Review Summary: Excellent alt rock / metal album, with melodic edge, and a doomed outlook.
Alice in Chains were certainly a band in the right place, at the right time, very much like Nirvana. Yet, they were never quite propelled to the same superstar status as Nirvana, never managed the sales that Soundgarden achieved, and certainly haven't achieved the longevity or consistency of Pearl Jam.
They did certainly manage to release one of the best albums of the early 1990's with their 1992 album, Dirt.
One thing that certainly helped Alice in Chains, was the fact they had 2 very good songwriters, in Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell. The two had different styles, Cantrell seemed to lean more towards the mainstream and was extremely conscious of melody and harmonies, whereas Staley seemed obsessed with the underground scene, which culminated in some of their darker, (and sometimes of odd subject, Angry Chair anyone?) songs. Rumours of drug addiction spiralled round the media with songs such as Junkhead, Angry Chair and Dirt just heightened the idea that Layne Staley was struggling with the spotlight they were thrown under, and was further falling under the influence of substances.
Musically, the bands rhythm section was flawless, with Sean Kinney's technical yet controlled percussion (although I believe he was drafted in after the albums release, watch videos, you will see he is on the money!), and Cantrells heavy, doomed guitar riffs that really gave the impression that there was a heroin addict there, crying out for help, aware he was doomed, but aware of it (this is the general theme, or concept, continued throughout the album). At times it feels as though Layne Staley is narrating this album, rather than merely acting as a singer, through his sickening howls. Cantrell shows his diverse influences from the heavy metal riffs of Sickman and Them Bones, the melodic hope in the ballad-esque Rooster (which is a tribute to Cantrells father, who served his country in Vietnam) and the almost Eastern sounding heavy riff of Dirt. The only song on here I still don't understand is Angry Chair. The song has its moments but this song shows a man who is clearly under the influence!
All in all, a terrific album, and certainly an album I can listen to start to finish, and one i still listen to quite regularly, after discovering it. Alice in Chains never quite burned this brightly again, and the band threatened to implode on many occasions, never doing regular tours, and eventually the inevitable happened, where Layne Staley tragically died due to a drug overdose.