originally posted on Saturday, 8 June 2013
The late 80’s/early 90’s “grunge” surge from Seattle was definitely a unique moment in the history of new music. It’s always debated who are true grunge bands and who just kind of got the title because they made similar sounding music at the time. Bands like Stone Temple Pilots for instance, happened to have been making heavy not-quite-heavy metal music in the early/mid 90’s so they kind of got thrown in to the mix, but it’s bands like Soundgarden and of courseNirvana who truly carried the torch as “grunge” musicians through and through. Pearl Jam has always been referred to as grunge because they are from Seattle and were making popular music around the same time, but I disagree that they are “grunge” and more just early since of alternative rock.
One band that has had their fair share of fame and notoriety from the Seattle grunge days is Alice In Chains. Just like Soundgarden and Nirvana, they had a very different sound, but still maintained a slow heavy almost depressing pace to their music with heavily distorted “sludgy” sounding instruments and lyrics about the decline of civilization as we knew it. I have always regarded Alice In Chains as the most “metal” of these bands, particularly because their music always seemed to have more central focus on guitar playing, as opposed to just the lyrical content like Nirvana. Just about every Alice in Chains song has a guitar solo too, contradicting what many call the era that killed the guitar solo. It could also have something to do with the fact that out of all these bands, it was AIC that were chosen to play the opening slot of the 1991 Clash of the Titans tour that featured thrash metal superstars Anthrax, Slayerand Megadeth. Clearly these heavy metal veterans saw something true in Alice in Chains to give them the spot on the tour.
They also had the distinct unique dual vocals of both the late great Layne Staley and guitarist and band leader Jerry Cantrell. This vocal style helped give the band a sometimes somewhat creepy feel to their songs, but also helped change up the musical norm in terms of lead vocals. The band’s 1990 debut album Facelift, just like every grunge bands debut album around that time, baffled critics and fans alike; no one quite knew what to make of it or what to compare it to or how to categorize it. The album spawned the monster hit Man In The Box as well as We Die Young and other terrific songs like I Can’t Remember, Love Hate Love etc. It was the bands second album Dirt that practically single handily made the band superstars. This album featured a lot more harmonized dual vocals on such classics asThem Bones and Rooster, as well spawning other classics such as Would? and Rain When I Die to name a very few.
As time went on and the drug abuse got even worse, the band wasn’t even able to tour for their self titled third studio album, which was slightly lacklustre compared to the previous two band outputs plus the two EPs they had released Sap and Jar of Flies. The band eventually took an involuntary hiatus for six years, either concentrating on other projects or getting clean. Unfortunately for Layne, the latter wasn’t so easy and he was eventually found dead on April 5, 2002, officially splitting up the band.
In 2005, Jerry Cantrell reunited the band, at the time with singer Pat Lachman but eventually finding a full time singer in William DuVall. William may not have a vocal style remotely similar to Layne’s, but thankfully with Jerry still singing as good as ever, you hardly notice a difference. This line-up would release 2009’s very well recieved Black Gives Way To Blue, bringing the band back in to relevance. This same line-up recently released their second album since reuniting, the curiously titled The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. This album sticks to the natural formula of the band, staying true to the slow “grunge” style that they’ve always been so good at recording.
The first three tracks on the album, Hollow, Pretty Done and Stone are just that, slow and heavy; Hollow and Stone being the first two singles released from the album. Both singles, when listened to enough, definitely grow on any listener, and do a good job at showing how the band hasn’t strayed away from what the fans want. They are, however, not the best examples of songs that I would recommend as the best songs on the album.
After the first three tracks, the album switches styles ever so slightly with Voices. Which Voices is still a slow song, it is somewhat softer, with acoustic guitars, and a sort of 90’s Alice in Chains vibe that gives an almost nostalgic feeling to the listener whom is partial to the golden age of grunge music. The title track keeps the acoustic guitars, but uses them in a more dark fashion. Also, by listening to the lyrics, it makes sense as to what the title means. It is a religious thing, stating how some people believe that the dinosaur bones that have been discovered throughout history were apparently put here by the devil, to confuse people with how humanity actually started.
The album continues with one more slow song, Lab Monkey, before the album takes a complete turn in terms of song structures, starting by picking up the pace just a tad with Low Ceiling. This song is a happy change comparable to the other songs released on this album and the previous AIC album. In fact this is probably the happiest (I used that term for lack of a better one) song released by the band since their Jar of Flies EP in 1994. Breath On a Window picks the pace of the album up even more, showing that when Jerry sat down to write the album, he was definitely determined to take this album one step above Black Gives Way To Blue.
Scalpel is this albums answer to Your Decision from Black Gives Way To Blue, based on its increased usage of acoustic guitars and not so heavy guitars. This song is definitely more cheery than Your Decision, even incorporating what sounds like some country influence into the music, further pushing the musical capabilities of the now 47-year-old Jerry.
William DuVall has his shining moment on the album with the song Phantom Limb. Though every member of the band has writing credit on the album, it’s obvious that William has much more of a hand in writing this track, due to its almost heavy metal sound. With William, a more than capable guitarist, being credited as the lead guitarist for this track tells me he had a large hand in writing the guitar parts for the song, which contains an opening riff heavier than mostAlice In Chains riffs. It should also be noted that this is not only William’s best vocal performance on the album, but perhaps his best out of both albums he has sung on with the band.
The album slows up to the familiar Alice In Chains pace for its last two tracks. Hung on a Hook features a sound similar to that of Voices, with its softer sounding guitars and slightly creepy tone. The final track, Choke, mixes the elements from songs such as Hollow and Scalpel, being very acoustic driven yet very slow and creepy. It unfortunately doesn’t end the album with the bang that most albums should end with, but it definitely ends with one of the better songs on the album.
As mentioned, sort of indirectly, earlier in the article, this album raises the bar for Alice In Chains, pushing their musical limits even further from the mostly slow and sludgy Black Gives Way To Blue.This time around, the band made almost all of the songs sound different from one another, only keeping a few things similar to keep them at a comfortable level with past fans of the band. William sounds far more comfortable this time around singing with three men who can likely find themselves in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the coming few years.
“Breath on a Window” – Rather than releasing the two similarly sounding songs Hollow and Stone as singles, the band should have released one of their more different sounding songs as a single to give fans an idea that this album was not just another Black Gives Way To Blue. Breath on a Window is a song I find would be the perfect song to hear first from this album. It has the same gloomy attitude to it that an Alice in Chains song needs to have, but at the same time it has a bit of a faster pace to it. Of course with this band, a “bit of a faster pace” still barely brings the song in to a mid-tempo range, but after an album like Black Gives Way To Blue where practically every song kept the same pace, Breath on a Window is a fine example to show that this album changes pace and styles as much as an album such as Dirt did.
9 (Out of 10)
|“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”||6:38|
|“Breath on a Window”||5:18|
|“Hung on a Hook”||5:34|