The highly acclaimed sophomore effort from established Seattleite grungers, ALICE IN CHAINS, is the album with which the band is most often associated. Simply entitled “Dirt,” this would be the one that would launch them into superstardom. All things considered, it’s probably their weakest overall effort, but the fact that it still rules should be proof enough of this band’s high level of consistency.
First things first, “Dirt” is damned heavy. SOUNDGARDEN, NIRVANA, MUDHONEY: none of them ever sounded like this. Actually, I’d even go so far as to say it’s heavier than METALLICA’s "Black Album", also released in 1992. The sound on “Dirt” is absolutely enveloping: it’s powerful, bass-heavy, and crushing. Not to mention bleak: these guys haven’t cheered up a bit from “Facelift.” Crunchy numbers like “Them Bones,” “Sickman,” and “Rooster” reek of cynicism and depression while pummeling the listener’s face with riffs. There’s still a strong psychedelic influence at play as well. Layne Staley’s somber vocals cruise with Jerry Cantrell’s dark Hendrix-inspired style of guitar playing and Mike Starr’s bluesy bass like a Cadillac on a long desert road. It’s a rough, dirty ride, yet surprisingly comfortable. The engine is Sean Kinney’s percussive accompaniment of course, as it’s his unique style that maintains the album’s sinister groove.
But even though ALICE IN CHAINS excels at heavy riffing, they are at their best when they’re in mellow territory. Depressing tunes like “Down In A Hole” and “Rain When I Die” are their trademark, though these kinds of songs wouldn't appear more abundantly until later in their career.
Again, this is not ALICE IN CHAINS' best work. But with killer songs like “Dirt” and “Would?” in tow, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise. Recommended, along with the rest of their material.
(Online April 21, 2008)