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Alice in Chains

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★★★★½
(152 Reviews)

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  • In 1995, Alice In Chains released what would be its final studio album, simply titled “Alice In Chains,” AKA “Tripod” (because the album cover has a three legged dog). Although the self-titled disc sold well, it has never received the acclaim or fan adoration that it deserves.

    Following the release of their 1992 masterpiece “Dirt,” Alice In Chains released a seven song semi-acoustic album, “Jar of Flies,” the following year. For their next project, Alice In Chains went back to a heavier sound with their self-titled CD. Alice In Chains self-titled album is a metal album in the same vein as “Dirt,” but it is also distinctly different from its predecessor. While a majority of “Dirt” was fast-paced and intense, the self-titled album is far more sluggish, and the songs more mid-tempo, but without sounding tepid. The album sort of grinds its way though-but I don’t mean that as a negative, because everything works. Although this is a slothful sounding album, it always stays intriguing and never runs out of steam. Whereas “Dirt” kind of screamed in agonizing pain, the self-titled album sort of moans in agonizing pain. The album has a freak show, nightmare-ish quality. This is an extremely depressing album. Song, after song, everything is a downer after another. But it does end on a slightly more optimistic note with “Over Now.”

    The band sounds as tight and cohesive as ever on “Tripod”. As always, Jerry Cantrell’s riffs and solos are intriguing and interesting, with each and every song. Layne Staley’s singing sounds a little more downcast, but no less powerful. Drummer Sean Kinney and Bass player Mike Inez provided a dynamic and powerful rhythm section.

    I find that the self-titled album differs from past albums to some extent lyrically. I find a majority of the song on “Facelift,” and “Dirt” to be straightforward and a lot of the songs on the self-titled album to be somewhat ambiguous. The meaning behind songs like “Grind,” “Brush Away,” “Shame in You,” “Head Creeps,” etc. is rather obscure. But this isn’t a bad thing as the lyrics never seem pretentious.

    Another thing different about the self-titled album is the surprising amount of material sung by guitarist Jerry Cantrell. Although Cantrell had sang a few AIC songs on prior releases, his presence here is more pervasive. Cantrell has a fine singing voice, so this is not a problem. Cantrell’s straightforward heartfelt vocals compliant Layne Staley’s eerie singing perfectly.

    “Tripod” starts out with the amply titled “Grind,” as the song grinds its way through. It sounds like the riff was inspired straight out of the Tony Iommi sound book. It reminds me a little of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” Layne Staley’s eerie background vocals over Jerry Cantrell’s lead vocals work really well. The ghostly “Brush Away” has an intense, almost paranoid feel to it. “Sludge Factory” is one of the album’s highlights. This is a very creepy song. Staley’s dark, frightening vocals are spine-chilling. The mood switches from chilling to dismal with the beautifully gloomy “Heaven Beside You.” The song actually feels, as one of its lines states, “like the coldest winter chill.” Again, Staley’s vocals over Cantrell’s sound excellent. “Head Creeps” is another mid-tempo sluggish rocker and keeps up the momentum. “Again,” is another one of the albums highlights. It has an infectious, bone-crunching riff and an intense frantic chorus. Staley sounds despondent in “Shame In You,” and “God Am.” The slow paced, soft-spoken “Shame In You” features a very cool, extended solo at the end. Staley sounds as though he were reaching his wits-end in the Sabbath-like “God Am.” The tempo is picked up a bit with the ferocious “So Close.” It actually sounds as though it could have been used for “Dirt.” The dismal “Frogs” is a song that you really need to be in the right mood to hear. It seems to go on forever. It is very soft-spoken and mellow, yet also intense, as though Staley were about ready to explode. The album closes with the beautiful semi-acoustic Cantrell sung “Over Now.” Peaceful resignation seems to be its theme.

    Alice In Chain’s self-titled, “Tripod,” album is one of the most gloomy, despondent albums ever recorded. But it’s also a finely written one. Although it’s a very cheerless album, there is an undeniable beauty to it.

    Posted on December 31, 2009