Black Gives Way To Blue

Alice In Chains

Virgin, 2009

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Reunions are a dubious prospect. Rarely do they come off as anything more than cash grabs, and rarely do any resulting albums have lasting value or anything to do with modern music. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, and at worst it can do a disservice to the original band’s name…especially if one of the key band members is no longer living (thank God Led Zeppelin never released anything new after John Bonham died).

Fortunately, the latest outing from Alice In Chains avoids most of these pitfalls, mostly because a) the band never actually finished its musical journey the first time, so b) it’s not a reunion, but an extension.

Brief history: Alice In Chains was one of the Big Four of Seattle’s grunge scene, although they were mostly a heavy metal band (not hair metal, but more in the Black Sabbath tradition). After some solid work in the early ‘90s, lead singer Layne Staley became a heroin casualty, locking himself away after the death of his fiancée in 1996 and finally passing away himself in 2002.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band’s eponymous disc was the last proper release of its career in 1995; since then, only hits collections, a live disc and the MTV Unplugged appearance have seen the light. Black Gives Way To Blue is the first proper studio album in 14 years and features the original band with lead singer William DuVall (of Comes With the Fall) stepping into Staley’s shoes.

Since Alice In Chains just sort of faded away following Staley’s deterioration – and since Alice in Chains was only entertaining in brief spurts – one got the sense that the band was itching to get back to work, and that passion shows through on this release. It may be a stretch to accuse the band of having fun (six-minute doomy dirges about desperate plans and acid bubbles aren’t exactly pick-me-ups) but it’s clear the band is rejuvenated, passionate and ready to pick up where they left off.

The dense, layered guitar riffs and blending of DuVall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s voices on the slower numbers will remind fans of the old days, but rather than replicate Staley’s primal howls and drug-addled depths, DuVall is his own man who brings a different sensibility. “A Looking In View” will remind listeners of those longer tracks on Dirt, while “Lesson Learned” harkens back to Facelift with better production.

Radio rightly played the moody acoustic piece “Your Decision” and the damn-near-bouncy “Check My Brain;” both rank up there with AIC’s best work and likely won the band a new generation of fans (or should have). “All Secrets Known” and “Last Of My Kind” are other highlights, as is the closing title track, a note to Layne with piano by Elton John (yes, really). There are no outright bad tracks to be found, although a few seem to plod along in the murk for longer than they should and Layne is not around to rescue them like he would have in the old days.

Make no mistake, this band is Alice In Chains. No other band better mixes the slow grind of Sabbath metal with beautiful acoustic set pieces and the minor key moodiness of ‘90s alternative rock. Without Layne Staley, the band loses something in the way of heart – you can’t help thinking how he would have transformed “Your Decision” the way he transformed “Nutshell” back in 1994 – but if you can get past his absence, you will find a solid slab of hard rock that is worthy of the Alice in Chains name.

Rating: B+

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