Alice in Chains is a grunge/metal outfit from Seattle, Washington. They’re considered one of the “big four” of grunge rock as well as one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Their first run in the spotlight is perhaps the more memorable, debuting in 1990 with Facelift, followed by Dirt and the self-titled LP in ’92 and ’95 respectively. In addition, one can’t help but mention the group’s icon pair of EP’s, Sap and Jar of Flies, that latter of which is a dark horse choice for their best release. Despite tremendous success, the group went on hiatus when lead singer, Layne Staley began to spiral downward after the death of his fiancé in 1996, until his eventual passing in 2002.
Alice in Chains wouldn’t return to the shelves until 2009 with the fantastic and powerful, Black Gives Way to Blue. This was followed in 2013 with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, with which the band received further praise, and now they’ve returned again with Rainier Fog. Despite endless controversy and difficulty over their career, when Alice in Chains goes into the studio, they rarely disappoint, and this most recent effort is no exception.
The elephant in the room when it comes to the most recent run from the band is, of course, the lead vocal. William DuVall is no slouch when it comes to rock history with a long career in the hardcore punk scene, but it is and always will be true that Layne Staley is irreplaceable. However, DuVall does quite the job fronting the band on this record. He turns in a fantastic performance on opener, and my favorite track, “The One You Know,” as well as “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes,” and “Maybe.” The mix allows him to be at once etherial, and yet commanding and powerful.
Mike Inez’s bass work is also quite the highlight on this project. What he may lack in speed, he more than returns with an ear for interesting bass melodies. Tracks like “Fly,” and “Never Fade,” simply wouldn’t be the same without his bass lines.
Lyrically, Alice in Chains keeps it characteristically dark. The closer, “All I Am,” focuses on regret and searching for meaning, while “Drone,” touches on toxic relationships and mental health. “Red Giant,” even delves into fame and politics, topics which DuVall is more than comfortable dealing in, given his work with punk acts like Neon Christ. In each of these songs, as well as across the entire album, the lyricism finds some way to be both expressive and visual, yet direct and pointed.
The drum work stands out quite a bit as well. The snare shot’s on the title track are sharp and well mixed, and Sean Kinney anchors every single track with rhythms which are ever present, but never smothering, even including a few fantastic tempo changes.
The real highlight of this project, however, is the guitar work. Jerry Cantrell, a founding member of Alice in Chains, crafts one thickly layered instrumental after another, and is generally the best part of every single track. His rhythm work on tracks like “Never Fade,” and “The One You Know,” set’s a fantastic tone while his leads on “All I Am,” and “Maybe,” are easily the best pieces of already fantastic songs. Throughout every second of the nearly hour long runtime, Cantrell seams to be giving his all, and it is much appreciated.
This album isn’t perfect, and it certainly isn’t Alice’s best, but it is supremely impressive. Nearly three decades after their infamous debut, one of the most revolutionary bands in rock and roll is not only still kicking, but dropping excellent work. All too often, when rock bands find their way to the limelight for being ahead of their time, they tend to chase trends in an attempt to stay at the top of the industry. This has been the fate of far too many from Linkin Park to Aerosmith, and it’s a sad fate to see befall a beloved group. But Alice in Chains, in spite of the march of time they’re battling, in spite of the loss of Layne Staley, one of rock’s most incredible voices, and despite constant pressure they’ve endured at the top of their fields for so long, has given us yet another amazing album to enjoy in Rainier Fog.
We already knew that Alice in Chains was once one of the most influential, creative, and talented rock bands in the world. All that Rainier Fog proves is that they still are.
HEAR RAINIER FOG: https://open.spotify.com/album/4AAPRl8BKlsIVC5aeedlBv