By: Timothy Coffman, Columnist
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Alice In Chains is best known for being one of the premier acts to come out of the grunge scene of the early to mid-1990s. While embracing the alternative mindset of the 90s, the band had a much tougher approach to their songs that was reminiscent of the early days of metal, such with acts like Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult.
Their string of albums during the alternative boom was amplified by the distinctive harmonies of singer Layne Staley and guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell. However, in 2002, Staley passed away because of a drug overdose. He had been dealing with drug abuse since the band’s inception. For the last few years, the band has carried on with singer William DuVall filling Staley’s shoes, and their new release “Rainier Fog” is their first in five years, after “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” in 2013. After a few years of having a new singer, can the band reach the same sonic peaks as they did almost 30 years ago?
The album certainly displays a sludgier approach that sounds like their darker earlier work only more gargantuan. Album cuts such as “Drone” and the title track have a guitar sound that has an indefinable weight that makes each riff sound absolutely crushing. However, across these 10 tracks, the band does have certain sonic detours which are quite interesting. For instance, “Fly” is a song reminiscent of their acoustic on their EP “Jar of Flies,” while the closer “All I Am” gives you the feeling of trudging your way through a thick desert. Also, the single “Never Fade” has lyrical passages that pay tribute to the band’s former singer Staley as well as the recently-deceased fellow grunge icon Chris Cornell.
However, the album does have a few sonic missteps across its track listing as well. For one, some of the songs could afford to be cut down in length. While I understand the group’s aesthetic for sludgy metal, the slower tempos of much of the material can get a bit tedious at times. Also, while DuVall does a pleasant job at filling Staley’s place vocally, I can’t help but feel that he is being a tad restricted by Cantrell. While Cantrell is a fantastic singer in his own right, the songs which feature him on lead vocals don’t give DuVall as much opportunities to display his vocal prowess.
This album is certainly going to be a treat for fans of Alice In Chains; I would encourage fairweather fans to proceed with caution. While this album is certainly good for what it is, it doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of the group’s earlier output. But for what it’s worth, it is great to see a band trying new things instead of piggybacking off their back catalog. While nothing spectacular, I look forward to the next release.