Alice In Chains
Black Gives Way To Blue
28 September 2009
by Raziq Rauf
This is only the fourth studio album from seminal grungers, Alice In Chains. For a band held in such high esteem, you’d expect this to be somewhere closer to double figures but no. Instead, it nods toward the unfinished business following lead singer, Layne Staley’s tragic death in 2002, over seven years after their last album. This is business that the Seattle-based troupe is clearly keen to persevere with.
New singer, William DuVall – a hardcore singer from Atlanta, Georgia – is almost indistinguishable from Staley in terms of pitch, tone and delivery but it’s far from being a simple exercise in grunge rock karaoke. While Staley was always the undisputed frontman of the band, it was the vocal dynamic between him and lead guitarist, Jerry Cantrell which really carried the band to the heights they ultimately reached.
While Cantrell and DuVall have been friends and touring buddies on the guitarist’s occasionally solo jaunts, the heartfelt harmonies of old have made way for alternating vocals with one or the other more likely to take duties at any one time. The subject matter, however, is just as honest, bitter and fuelled by self-hatred and despair.
While half of the album is delivered in the trademark snarling fashion of second single, ‘Check My Brain’ and the relentless but melodic chugging of ‘Last of my Kind’ and ‘A Looking in View’, the title track is wholly indicative of the musical flipside of the record. Featuring tinkled ivories from none other than Elton John, the touching ballad serves as a fitting tribute to the band’s late friend and colleague.
Watch the video to ‘A Looking In View’ by Alice In Chains
AIC slip into the gentle baladeering more frequently than you might expect but with a songwriter of the calibre of Cantrell, there are always surprises and, in this case, the surprises are more than welcome as the band showcases their all of their talents with ease and often overwhelming elegance.
The fact that Alice In Chains still sound like Alice In Chains means that Staley’s tainted talent will never be forgotten. Every single one of their fans from a decade ago should be able to slip seamlessly back into the routine of this fantastic band. Despite the most monumental of obstacles, Black Gives Way to Blue is an overwhelming success.
Sounds like: the ghost of Layne Staley, Alice In bloody Chains
Top tracks: A Looking In View, Check My Brain, Black Gives Way To Blue
Review reposted from BBC Music under creative commons license