Along with the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, Alice in Chains ruled the alternative rock scene in the early 1990s. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell and Vocalist Layne Staley each pulled the band in differing directions and ultimately to global success, selling over 17 million albums worldwide. However the sudden success of the band, the tension between Cantrell and Staley, and personal issues of Staley’s forced the band into an unofficial break from 1996 until Staley died of a drug overdose in 2002.
It has been a long time, 14 years to be exact, since Alice in Chains released an album of new material but that is exactly what “Black Gives Way to Blue” is and I am happy to announce that an Alice in Chains record it truly is. The main concern, and rightly so, was the vocal situation as Staley is considered by many to be one of the best rock vocalists ever and his delivery helped define the sound of Alice in Chains. Comes With the Fall founder and vocalist, William DuVall does a fantastic job filling in for Staley and while he is not an exact tonal match he has the feel of Alice in Chains down. In fact if “Black Gives Way to Blue” had been released in say 1999 instead of 2009, many would be hard pressed to distinguish the two.
“All Secrets Known” kicks the album off with a hypnotic, repetitive guitar riff and once DuVall’s vocals kick in the 90s will seem like they have returned. The song, much like most of the album, doesn’t stretch to far from the formula that Cantrell and Staley had developed over their years together so if you were not a fan of the bands prior works, you probably won’t find much to like here. However all other fans, including the radio hits variety, should leave pleased.
Cantrell does the majority of the writing for the album and much like he did with the hits, “Them Bones”, “Rooster” and “Would?” he strikes gold with a couple of songs that are sure to chart very well. Those songs, “Check My Brain” and “Your Decision”, show Cantrell still has it where it counts. However if a complaint can be levied against him as a writer or at the album as a whole it is that the sound is stuck decidedly in a bygone era.
However you want to look at it though “Black Gives Way to Blue” is a solid rock album. It may not push the genre any but it reaffirms Alice in Chains as one of its leaders and fans of the band should be more than happy to re-embrace them.
4 out of 5
Top Songs: Check Your Brain, Your Decision, Black Gives Way to Blue