Review Summary: AIC rise from the ashes to create their finest work yet.
When it was first announced that Alice In Chains were to return to the studio after the death of iconic singer Layne Staley, even the most positive of fans must have had a niggling feeling of doubt about how it was going to turn out. How could it work when Layne's silky tones of despair would no longer be present? It turned out that we shouldn't have worried because Black Gives Way To Blue is a masterpiece which sits comfortably with AIC's best.
Black Gives Way To Blue immediately kicks off with a familiarly sinister riff in album opener All Secrets Known, which right from the off tells us we are in for another great AIC masterclass with the opening statement of "Hope, a new beginning". This opener merely hints at the power and high quality song writing that we are about to experience. Following this is the insanely catchy first single Check My Brain, which contains an almighty riff that will immediately embed into your head and have you humming for hours, if you aren't singing away to the instantly memorable chorus.
For the most part on BGWTB lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell takes centre stage as lead vocalist, his voice being such a vital part to previous Alice In Chains material with his chemistry and vocal harmonies with Layne; and as the lead vocalist for much of the album he does an excellent job, which was not in doubt at all. Last Of My Kind is our first opportunity to see how new addition and front man William DuVall does as a vocalist. Instead of imitating Layne, William, thankfully, has his own personality and style with a more gravelly voice than Layne, yet not being too different to what fans would be used to. What is also good to see is how Jerry and William show as great a chemistry as when Layne was in the fold, such as on the aforementioned Check My Brain and he stunning, almost schizophrenic Acid Bubble.
Of course Layne Staley will constantly be thought of with this album, and eerily at times it almost feels like his presence exists in the album, specifically on the chilling and beautiful Private Hell, where at times it almost feels Layne is singing the song with them, and the lyrical content bringing to mind images of death and depression can't help but bring Layne to mind. Also album closer, the title track, is an acoustic ballad written by Jerry from the perspective of Layne before his passing cannot help but cause tears to shed. An excellent piece of musicianship which portrays the former front man's depression as much as his dying is one of the most perfect pieces of music I have ever listened to, and still brings chills two years on.
It is amazing how two years on the songs here still have the ability to cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand, with the pure power and emotion on show here. This is a fantastic album and is a testament to how great song writers Alice In Chains still are, and how they should never have been doubted. An astonishing album, a pure masterpiece.