I’m a huge Alice in Chains fan. They’re probably my favorite band of all time, although that title switches owners on a semi-regular basis. When I first heard snippets off of Black Gives Way to Blue, I knew instantly that Jerry, Mike and Sean went about the reunion process the right way. They aren’t doing this to cash in on Layne’s legacy. Newcomer William DuVall isn’t trying to replace Layne or emulate his vocal style. Today, Alice in Chains is a band that pays homage to its rhizome, the musical bedrock that sustained the music throughout the years. The roots show, but these guys refuse to allow their chemistry to be one-upped by the travails of the hard rock lifestyle.
They could have done the Led Zeppelin thing and closed up shop. But would Layne have wanted AIC to die along with him? I strongly doubt it. He was an artist to the core. He understood that his band’s music affected people in a beautiful way, and he wouldn’t want to deny the fans at least one more masterpiece. Jerry Cantrell has stepped up to deliver the only album that AIC could deliver, given the circumstances. This was the right record to make. If AIC had formed last year, this is what Facelift would have sounded like. Black/Blue is almost a debut, an incredible one at that.
DuVall has been introduced to the AIC precept in the most appropriate of ways. He doesn’t swallow the microphone or overpower the natural balance of the compositions. He is there to partially fill a void, to play a role that requires him to act with nuance and subtlety. Jerry is the true frontman on this album, and that’s fine with me. I’ll begin the song-by-song dissection with “Last of My Kind,” the sole tune that sees DuVall handling the majority of the vocals. I can already tell that he gets it. He appreciates the angular melodies that AIC is known for. His lyrics are cryptic, his vibrato is full of emotion, and his range is elastic. I do believe they found the man for the job! By the way, the riffs on this song are heavier than God’s sack.
“Your Decision” is an instant classic. Those harmonies are back and better than ever. I love the soloing. Jerry has a way of playing the notes that need to be played, and nothing more (or less). “All Secrets Known” is a gloomy Frankenjam that needs to be cranked at midnight. The same goes for “Acid Bubble,” a 7-minute beast rippling with soaring harmonies, liquid hooks, and domineering drum work (you go, Sean!). “When the Sun Rose Again” brings images of campfires and marshmallows to mind. Again, the harmonies, the solo, the minimalist arrangement…everything fucking clicks, man.
The title track will literally remove your heart from your chest and leave it steaming on the floor. Elton John’s lilting contributions on the piano fill the song out, nudging Black Gives Way to Blue ever closer to perfection. “Private Hell” sounds like a leftover from the Dirt sessions. NOTE: All AIC leftovers are staggering in their badassery. What else can I say? This album is a phenomenal achievement. It may end up saving hard rock, a subgenre that has been in critical condition ever since Layne left us. The heart on the cover speaks volumes. It’s the weight, not the size. Sweet love by labor.
Quick, identify those lyrics!