Alice in Chains: Alice in chains
08/04/09 || The Duff
The number one Alice in Chains record is up for debate, but most would consider “Dirt” or the debut to be prime candidates. I would replace the former with the self-titled, sometimes referred to as “Tripod” in reference to the unfortunate three-legged animal on the cover, and my own personal favourite record from the Seattle-based band.
This was to be the last Alice in Chains record, as Layne’s health gradually and miserably succumbed to the hazards of drug abuse, and he passed away in 2002 with but two new AIC tracks to his name (these were, as expected, totally awesome and shit).
What you have here is the follow-up to an all-acoustic, rather upbeat E.P., yet something that would go completely the other way, not only reverting to the heavier style of the amazing “Dirt” L.P., but overstepping it into far darker waters, geared more towards heavy, sludge-filled metal and not indicative of the grunge scene these guys aided in the advent of.
9. The grunge influence would be heavily reduced on this effort, with many songs comprising a mix of the metal of “Dirt” and the bright, slightly eerie acoustics of the band’s two E.P.s – when both sounds are combined with Layne’s feeble yet still very potent vocals, the listener is left with some real dark shit.
At times I can’t help but feel that the album is a touch short of material, what with some of the closing tracks being spread out beyond their due, and the occasional riff being astoundingly simple even by Jerry Cantrell’s standards, but luckily, Layne’s vocals really make the album appear far more complete than it actually is, making “Tripod” undoubtedly the classic that it is and not just a final attempt to keep the band intact – these guys still had the talent, even though the band was disintegrating due to the frontman’s inability to control his habit.
The opening track is darker than anything Slayer has ever written, bitches! How’s that shit for songwriting?
8. Not a terrible production at all, very fitting, and quite dry considering Alice in Chains’ “Dirt” and “Facelift” albums made the band so popular within the mainstream; both discs have very rich, sparkly productions, so how AIC managed to convince the label to go with something less flattering either speaks of how much control they had over their own music or just how lucky they were to have found a producer who knew what the band’s latest material would benefit most from.
The country, metal and hard-rock doesn’t ring as with past efforts (AIC had truly distanced themselves from their earlier grunge leanings, thankfully – only Nirvana and Pearl Jam ever nailed such a genre properly, anyways), and this complements the less “to-the-gut” yet more malevolent nature of the album.
10. Jerry Cantrell isn’t exactly underrated, but you get the impression that he isn’t talked about enough considering his contributions to the music scene – overlooked, possibly, when considering contemporaries Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, from Nirvana and Pearl Jam respectively. Although I don’t have much to say for or against Kurt Cobain, considering he acknowledged himself as the “guitar antihero” anyways, the respective guitarists from the remaining three of the big four Seattle grunge bands are all amazing in their own way, both in the meat and bones of their core music and the soul they integrate in their lead playing.
Jerry Cantrell I consider the best of the bunch, though – never one to overplay, he keeps things subtle with sporadic moments of flashiness, and always seems to know exactly what notes to hit – many of Jerry’s solos display a feel that can only be invoked from the most practiced of blues followers, and when combined with his modest knowledge of shred, gives rise to one of the greats.
10. No surprises here; if you haven’t heard Layne Staley yet then you’re in for a treat. One of the most unique voices ever to be found within the music scene, heroin addiction had savagely degraded his abilities by this point in Alice in Chains’ career. That said, due to an increased weakness in tone, the vocals are delivered with an added eeriness – when all the man seems to be saying is nothing short of “I’m losing this fucking battle”, you can be guaranteed that the tone of the album is very much set on the dark side.
Jerry Cantrell provides backing vocals, and the combined effect is some very twisted harmonies and some stuff to chill out to; he’s a talented vocalist, for sure, bu Layne steals the show as always. It’s not like I’m going to talk about Layne’s rhythm guitar-playing on the album in the guitars section, even though I’m sure he deserves at least some of the writing credits for the music here, so I’m not gonna go nuts on Jerry’s vocal parts either.
8. Mike Inez (bass) and Sean Kinney (drums) would to some be over-shadowed by Layne’s vocals and Jerry’s guitar-work, but I consider Alice in Chains to be one of two supergroups of the Seattle grunge scene along with Soundgarden. The guy isn’t nearly as heavy as half the rhythm section on Jerry Cantrell’s later studio solo output “Degradation Trip”, but tracks such as “Sludge Factory”, “God AM” and “Head Creeps” demand some hypnotic, evil bass playing, and Inez covers the role comfortably. On the more languishing clean sections, the man adds to the doom and despair very potently.
8. Again, very tasty, and actually quite flashy for a grunge/heavy metal band. A collective of great musicians, I don’t think Alice In Chains wrote a bad song (one or two that were amiss), in no small part due to the versatility of all the players involved – Sean Kinney plays very solidly, doesn’t over-do anything, maybe doesn’t offer too many surprises, but is a damn fine player who mixes it up more than most drummers found in the popular music scene.
10. Layne had been through hell and back by this point; due to drug abuse, the guy had lost a great deal of body mass, and I wouldn’t be surprised quite a part of his mind. Whereas before, he would openly support the use of hard drugs, by this point he clearly could see nothing but a dead-end tunnel – you get the picture of a frail, sensitive man with a big heart who’s been witteled down to a shell of what he once was; there’s still some piss and vinegar in the guy, though, specifically against those who ripped his life apart for the sake of a story, or just those who took liberties with his stash without prior consent. It all paints a very vivid image of one of the most gifted individuals in the music industry, both as a lyricist and a musician, someone who knew more about himself than many – it’s of no surprise that he’s to this day so terribly missed.
5. An unfortunate animal; there’s some story about some bandmember on holiday coming across it on some street someplace, why it has yellow eyes though is beyond me.
3. Eeeerrrrr… I guess the Cannibal Corpse logo of grunge?
6. Very bizarre, nothing that ties in with the album as far as I can tell (one can never read or understand the mind of the drug-addled) except maybe how dark all the pictures are – some including animals with heads that don’t fit their respective bodies, a message in a bottle with an evil face, some out-of-it fella being pumped full of gas via an unusual contraption; on the back inlay is a three-legged chappie playing a banjo. Yes, all fun-fun-fun and raspberry cakes.
Overall and ending rant
10. For me, a perfect album – AIC are in my top five bands of all time, I think, because of how impervious to criticism I consider their entire discography to be. That said, some albums did have one or two tracks open to scrutiny; not this bad baby, that’s for sure.
I may state that some tracks have too much filler (such as the intro to “Over Now” or the outro jams to “Nothin’ Song” and “Sludge Factory”), but the songs themselves propel the album further into a dank hole of despair (and I’m speaking objectively where I can) – slightly uplifting tracks do belong, but there’s a permeating sense of rotting on everything here save “Shame In You”.
You don’t find albums this dark anywhere but in the truly insane, and I would recommend it to anyone into purely excellent music.
- Released: 1995
- Label: Columbia
- Website: www.aliceinchains.com
- Layne Staley: vocals, guitars
- Jerry Cantrell: guitars, vocals
- Mike Inez: bass
- Sean Kinney: drums
- 01. Grind
- 02. Brush away
- 03. Sludge factory
- 04. Heaven beside you
- 05. Head creeps
- 06. Again
- 07. Shame in you
- 08. God am
- 09. So close
- 10. Nothin’ song
- 11. Frogs
- 12. Over now