ALBUM REVIEW: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

AIC 2018

They were one of the heavyweights of the 90s metal/grunge scene, successfully blending melodic, down-tuned riffs and harmonies with crunching distortion and classic rock elements. Of course theirs is a tale of tragedy with the drug issues and subsequent death of singer Layne Staley curtailing them for a decade, but it is also one of resurrection, determination and integrity. 

Recruiting vocalist William DuVall 12 years ago, they’ve churned out three accomplished albums that have built on the band’s legacy. The latest, Rainier Fog takes the revitalised feel of their comeback album Black Gives Way To Blue and improves on the middling The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, with rewarding results.

Leading the pack is first single The One You Know with its serrated riff and headbanging call to arms. Jerry Cantrell and DuVall’s vocal harmonies are instantly recognisable as the song opens into a soaring, ‘eyes on the horizon’ type chorus. The title track, a reference to weather in Seattle and a tribute to the scene they grew out of, is another gem. Less metal and more of a churning punk feel, it springs from the speakers with a surging glam rush. Red Giant sounds like an outtake from the Dirt album while Maybe showcases their ability to blend acoustic guitars and sweeter melodies without losing the weight of their sound. Never Fade is the only real misfire in that it tries to blend the sound of Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots on an average song. 

Alice In Chains are still bound to their past but they’ve found a way to maintain relevance, grace and swagger with each new album they release and remain a benchmark in the world of hard rock.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Alice in Chains, Down, Walking Papers @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (25/03/14)

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1970598_10152256489576323_1837855079_nWalking Papers had a high curiosity factor, primarily for their members including Duff McKagan (G N’R) and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season) but with a fine opening set they showed they were the full band deal with singer/guitarist Jeff Angell working the mic stand, doing hat tricks and venturing into the audience for their final slice of dark psych-laden rock.

Down have been going for two decades and as such they are a well-oiled, mechanical beast of a band. Totally in sync with each other and led by the gonzo intensity of Phil Anselmo. He can still bellow and scream like a banshee between bashing his forehead with the mic and repeatedly calling for the crowd to put their arms in the air. The band were just as active but Anselmo led the way through a brutal set that culminated in road crew, entourage and Walking Papers members taking over their instruments for the final melee of a song.

Alice In Chains had a pretty high standard to follow but they nailed it completely. Bigger back-line, stadium lighting and a sound that was at gloriously crunchy and crystalline. They stated their case immediately with the opening pairing of Them Bones and Dam That River, instantly showing that they are well and truly beyond the ‘new singer’ syndrome with William DuVall nailing the songs faithfully yet also with his own personality. The rest of the set balanced the ‘classic hits’ with more recent material, barely allowing the momentum of the set to drop off. Rooster whipped up an immense sing-along while songs like Again showed how important rhythm and groove are to the sound of AIC. After 80 minutes they left the sweat-drenched and deafened Enmore audience with Would, possibly their finest song and the best possible way to round out a diverse and exceptional night of hard rock music.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

ALBUM REVIEW: Alice in Chains | The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

by Chris Familton

Rating7square-600Showing both strength of character and musical relevance, Alice In Chains survived the death of their singer, regrouped and recaptured the essence of their sound without it sounding like a retrogressive exercise. Their comeback album Black Gives Way to Blue confirmed that and now The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here finds them sounding even stronger and more self-assured.

Alice In Chains’ trademark churn and grind is still at the core of their sound and they stick firmly to the template of dark twisting riffs, vocals that often mirror guitar lines (as on the title track’s excellent chorus) and a big prowling rhythm section. Thematically the album is loosely a critique of right-wing ultra-conservatism with comments on religion and politics without sounding too preachy. With fewer acoustic turns than the past they instead slow some tracks, like the latter part of Breath On Window, whilst keeping things heavy and adding more melodic subtleties. Singer William DuVall (and indeed Jerry Cantrell) continues to sound eerily similar to the sadly departed Layne Staley, something that has allowed the band to retain a strong sense of continuity and surely they’ve now out ridden the ‘irreplaceable singer’ criticisms.

The strongest moments on The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here are when the band opens up with howling vocals and unabashed metal riffing. Phantom Limb, the excellent first single Hollow and Stone fill that bill and ensure that the few mediocre and plodding tracks are consigned as footnotes rather than frustrating failures. Sludge metal, hard rock – call it what you will, Alice In Chains are still one of the best proponents of heavy guitar music and showing no reason to court extinction.

this review was first published in Drum Media and on themusic.com.au

SONIC KICKS: Suzy Connolly

Suzy Connolly’s highly recommended debut album Night Larks that came out near the start of the year is still one of the best releases of 2012 so we wanted to delve into her musical history to find out what influenced her and which albums were landmarks at various points of her life.

The first album I bought…

The Police | Regatta De Blanc. I come from a large musical family. My older brothers and sisters would always buy me albums they wanted for themselves for my birthday but lucky for me they had good taste. I think I’d been given Outlandos d’Amour and I flipped out over it and went out and bought Regatta De Blanc with my hard earned pocket money!

The album that soundtracked a relationship…

Ed Harcourt | Here Be Monsters. Some albums just take you back to a certain place and time in your life and this one does just that. It always brings on a huge wave of melancholia!

The album that inspired me to be a musician…

The Beatles | A Hard Day’s Night. I was six years old and learned how to sing harmony listening to this album. It was the first Beatles I’d heard and completely blew my mind. It just sold me to the idea of making music.

The album that reminds me of my high school years…

The Jam | Sound Affects. I would listen to this album on my Sony Walkman coming home from school on the 440 bus to my Dad’s…”Reading the graffiti about slashed seat affairs”. One of my fave lyrics in a song.

The album I’d love to hear played in full live…

U2 | The Joshua Tree but I’d want to see it performed circa 1987, when it was still fresh.

My favourite album cover…

Bob Dylan | The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. So much heart in this image that just epitomises Greenwich Village in the 1960s but on par with The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo because I love graphic album covers and particularly this one.

My guilty pleasure album…

Biilly Joel | Greatest Hits. It’s like sensory overload listening to Billy Joel. The range of feelings he can inspire in just three minutes- He is a brilliant songwriter yet the cheese factor is just off the richter scale. A true love/hate relationship. Allentown is a fucking amazing song!

An album I loved but have no idea now why I bought it…

Alice in Chains | Dirt. I have no idea what I was thinking. Probably had more to do with a love interest.

The last album I bought…

Daniel Rossen | Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP. I’m a huge Grizzly Bear fan.The last full album I bought was Graham Nash | Songs For Beginners. I lost my CD so I bought it digitally. A great break up album, many of the songs inspired by an affair with Joni Mitchell.

Suzy Connolly’s Night Larks is out now via Laughing Outlaw Records and all good record shops.

REVIEW: ALICE IN CHAINS – Black Gives Way To Blue

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alice_in_chainsReunions, reunions… They are a dime a dozen these days, ranging from the heavyweights like Pixies, Led Zeppelin, Blur and Pavement to those that don’t garner the same column inches but are just as important like Magazine and Gang Of Four. Alice In Chains are in a slightly different boat in that they lost their singer Layne Staley to an early heroin grave and were faced with the conundrum of replacing their iconic frontman. Other bands have attempted the same thing (Blind Melon, Queen, INXS) with little success so Alice In Chains took their time and waited until William Duvall appeared on their radar and then tentatively began to write songs and tour their back catalog as a way of blooding the new singer.

Their show in Sydney at the start of 09 was simply astounding and showed that Duvall was a deserved replacement for Staley. He possessed a similar enough voice to do justice to the old songs and enough of his own style to make the role his own.

That brings us to Black Gives Way To Blue, the new album 14 years after their last self titled one. The death of Staley is all over the album but wisely it isn’t overly sentimental. The title alone references the transition of the band from mourning to a brighter future.

The title and closing track is the rawest moment on the album that is directed at Staley as Jerry Cantrell takes the lead vocal over Elton John’s piano and sings a heartfelt paean to a lost brother. There is no judgement or anger, just a fading memory as he sings ‘Fading out by design / consciously avoiding changes / curtain’s drawn now its done / silencing all tomorrows’. Cantrell seems to be accepting that Staley’s death was a suicide as a result of his lifestyle choices (or lack of).

Elsewhere Staley’s ghost looms large over the songs When The Sun Rose Again and Your Decision. All Secrets Known is also about their past but it puts it into the context of their future with its opening lines ‘Hope / a new beginning / time / time to start living’.

The great thing about Alice in Chains is they remain true to their essence. Black Gives Way To Blue retains the signature sound of Cantrell’s chugging, snaking and wah-driven insidious solos. They play metal that is slowed and intensified without becoming cartoonish and they have the ability (as on Your Decision) to strip away the bombast and reveal their softer side like they did on the Jar Of Flies EP back in 1993.

First single Check My Brain is a bit of a no brainer musically and was probably chosen as the most accessible track to re-introduce the band. It has a massive chorus that should make it an anthem of sorts but listen closer and it is a nice critique of the excesses of LA and sun, guns and bongs.

Duvall often has an uncanny likeness to Staley, especially on A Looking In View with his strangled howls and threatening tone. Once he hits the chorus though, there is a a stronger melodic thread that he promotes and it balances the song brilliantly as if he is channeling multiple voices.

Black Gives Way To Blue is a bold and confident return for Alice In Chains. In light of the recent work of their 90’s contemporaries like Pearl Jam (fairly uninspired), Soundgarden (Cornell, please wake up!) they stick to their strengths without just recycling past glories. With their new album Alice In Chains confirms that like Dinosaur Jr they are most deserved of a second run and they can still threaten and serenade with a bruised beauty that will engage both old and new listeners.

VIDEO: ALICE IN CHAINS video and album preview…

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ALICE IN CHAINS have posted a 5 minute sampler of their new album Black Gives Way To Blue which is out Sept 29 via Velvet Hammer.

The trademark AIC sound is still intact with their mystical acoustic songs and grinding psych metal workouts all present and accounted for.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

NEWS: ALICE IN CHAINS – free song from new album!

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Alice In Chains  played a stellar show at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre before returning to the US to complete their new album Black Gives Way To Blue which will be released in stores and online September 29th.

You can get a preview of the album with the track ‘A Looking In View’ available free to download from their new look site for the price of an email address.

It is a typical dark and twisting AIC song with new singer William DuVall sounding like a perfect match for the band. Welcome back!