Review Summary: "We pay our debts sometime"
It's almost hard to believe that grunge legends Alice in Chains are still standing at full attention in today's age, even after the harsh complications they've faced during their lifetime; Layne Staley's death being the main culprit. Despite this obvious tragedy, they've still managed to bring something to the table with their sound and technique. Alice in Chains
, although still having the band in its entirety, would be Staley's finale album with the group, and surely enough, it would be a memorable one to say the least. What we have here is a consistent, blistering, melodic, and unmistakably kick-ass album that is easily their heaviest album to date. This album generously offers the same type of Alice in Chains we've seen from day one (loud guitars, insightful lyrics, frantic drumming), only with a tweak; this album is probably their most unique album to date, as many guitar riffs and song layouts are atonal, drone-esque, and create a sludgy, moody atmosphere, something that works surprisingly well for the group as a whole. Instead of bulging guitar riffs and straight up "jam" songs, we are encountered here with complexly arranged tunes, featuring a more fragile atmosphere instead of just pure anger and resentment.
Personally, this is probably my favorite AIC record for one main reason; the variety. Here we have multiple 8 minute masterpieces, incredible instrumentation, and subject matter in relation to isolation, death, and acceptance. The songs here showcase immense talent with not only the production, but the musicianship itself, which is outstanding to say the least. Although their music has been generally easy to grasp onto, this album is a little more far-fetched in terms of accessibility; this album is much different from Dirt
, and even Facelift
. Alice in Chains present themselves well on this album, and on terms of consistency, this album is hard-at-work. The tempos have been noticeably reduced as well, markedly being a reason why this album is quite dreamy, meditative, and rather relaxing as opposed to spiraling, spastic musicianship.
Alice in Chains
is a rather slow cooker; many songs here trump past 5 minutes and mostly take a while to build. A few songs here, such as Sludge Factory
are probably the most unique tunes these guys have crafted yet; they are dreamy, spacey, and retain a lot of intense creepiness. Depending on one's set of ears, I'm sure someone could mistake those 8 minute masterpieces for a sludge metal band, or even Mastodon perhaps (The riff to "Frogs" sounds scarily similar to a Mastodon song, almost like "Seabeast" or "Megaladon"). Both tracks remind me of a small paper airplane going down the side of a street during a flood; they seem to gently move along at a gliding pace.
Album opener "Grind" starts off with a venomous riff and leads into dark, twisted lyrics, evidently relating to Alice in Chains slumping into rock bottom (drug use, amputations, tour problems, etc) along with other heavy complications that the band faced during the time. “Heaven Beside You” features a groovy acoustic riff on top of lyrics relating to a bitter boy/girl breakup. “Head Creeps”, a personal favorite, is easily one of the most brutal, forceful song on the album. The song starts off with a pulsating, muddy guitar riff which follows into leeching, echoing vocals, albeit use of a vox. “God Am” is acquainted with a start-stop type of musicianship, while “Nothin' Song” has a more relaxing, fluttery vibe to it. “Over Now” is a perfect album closer with a delicate, compassionate atmosphere, more than likely about suffering and painful acceptance; the song has a candle lighting ceremony vibe to it, something that you might listen to when something from your life has been taken away. Despite the somewhat depressing gist, this song is beautiful, especially the last few minutes with Cantrell's amazingly powerful guitar melody. As the track evolves, the repeating lyric “we pay our debts sometime” starts gaining more and more emphasis, eventually shifting into full action towards the end of the song. This song is Alice in Chains at their pinnacle, especially with emotion and reflection.
Alice in Chains
is definitely a memorable album with a lot of meat and tenderness that never manages to lose it's flavor. With lyrics involving isolation, regret, and addiction, this record feels like you're a lone survivor trying to escape. The musicianship and lyrical delivery make a staggering impact here, and feature Alice in Chains at their most primitive.
Heaven Beside You