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Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way To Blue (9/10) - USA - 2009

Genre: Heavy Metal / Doom Metal / Alternative Metal
Label: EMI Music
Playing time: 54:10
Band homepage: Alice In Chains

Tracklist:

  1. All Secrets Known
  2. Check My Brain
  3. Last Of My Kind
  4. Your Decision
  5. A Looking In View
  6. When The Sun Rose Again
  7. Acid Bubble
  8. Lessons Learned
  9. Take Her Out
  10. Private Hell
  11. Black Gives Way To Blue
Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way To Blue

No self-respecting man of the way of Metal, no matter what the persuasion, ought to have nice things to say about the sub-par art form that was the Grunge explosion of the early 90s. However, no man should make the mistake of assuming every band that came out of Seattle at that time was crap, even if they did have a brief run with Sub Pop. ALICE IN CHAINS were, from the viewpoint of a traditionally oriented metal head, more of a victim of this era rather than a beneficiary of it. They were never tied in with Sub Pop for even their earliest releases, and toured with a number of 80s outfits that were largely despised by the backward looking, “I hate the world and refuse to play music competently” crowd in Seattle at the time, but were lumped in with it so that the industry could capitalize on their already established anti-Glam persona.

 

But the history of the war between Grunge and Heavy Metal not withstanding, ALICE IN CHAINS always had a gift for delivering deep, murky, Doom inspired musical brilliance, spearheaded by a highly original and haunting vocal harmony approach. “Black Gives Way To Blue” continues this tradition in a near flawless fashion, as if the band had not been silent in the studio for 10 years or lost their original lead vocalist to a drug overdose. The songs are as fresh here as they were when the band rolled out their first collection of masterpieces on “Facelift”, as pummeling minimalist riffs and slow developing melodic ideas converge to deliver a closed fist clear to the jaw of the last threshold of Hard Rock’s extreme edges. No rock, save perhaps something on precious jewel spectrum, is hard enough to match this, nor would any amount of rolling put out the fire that the sparks this metallic offering are sure to create in your ears.

 

This largely opts for the shorter, more compact version of songwriting that the band displayed in the early 90s, rather than the longwinded cave of darkness that was most of their previous self-titled release. There are a couple of longer and swampier draggers such as “A Looking In View”, which ironically enough was the album’s first single, that could compare with “Alice In Chains”, but largely what emerges here is a musical compromise between the classic heavy songwriting heard on “Dirt” and “Facelift”, and the mellow acoustic balladry of “Sap” and “Jar Of Flies”. Highlights of the former sound include the epic riff journey “Acid Bubble”, which combines all the best elements of “Dirt” into one really fun and intricate, though often plodding anthem of fear and loathing, and the catchy melodic number “Take Her Out”. Those looking for a really good ballad in the tradition of the EP’s will find a nice, somewhat bluesy friend in “Your Decision”.

 

Though there are no slouches on this album, and William Duvall does an excellent job picking up the slack left by Layne Staley, the real driving force that puts all these stars into alignment is Cantrell’s vocal work. Though often buried under the rowdy shouts of Staley in the past, this album reveals that Jerry’s lower harmonic counterpoints were the key ingredient in giving the band their unique harmony sound. Even and especially on really simple, radio friendly numbers like “Check My Brain”, the ear grabbing contrast of Cantrell’s plain sung baritone and the more flamboyant higher vocalizations just carry every song, despite the fun guitar solos that pop in and out of the album.

 

Those looking for a full blown comeback, which seems to be something of a common thing this year in the Metal world, will have their expectations both met and surpassed. There are basically no flaws to be heard here, save perhaps a production that is just a tiny bit too polished for my personal tastes. Now if only Chris Cornell could get over his goofy obsession banal songwriting pursuits with the likes of 3/4s of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and revoltingly cliché Pop Music abortions, Heavy Metal can reclaim both of its token Grunge era bands.

(Online October 20, 2009)

Jonathan Smith



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