Alice in Chains is sorely missed. They certainly left their mark on the nineties – I really can’t think of a better heavy metal band. This album, Dirt, is their major artistic statement. And Layne Staley, their lead singer, certainly has more than his share of demons to exorcise. Except Alice in Chains never lapses into pompous, self-absorbed angst like Nine Inch Nails or the Smashing Pumpkins. Staley’s voice perfectly conveys the despair he sings about, and its grittiness and roughness only serves to enhance the feeling.It is said that this album is mainly about Staley’s heroin abuse. Assuredly some songs are – “God smack” and “Junkhead” are obvious ones. Others may have nothing to do with drugs at all, but still maintain the mood of despair of a hopeless, almost lifeless addict. Despite all that, Staley’s voice and his tone of resignation often has almost a comforting effect – this is one of the best albums to help one through depression. To be sure, this album has quite a few really rockin’ rockers – “God smack”, “Dam that River”, etc., but it also has subtlety. An enduring quality pervades many songs, even where it has no place – “Rooster” is about an American soldier, about to be killed by a Vietnamese sniper, completely outgunned, and yet when the song’s done the listener gets a hopeful feeling, as if he’d just heard a survival story. The album ends with the menacing, soul-wrenching “Would?”, which still carries the same, almost foolhardy feeling of hope. The best moments are “Rain When I Die”, “Down in a Hole”, and the aforementioned “Rooster” and “Would?”.One final note – it seems that a bunch of people like to put down AiC and call them a “Godsmack ripoff”. Allow me to clue you in – Alice in Chains were in the early nineties, and Dirt was made in 1992. They were also good. Godsmack released their first album in 1997, and nothing they ever made even comes close to Staley’s feeling and passion. Godsmack got their name from the Alice in Chains song, not the other way around. Thank you.