Review Summary: Alice in Chains hasn't lost a stepBlack Gives Way to Blue
shouldn't have surprised me as much as it has. Alice in Chains were one of the most consistent bands around in their brief heyday (even the campiest parts of Facelift
were still rather good), yes, but the pessimist inside me knows that fourteen years separate Alice in Chains
and Black Gives Way to Blue
. In that space of time, Alice in Chains' contemporaries in the Seattle grunge scene have either disbanded or fallen on hard times; last week Pearl Jam released their first worthwhile album in years, and in the case of Chris Cornell…well, you know. The death of Layne Staley was also cause for concern, not because he was the most recognisable member of the band, but because his voice helped define Alice in Chains. So was I concerned? Sure. But then I listened to it.
It isn't even the quality of Black Gives Way to Blue
that surprised me the most. Rather, the record sounds as though it was genuinely ripped straight from the band's peak years in the early 90s. Even without Staley's iconic voice, Black Gives Way to Blue
is classic Alice in Chains; it's a heavy listen aesthetically and atmospherically, drawing greatly from Jerry Cantrell's (sometimes in tandem with DuVall) sludgy guitar riffs. "A Looking in View" and "Last of My Kind" are two of the band's heaviest songs to date, and sometimes borrow from metal. The latter is the more aggressive of the pair and features DuVall at the forefront, barking his angriest lines on the album. "A Looking in View" takes a more traditional route, incorporating Cantrell/DuVall vocal harmonies to the track's oppressive sound.
Not all tracks are reliant on heaviness; the layered guitars in "All Secrets Known" allow the track to retain the group's heat-choked atmosphere while adopting a melodic flair and "Acid Bubble" is a depressing, slow building number reminiscent of "Rooster". "When the Sun Rose Again" strips the distortion away Jar of Flies
style; despite lacking the sheer strength of "All Secrets Known" or even accessible single "Check My Brain", the song makes for one of Black Gives Way to Blue
's most powerful moments, particularly the ominous line, "Were you burned away / When the sun rose again?
" The title track completely differs from past Alice in Chains works, and sees Cantrell and Elton John come together on guitar and piano respectively in one of the most moving songs Alice in Chains has ever written.
Don't get me wrong, Black Gives Way to Blue
isn't an excellent album merely because it sees Alice in Chains return to the fray for the first time in fourteen years. It is a legitimately excellent record that lives up to (and sometimes even exceeds) the song writing standards set by the band on Dirt
or Jar of Flies
; case in point, the likes of "A Looking in View" and "When the Sun Rose Again" can be mentioned alongside some of the strongest material in their career. But the fact that Alice in Chains has released an album in 2009 is worth getting excited over. And Black Gives Way to Blue