Alice In Chains were one of the bigger names in the early 90's Seattle grunge scene alongside such contemporaries as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, the group differentiating themselves from their peers by way of having origins in the glam metal scene. They later evolved into an alternative hard rock group with a dark, metal edge influenced by the brooding, introspective movement of post-punk, the legacy left by the group by the drug overdose of lead singer Layne Staley firmly cementing the small output of the band into legendary status.
The bands most popular release Dirt
is often described with such terms as "depressing", "angst-ridden", and "the poetry of suicide, man". Whilst this might be overdoing it a little the album is very much on these terms, opening track Them Bones
hits you in the face from the beginning with it's aggressive, distorted rhythms (thankyou Jerry Cantrell), impressive guitar leads and Staley's despondent lyrics (I feel so alone, gonna end up a big ol' pile of them bones
). His delivery is something akin to Axl Rose meets Kurt Cobain, and is consistently fitting throughout the album. Dam That River
is perhaps the best track ever to follow an opener of this caliber, from the cracking snare drum at the intro to it's thick, sludgy mid paced riffs and harmonised verse melodies it undeniably rocks like a mother***er. Singing along is mandatory.
Rain When I Die
is the perhaps the most impressive moment on the album, opening with an apocalyptic bass riff and swirling guitar feedback it could very well be the most introspective, explosive track on Dirt
with it's waa infected riff and monster of a chorus. Staley's lyrics and vocal delivery during the verse are full of inexpressible sorrow (Is she ready to know my frustration? What she slippin inside, slow castration/Im a riddle so strong, you cant break me/Did she come here to try, try to take me?
) as are those on later tracks such as Dirt
(I have never felt such frustration/Or lack of self control/I want you to kill me/And dig me under, I wanna live no more
). His longtime addiction to heroin impacted him heavily, the rolling percussion and infected power chord swagger of Sickman
capturing this sense of junky frustration in the most poignant way (I can feel the wheel, but I cant steer/When my thoughts become my biggest fear/Ah, whats the difference, Ill die in this sick world of mine
). Other tracks such as Junkhead
follow similar lines, and you get the sense that Staley wasn't a happy man for most of his life.
Only two tracks here (partially) deal with clean guitars, the incredible Rooster
which was written by Jerry Cantrell about his father who served in the Vietnam war, and Down In A Hole
both of which use these purely as a way to build up to exceptionally powerful choruses. Angry Chair
and Hate To Feel
are the three remaining highlights on the album, very much in the vein of all the other stuff here which are AIC classics in their own right.
is an essential album of early 90's alternative rock, and nobody who claims to enjoy that era could possibly get away with having never heard it before. It is up there with any of the other releases pumped out by the other grunge acts back in the day and if you haven't already (which seems unlikely), get it in.