Review Summary: Believe it or not, Alice in Chains is back and better than ever.
Alice in Chains, one of the biggest rock bands in the 1990s, disbanded in 2002 after the death of lead singer Layne Staley. Whenever a band loses a member, especially the lead singer, their future direction is a huge unknown. However, in 2005, lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell decided to bring AIC back together. They searched for a new lead singer and found William DuVall, who sounds like he belongs right on the 1990s grunge scene. In 2009, AIC released their first full-length album since the mid-90s. And believe it or not, it's a great album. Cantrell's guitar riffs are darker, sludgier, and heavier than ever, and his vocal harmonies with DuVall sound as well as his harmonies with Staley did. But make no mistake, this is not just Cantrell's album. The band shares the glory; Cantrell is just the mastermind, just as he was in AIC's early days. Here's the review:
ALL SECRETS KNOWN (3.5/5): The first song on the album sounds much like 90s AIC. DuVall's vocals sound eerily like Staley's here. It's not that DuVall tries to replicate Staley, it's just that they have similar voices. DuVall's voice is a natural fit, so it sounds fine. Cantrell creates a terrific heavy intro followed by a more subtle, low-tuned riff throughout. From what I've heard, this song is about moving on, the current theme of AIC as a band.
CHECK MY BRAIN (4.5/5): This was released as the second single off the album. The lead vocals are handled mostly by Cantrell, with DuVall simply harmonizing with him. This song sounds less like classic AIC than many others on the album, but it certainly doesn't disappoint. This song will make you pay attention, because it's catchy and fun while also being brooding and sludgy. It's a perfect AIC single.
LAST OF MY KIND (3/5): This is the first song on the album where DuVall handles the lead vocals all by himself. DuVall also penned this track. This song has more of a metal riff than the previous two songs. DuVall proves right here that he is a perfect fit in AIC, handling the lead vocal duties rather successfully. This song is a straightforward hard rocker. This may possibly be the next radio single.
YOUR DECISION (4.5/5): This acoustic number sounds better than anything off of AIC's '94 EP "Jar of Flies." Out of the songs on there, this one sounds most like "Nutshell" with it's dark, brooding sound created by the DuVall/Cantrell harmony and Cantrell's slow, low-tuned guitar riff. This is a truly beautiful song: the lyrics, the music, the harmony, everything. It was just released as the third single off the album.
A LOOKING IN VIEW (4/5): This is the heaviest song on the album. Clocking in at 7:05, it's the longest AIC song ever. Despite the song length, it was released as the first single off of the album. That should tell you how good it is. This is pure, classic AIC from beginning to end, with its grudge alt metal sound and sludgy guitar riff.
WHEN THE SUN ROSE AGAIN (3/5): It's not that this song is bad, there's just nothing outstanding about it. It's acoustic but not as good as "Your Decision." The song has a powerful melody but lacks a true hooking riff like "Your Decision." It's much less dark than that song, and AIC is great with darker songs.
ACID BUBBLE (4.5/5): Without a doubt, this is the most impressive arrangement Cantrell has done to date. This song is almost seven minutes, making it the second long song on the album. The verses are slow and sung by Cantrell and DuVall, the chorus is brilliantly harmonized, and the interlude is one of the heaviest pieces on the album. This is one of the best songs on the album.
LESSON LEARNED (3.5/5): This is a catchy song that sounds more like the first three on the album. It has a medium pace and a less sludgy sound than most songs on the album. It's kind of a more upbeat song after a pretty dark album.
TAKE HER OUT (2.5/5): This song isn't a filler, but it's just mediocre. Like "Lesson Learned," it's probably used for its mostly upbeat mood. It's medium-paced with a pretty solid chorus. But there's nothing special about it.
PRIVATE HELL (5/5): After two decent songs, the album picks up speed again. This is the best song on the album. It reminded me of "Down in a Hole" the first time I listened to it. It's a slow-burning song with a mix of heaviness and calmness. I doubt the song will get the benefit of being a single, but it's the best one here. It's a very dark song with the best Cantrell/DuVall harmony on the album.
BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE (5/5): Following up "Private Hell" was a tough task, but AIC manage to make a song almost as good. The title track is AIC's tribute to the departed Layne Staley. Elton John makes a cameo here, and his piano riff mixed with Cantrell's soothing guitar riff create the best sound on the album. It's a beautiful, haunting, touching song. AIC definitely closed out the album on a high note. The lyrics are a brutally heartfelt.
I'd have to say that a good majority of today's rock is not too good. Either it's uninspired or unoriginal. However, AIC is guaranteed to get a good amount of radio airplay with their new release. "Check My Brain" has already received quite a bit of play. And this album is the definition of good. It's a bunch of good songs surrounded by a few outstanding songs. There's not a bad song on the album, and that's what stands out. Now that AIC has created a masterful comeback, they're real challenge will be to keep making good music. But right now, enjoy this album, as it must be considered one of the better rock releases of 2009.
---DuVall and Cantrell's harmonies are as good as Cantrell and Staley's
---guitar riffs are heavier and sludgier than ever
---there's a good amount of variety, mixing heavy songs, acoustic songs, and even a piano riff
---overall, it sounds like classic AIC
---DuVall is not quite the singer that Staley was
---a couple mediocre songs