Posted on January 24, 2010 -
When Alice in Chains released their self-titled album in 1995, it showed the band moving in a different direction from the one they’d explored previously. Jerry Cantrell was singing lead on more tracks than ever before, Layne Staley’s vocals were heavily layered (double-tracked), and the grunge sound they’d had turned into a more sludge-metal type sound. Staley died 7 years after the release of that album and it appeared for a while that Alice in Chains had died with him. I worship Layne Staley, but I realize he was not solely responsible for creating the Alice in Chains sound; but, he did leave a large void when he passed away. Since Alice in Chains announced they were recording a new album with new vocalist/guitarist William DuVall, the question running through people’s minds has been “Can they do it without Layne?” Well, after steadily listening to this album since it leaked, I can tell you, in all honesty, that they can.
“Black Gives Way to Blue” picks up pretty much where that last album left off. This is not “Dirt Pt. II,” but Alice in Chains for 2009 and even with Staley gone, the album still retains the recognizable Alice in Chains sound. There are moments where you can not only feel Staley’s presence, you can almost hear his voice. While William DuVall is technically Layne Staley’s replacement, Jerry Cantrell handles a large majority of lead vocal duties…But make no mistake, this is not a Jerry Cantrell solo album. This is very much an Alice in Chains album. When DuVall and Cantrell harmonize together in the way Staley and Cantrell did so many years ago, it’s pretty clear that Alice in Chains is back.
Here is a track-by-track review;
1. All Secrets Known-Begins with a terrific guitar riff and instead of launching into a brutal, blistering metal song becomes simply a subtle track about moving on. “There’s no going back to the place we started from,” sort of perfectly sums up their desire to record this album despite the cries of “It won’t be the same” from many fans. (4/5)
2. Check My Brain-Another great riff; also the 2nd single from the album. DuVall lurks in the background, only really handling harmony duties with Cantrell, but this song rocks and is just as good as old Alice in Chains. (5/5)
3. Last of My Kind-On the third track, DuVall handles the lead vocals and his voice, by itself, works very well in AIC. DuVall also penned this track…This is a catchy, hard-rocking song; one of my favorites on the album. (5/5)
4. Your Decision-Instantly reminiscent of “Nutshell.” It’s a great/beautiful track with a fantastic guitar solo by Cantrell (who also handles a good
majority of the lead vocals). (5/5)
5. A Looking in View-The first single Alice in Chains released from this album. A little over 7 minutes, this track instantly got me excited for the new album. This doesn’t just sound like classic Alice in Chains, it IS classic Alice in Chains. Great vocal harmonies, great music, and a terrific chorus. There’s parts of this song that literally sound like Layne Staley has been brought back to life (5/5)
6. When the Sun Rose Again-A beautiful song that I intitally wasn’t too fond of. Sounds like an extension of the “Jar of Flies” sound. (5/5)
7. Acid Bubble-Almost 7 minutes long; One of the best on the album, but also took a bit to grow on me…The song is character by slow verses sung simultaneously by Cantrell and DuVall, with DuVall singing the chilling bridge of the song before launching into a brilliantly harmonized chorus, and finally there’s the heavy interlude. This song is a masterpiece. (5/5)
8. Lesson Learned-Has been one of my favorite tracks on the album since I first heard it. It’s a great song and when Cantrell & DuVall sing “In your darkest hour, you strike gold,” I get goosebumps. It’s really a fantastic song. (5/5)
9. Take Her Out-This is the weakest song on the album, in my opinion. It’s not a bad song by any means, it’s just weaker than the other tracks…However, it does have a good chorus. (4/5)
10. Private Hell-I really didn’t like this song at first, but now I find it one of the most powerful. The vocals here are very Layne Staley-esque and it’s a very powerful, personal song. This, more than almost all the others, reminded me of classic AIC. In the vein of “Down in a Hole,” give this song some time if you don’t like it immediately. It’s a great track (5/5)
11. Black Gives Way to Blue-The final track has some haunting guitar courtesy of Cantrell and piano by Elton John; dedicated to the memory of Staley, it’s a beautiful, haunting, and touching song. A great track and a great way to close the album.
Jerry Cantrell has been outspoken about his goal not to destroy the Alice in Chains legacy with this album and I’m beyond proud to report that he did no such thing. This is a more-than-worthy entry in a great band’s career, but more importantly…It’s a great album, by itself. This is not a retread of Alice in Chains or an attempt to capture the same magic as before…This is just a fantastic album by a hard-working, musically gifted band that would be a great album no matter what moniker the band carried with them. Listen with an open-mind and be happy that AIC is moving on from the memory of Layne Staley to still give us fans great music. I guarantee that Layne Staley is smiling right now and would be pleased with the great work these four guys have done.