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Back in late ‘90’s, the heyday of grunge style was gone, so was Alice In Chains, although they weren’t broken up officially. This was largely due to frontman Layne Staley’s loss of functionality as a musician through long years of substance abuse and depression. After the release of “Boggy Depot”, the first Jerry Cantrell album, the band attempted at recording a few songs to see if they can still function together or not. These sessions resulted in 2 songs, ‘Get Born Again’ and ‘Died’, which ended up “Music Bank” box set.
These were not the only 2 songs that Cantrell had penned for a possible new AIC record, he in fact had numerous other ideas, but seeing that he won’t be able to release them under AIC name, he locked himself into his room for a couple of months, finished these songs by himself and wrote even more.
The next move was to recruit a steady backing band, so he got Mike Bordin and Rob Trujillo from Ozzy’s backing band, both superb musicians in their own rights, then closed himself into the studio along with these 2 guys to record all of these songs he completed by himself. The result was over 140 minutes of his most personal output to date, and in one way or another, his career defining work.
Although released as a trimmed 1 CD version at first by Roadrunner Records, “Degredation Trip” actually is a semi-concept double album and should be consumed as a whole. What we have here is more or less a continuation of the more solid, ultra-heavy and brooding style which was present on the last 2 AIC songs, ‘Get Born Again’ and ‘Died’. Of course there are trademark accoustic ballads, melodic grunge rockers and even a few psychedelic influenced tracks, but overall “Degredation Trip” replaces the trippy and jammy feeling of Alice In Chains records with a more solid, darker and deeper approach in which the guitars are the basic element. Another thing to notice is the reducing of the solos (although there are a few trippy solos to be found) and the addition of huge, huge layers of guitar, which build a dense, incredible wall of sound. Trujillo and Bordin lay an exceptionally strong and groovy foundation to Cantrell’s riffs, which sound even better than the Starr-Kinney and Inez-Kinney duos of AIC. Cantrell’s singing and vocal melodies on the other hand are at his best.
And at last, the lyrics. At the heart of “Degredation Trip” is Cantrell’s deep, well written and tortured lyrics, touching upon themes such as depression, heartache, suicide, broken and troubled relationships, alienation and a huge feeling of loss throughout.
Almost all of the songs here are excellently written, arranged and performed. Most songs are based on simple yet monstrous riffs of Cantrell. There are only 2 tracks here that I can count as fillers (namely ‘What It Takes’ and ‘S.O.S.’), but all of the other songs have something exceptional or beautiful to offer in one way or another. And we have to mention that more than half of the songs here are easily up there with AIC’s best material. In fact as a whole, “Degredation Trip” is even better than all AIC albums, production, performance, consistency and arrangement wise. The album is almost flawless that it’s almost absurd!
It’s hard to choose favourites from 2 discs full of music but here are the peaks of the whole album (for me, at least):
Psychotic Break: Doomy, brooding and heavy album opener is built upon layes and layers of different guitar tracks creating an atmosphere so dense and thick that you can touch in front of your speakers. The vocals are amazing here, too.
Owned: One of the heaviest tracks on the album, ‘Owned’ is based on ultra-heavy riffs and dark vocal lines, which reach a climax in the totally CRUSHING chorus. No solos here, but no need for them either. The lyrics are totally self-loathing and vile. Another bonus for the ending - totally grinding!
Angel Eyes: An utterly, amazingly beautiful semi-accoustic semi-ballad, not unlike ‘Heaven Beside You’ or ‘Over Now’, yet even better written and arranged if possible! The lyrics are utterly sad and melancholic and the chorus is one of the best Cantrell has ever penned.
Hellbound: Another very well arranged, heavy track with lots of catchy riffs and lots of attitude. The chorus is once again mesmerizing.
Spiderbite: The HEAVIEST track on the album, ‘Spiderbite’ is based on a twisted, 3-chord riff that is played in a crushing, killing manner – the guitar tone is unbelievable! It is very well written with small accoustic interlude and has an almost cinematic quality to it with a beautifully dynamic structure. The lyrics deal with cocaine addiction and are among Cantrell’s best. Simply put, one of the best Cantrell penned songs ever.
Locked On: A superb groovy rocker led by groovy, wah-laden guitar riffs which build up towards another hugely catchy chorus. The double tracked solo is killer, as well.
Dying Inside: Almost a doom metal track interventing between ultra heavy riffs and accoustic guitars, ‘Dying Inside’ is the darkest, most depressing song on the album, and a masterpiece in its own right. Too bad that it’s not on the 1 CD version, and it’s worth the price of the 2 CD version alone!
Hurts Don’t It?: Amazing, amazing, amazing instrumental! An effect laden guitar interlude gives way to an accoustic laden, exceptionally sad tune with once again, huge layers of guitars. In fact, it sounds like an orchestra of electric guitars.
Anger Rising: The lead single of the record, this is the track that summarizes the album the best: accoustic interlude, basic, ultra catchy and heavy riffing, beautiful solo and great chorus.
31/32: The best accoustic ballad Cantrell has ever penned? Probably. The album closer has huge amounts of emotion in a bitter sweet way.
Overall, apart from the aforementioned 2 fillers, “Degredation Trip” overall is Cantrell’s most focused work yet and it sounds almost impossible top both the quality and honesty of this work. A must have for any rock music fan.