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Album Reviews : Alice in Chains – Black Gives Way to Blue

By on October 1, 2009

AIC_FINAL_COVERsmallAlice in Chains never truly reached their potential. While their Seattle compatriots all cut albums in the early 90’s that could be considered classics of the Grunge era, for Alice in Chains there was no Superunknown, Vs, or In Utero.

The group’s 1992 sophomore album Dirt, promised a band, that while labeled under the Grunge moniker, were entirely darker both in lyrical subject matter and sonic tone. Singer Layne Staley was the primary source of Alice in Chains’ anguished sound, having struggled with drug addiction during the recording of Dirt. While this helped distinguish Alice in Chains from the throng of Grunge bands, it would also prove to be their Achilles heel.

The group failed to tour in support of Dirt, and Staley’s relationship with the band quickly began to disintegrate as he spiraled further into addiction. In the following 3 years Alice in Chains would release the low-key and beautiful acoustic EP Jar of Flies, as well as the group’s final recording Alice in Chains. The eponymous album lacked focus and was not received well critically, and was indicative to apprehensive fans of the bands coming breakdown.

Alice in Chains would not record again for 14 years, and during this time Staley succumbed to his drug addiction, dying in April 2002. As Staley was such a large part of the signature Alice in Chains sound, which so many bands would later mimic, any future recording under the Alice moniker not involving Staley would inevitably not only be judged on it’s own merits but also against the bands legacy.

Black Gives Way to Blue features Comes with the Fall vocalist William Duvall as Staley’s replacement. While Duvall is capable and harmonizes well with Cantrell, he is relegated to a backseat role for much of the record, only breaking free on tracks ‘The Last of My Kind’ and ‘Take Her Out’. This is a definite weakness of the record as the album feels like it lacks a strong vocal presence; and given Duvall’s obvious talent it would have been wiser to risk giving him more time at the reins. Drummer Sean Kinney recently joked about whether Alice in Chains could “sound like themselves”. The good news is that Black Gives Way to Blue is easily recognizable as an Alice in Chains recording.

The sludgy and chugging signature low-end is present throughout the entirety of the record, taking a break only during more low-key acoustic numbers which are also reminiscent of the groups past work. ‘Your Decision’, the albums best track, features a catchy acoustic riff which is similar to Nutshell from Jar of Flies; while heavier tracks such as ‘Acid Bubble‘ and ‘A Looking In View’ bring the better tracks from Alice in Chains to memory. The moody ballad ‘Private Hell‘ reminds of Down in a Hole from Dirt and is also another highlight from the album. There are no bad tracks on this record, but overall it feels as if the group is playing it safe; despite Cantrell crooning on the opening track, ‘All Secrets Know’, “A new beginning…There’s no going back to where we started from.” Obviously Cantrell and company wish to move on and make interesting music, but overall this feels like a transitional album, and it suffers for it.

Even in death Staley’s influence on the band is still palpable, with the closing track Black Gives Way to Blue being a homage to the dead vocalist. The ballad features Elton John on the piano, though his appearance is hardly more than a cameo. By Alice in Chains’ standard, the song is a subdued affair and ends abruptly; capturing the bitter sweetness Cantrell still feels toward Staley while at the same time seemingly closing the book on the Staley-Alice saga.

Black Gives Way to Blue
is a solid album and is true to the Alice in Chains signature sound; however a to-strict adherence to this legacy may have cost the album some unique flavour.

Band: Alice in Chains
Album: Black Gives Way to Blue
Year: 2009
Genre: Grunge, Rock
Label: EMI Records
Origin: Seattle, USA
www.aliceinchains.com

Tracklisting:

1. All Secrets Known
2. Check My Brain
3. Last of My Kind
4. Your Decision <- Reviewer’s choice
5. A Looking in View
6. When the Sun Rose Again
7. Acid Bubble
8. Lesson Learned
9. Take Her Out
10. Private Hell
11. Black Gives Way to Blue

Reviewed by: Brady Gentle

About

Mitch Booth is the owner, designer and grand overlord of Metal Obsession. In the few seconds of spare time he has outside of this site, he also hosts a metal radio show over on PBS 106.7fm in Melbourne (Australia) and organises shows under the name Untitled Touring. You should follow him on Twitter.