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Alice In Chains - Facelift (9/10) - USA - 1990

Genre: Alternative Metal
Label: Columbia Records
Playing time: 53:54
Band homepage: Alice In Chains

Tracklist:

  1. We Die Young
  2. Man In The Box
  3. Sea Of Sorrow
  4. Bleed The Freak
  5. I Can’t Remember
  6. Love, Hate, Love
  7. It Ain’t Like That
  8. Sunshine
  9. Put You Down
  10. Confusion
  11. I Know Somethin (Bout You)
  12. Real Thing
Alice In Chains - Facelift

At the advent of the 90’s, Metal had found itself displaced by the rising popularity of the Grunge/Alternative Rock movement, with the former scene leaders taking a backseat to their younger, angst-y counterparts. But Metal had not totally dissipated, it had only changed attire. Some of these new bands had kept the spirit alive, but in a more modern interpretation. Of these, ALICE IN CHAINS were the best. But though their once popular brand of sludgy Grunge Metal has been generally ignored amongst the ‘true’ Metal community (who label them as far more Grunge than Metal), their unique sound and undeniable weight deserve far more respect than they’ve received.

 

As a founding member of the Alternative Metal scene, ALICE IN CHAINS have a stripped-down sound directly opposed to the increasing technicality of the late 80’s bands. The guitars and drums are simpler, but still impressively heavy, which is why this band’s status is still directly linked to Heavy Metal. While most of the album runs off a primitive BLACK SABBATH-like stomp (though I’ll forever insist that aside from the guitar tone and atmosphere, the two sound nothing alike), there are times where the riffs could be easily compared to those of late-period MOTLEY CRUE or GUNS 'N' ROSES (see “Put You Down” and “I Know Somethin (Bout You)”). But ALICE IN CHAINS sounds nothing like the hair bands, mostly due to the haunting, somber vocals of Layne Staley. This being their debut, his voice is uninhibited by the strain of his impending drug abuse and is at its most powerful. His vocals, often harmonized with the equally unique scowl of guitarist Jerry Cantrell, are one of the band’s trademarks. Speaking of Cantrell, it’s his playing that is most impressive on here. Though Michael Starr’s bass work and Sean Kinney’s percussion both play an important role, Cantrell’s snarling down-tempo riffage set the menacing mood that gives "Facelift" its distinctive sound. And his lead phrasing is exquisite; not quite to the degree of David Gilmour (of PINK FLOYD fame), but at least comparable in that his solos do not require overt technicality to be magnificent. Add in the fact that his thick guitar tone becomes all the meatier from the album’s no-nonsense production and you have a sound that 90’s METALLICA should have been quite envious of.

 

But the most unique aspect of this band is the dismal atmosphere they create. Gothic and Doom Metal fans: think those genres are the only ones that can competently form a bleak, depressing mood? Somehow, between Cantrell’s playing and Staley’s vocals, this is achieved in what is otherwise straightforward Alternative Rock. Convential bluesy Rock riffs become completely foreign when played by Cantrell and his use of effects and clean/distortion layering add to this. My favorite songs appear right in the middle of the album, “I Can’t Remember” and “Love, Hate, Love.” Both feature mystical sounding clean riffs and Staley’s most powerful, haunting vocals ever. Of course, Cantrell’s riff minimalism isn’t just at its best on these two. Tracks like “Man In The Box” and “We Die Young” stomp hard and fierce, while the rest of the album follows suit or re-demonstrates more of their mellower prowess.

 

Don’t let preconceived notions ruin this for you. Grunge has never sounded so good and this is ALICE IN CHAINS at their very best. Consider "Facelift" a reward for the open-minded.

(Online December 16, 2007)

Eric Provenza



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