Alice in Chains



by Nagrarok USER (219 Reviews)
September 25th, 2009 | 13 replies

Release Date: 1992 | Tracklist

Episode III: Dirt

After releasing demo songs for was what going to be their second full-length on the EP Sap, Alice in Chains went on to record their actual second studio record. The period in which this happened became an opportunity for the band to do some soul-searching, and led to songs with emotionally heavy subjects, many among them dealing with addiction, an issue the band, and especially Staley struggled with, until his death. The new album was released in 1992 and entitled Dirt. It was received superbly, lauded by music critics, and still is Alice’s most popular record.

Dirt’s Alice in Chains was:

- Layne Thomas Staley (R.I.P.) ~ Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
- Jerry Fulton Cantrell ~ Lead Guitar, Vocals
- Michael Christopher Starr ~ Bass Guitar
- Sean Howard Kinney ~ Drums

Guest musicians:

- Tom Araya (Slayer) ~ Vocals on Iron Gland

Dirt wasn’t the easiest of records to make. Each four of the band members was going through heavy personal issues at the time, and it shows. Staley recently got out of rehab, but fell back into old habits quickly, Starr and Kinney were drinking all the time, and Cantrell had to deal with the deaths of two people close to him: his mother, and his close friend Andrew Wood, front figure of the short-lasting Mother Love Bone. Especially Staley and Cantrell, whose personal tragedies were the most harrowing, contributed hugely to the record, and unintentionally created an album chock-full of depression, addiction, loss, and other subjects in that vein.

But that is exactly why Dirt was so successful.

Just take a glance at the cover art. Not a pretty picture, is it" It represents the idea of the album perfectly, however. Dirt is about feeling low, depressed and sad, or as the title suggest, like dirt. The main subject focus here is Staley’s drug trouble, which literally half of the album is dedicated to. He wrote what was going through him at the time, and as such it is no surprise that all the songs (co-)written by him have the very same subject. Logically, these songs are also the most unpleasant to listen to, as they sound so downright mean and heavy that you cannot actually enjoy them at all times. Sickman, Junkhead, Dirt, God Smack and Hate to Feel are all driven by the haunting wail that Staley still has copyright on after all these years after his death, but there is of course a counter side to this. As well as its songs suit Dirt (which is just about perfectly), the vocals, but also the drowning distortion that the guitars produce do not contribute to a very pleasant listening experience. Facelift was already dark, but Dirt is much, much darker, and as such not suited for all moods. The funny thing about the album is simply that if you experience it in the right way, it is a masterpiece, but if you’re not in the right state of mind, it will be very, very unappealing and unpleasant indeed.

Staley does get it right on the interestingly sinister Angry Chair though, but the man behind the real quality material remains no one else than Cantrell, who always has been driving the band. Death in his near surroundings led him to ponder about mortality, leading to the immensely powerful Them Bones and Rain When I Die, although written by him, neither would have been half as good without Staley’s vocals. Cantrell further expresses his experience of depression (Down in a Hole), and describes the horrors his father experienced while serving in the Vietnam War (Rooster). The rest of his material is however topped by Dirt’s closer Would", which still stands today as one of Alice in Chains’ very best songs. The killer bass line, the figurative lyrics, the almost dreamy vocals, everything just fits in order to create the perfect closer.

In terms of influence, impact and thematic realization, Dirt is therefore of course no less than a classic. The cover art, instruments and vocals come together in one drug-heavy ride that offers some of Alice in Chains’ very best material, but where the overall theme is so well-realized, it is some of the individual tracks where the album falters. You’ll also need to be in a particular mood for it, but the album ultimately pays off. How much it does, is really depending on what state you are currently in. Some may think it a horrible affair, some may find it an undeniable classic, or anything in between. My experience with Dirt changes often, and although I have a hard time deciding whether this piece is worth a superb or classic rating, I have drawn an eventual conclusion: You cannot put a mark on this album. It is sick, harrowing, dark, and even beautiful music in places, but a number could not describe its quality. Dirt is more than an album. Dirt is an experience. Mostly, this is an excellent experience for me, for the most part, and that’s why I shall rate it that way. Everyone else has just got to see what they make of it. Because that is what you must ask yourself: what do YOU think of Dirt"

Yoda recommends:

Them Bones
Down in a Hole
Angry Chair
Rain When I Die

To be continued...

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Comments:Add a Comment 
September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

I reviewed this last year also, but that was a pretty poor review. Going off to college now, leave the comments in my wake if you please. Probably going to change that boring introduction later today.

September 25th 2009


I love "Would?"

good review, i should give this another spin.

September 25th 2009


oh and

unintentionally created an album chocked full

should be chock-full

September 25th 2009


I should check this out.

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

your rating is too low, just thought i'd point that out ;)

Digging: Morbid Angel - Kingdoms Disdained

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

What he said. Very nice review though.

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

I figured I'd get those reactions. Some of the songs here just don't appeal to me.

September 25th 2009


Cantrell's father didn't die in Vietnam.

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

You're right, I didn't do my research right. Will fix that.

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

Rooster is probably the most epic running song ever. Just throwing it out there.

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

the title track is my fav here. great review

September 25th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Awesome review for as awesome album

August 13th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

Great review, great album. Best tracks are Down In A Hole and Would?

Iron Gland always seems to give me the giggles though.

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