Review Summary: A depressing but necessary listen for music fans everywhere
The effects that drugs can have on a person can bring both good and bad aspects to their lives. On the one side the user feels that it is assisting them in getting through whatever may have driven them to use the substance in the first place whilst on the contrary it is really forcing them deep into a cycle of self-destruction and captures them in a soliloquy inside their own personal hell. If one was to ask for an example of a piece of media or a work of art that best captures an artist caught up in this circle of self-inflicted torture then they would most likely name one of three such works. The first two would be movies by the names Reqium For A Dream and Trainspotting. These would indeed be two fine examples of the horrific effects of heroin addiction but there is one that provides a better insight into the walls of depression an addict is caught behind, one that has authenticity behind it due to the state the creator was in at the time.
When Alice In Chains unleashed their sophomore album Dirt upon the world the market for loud and aggressive music fueled by passionate hatred for the world around an artist was dying off. Metal had peaked in the 1980's and enjoyed its hay day but the music industry had had enough of it and moved on into a hip hop lead market with artists such as 2pac and The Notorious BIG among others making their mark on the music industry. In place of the thrash bands and bands such as Iron Maiden that had dominated the latter part of the 1980's arose a lighter, more accessible alternative to these bands spearheaded by bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Alongside these grunge bands was Alice In Chains, a band with much more of a straightforward metallic edge to their music pressed into this group of musicians due to their bleak and depressive nature and simplistic musicianship as well as the soft to heavy dynamic they showed on many songs. Dirt may not have been the first grunge album nor the first Alice In Chains album but it certainly was an album that became every bit as influential as Pearl Jam and perhaps even more relevant lyrically.
Perhaps what makes Dirt such an authentic and interesting album is its vile and hopeless reflection of the lives of the band themselves and the self-hate behind them. The band could not stand themselves for what they had become, and poured this loathing for the cesspool each of them was caught in into just under an hour of the most depressing madness put to record. The lyrics to this album should not only be there as a means to channel these feelings but they should become the absolute focus of the album and this is exactly what happens as the album progresses. This is also an album that could in a way be seen as a concept album in the way that the instrumentals change as the album moves on. It begins in an upbeat and loud fashion with tormented shrieks kicking off Them Bones and then leading directly into Dam That River with Layne Staley sounding extremely sarcastic delivering the words "and maybe I don't give a damn anyway". Following this the only way the mood of this album goes is down as is shown beautifully and shockingly by songs like Rooster with its moody feel and dark war-focused lyricism and also by the chords that ring out to open Hate To Feel.
With each twisted tale that the songs on Dirt weaves comes an even more morbid sounding piece of sludgy guitar work. This is not an album that moves forward at a brisk pace in the same vein as Pearl Jam's debut but in fact does the complete opposite and seems to get slower the further into the release you go. This pacing allows the listener to focus purely on the lyrics being spewed from the mouth of Staley with absolute bile, and in doing so it immerses you and soaks you into its twisted dimensions. To pick out individual songs that stick out is rendered almost pointless by the startling consistency the album carries and the fact that every song is almost flawless, whether it be the great low-end thumping of the bass in Junkhead or the solo that could not have been better placed on Them Bones, or perhaps just the overall atmosphere invoked by Rain When I Die. By the time you reach around the half way mark you will think the album has little more to offer and will no doubt be overwhelmed by the stunning perspective this album takes on life with the disturbing idea behind Them Bones essentially being that everyone will die so there is no point in living. You would be wrong to think this.
The second half of the album is where the album truly comes into its own with some of the most harrowing moments ever put to record. If the lyrics to the title track and the delivery by Staley alone is not enough for you to seriously contemplate suicide then you are not listening to this album in the correct environment. This is an album to be listened to when completely alone with headphones turned up to the highest volume setting so that your brain can take in absolutely every minor detail about the release. If this is not the case then you may well miss that marvelous and depressing series of chants of the word "yeah" over the top of the solo to Dirt, or perhaps will not quite feel the impact of the heavily distorted riff that opens Godsmack. And of course there is always the off chance that you will miss many of the lyrics that draw such vivid pictures of struggles with addiction (Godsmack) or perhaps the lines penned about the idea of the failure of a long term relationship in Down In A Hole. This is an album that requires absolute attention, no, it commands absolute attention from the opening notes through to the end.
Dirt is not an album that attempts to make a point with flashy instrumental work and takes an approach of minimalism not one of showing off with shred solos and hyper fast chord changes every minute. Instead this is a deliberately paced release that shows off some of the most effective soloing of all time with beautiful scaling and always a cruel sound to the guitars. The use of the wah-effect on the guitars only adds to the eerie atmosphere and the drums are crucial to the vibe of the album by keeping a solid rhythm as the rest of the band build off of it. If you have not heard this album already then it is highly advised that you pick it up if only for the new outlook on life it will provide through the tortured shouts and most depressing lyrics found anywhere.