare them to the rest of the scene, that's as far as the commonalities go. This is a must have for any fan of this band. Although it lacks the electric heaviness of their full length albums, it makes up for it with pure artistic genius.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 19, 2008.