Since I was a boy, I have been a proud Alice in Chains fan. They were the Seattle band that in the 90’s a snotty little metal kid like me could feel was their own. They were also the band that the indie scenesters and bandwagon alternative rock fans couldn’t hang with, as AIC was far too metal. They sounded a lot like Sabbath, and toured with Thrash Metal royalty like Testament, Anthrax and Megadeth. Tom Araya of Slayer even was guest on a track, and Alice in Chains were good pals with Metallica. Mr. Ulrich called Dirt one of his favorite records EVER, and still does! I agree with this. I love every note of music they have released and therefore a new release from AIC is always an exciting time.
There are those that haven’t paid much attention to anything the Alice in Chains has done since William DuVall joined the band, and refuse to really accept them without the dearly missed Layne Staley. Well, fools they be, because AIC are still making incredible music. Black Gives Way to Blue was a triumphant return for a band many never saw happening. The ghost of Layne was all over the record in both mood and subject matter, but that didn’t hinder at all. William Duvall was, perhaps sensibly, kept quite restrained, and rarely had any parts where he was singing without Jerry Cantrell’s vocal accompaniment. It would have been too much, too soon for some fans. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was a fantastic follow up, but very dense and twisted. A real for-fans-only release, and further reinforced that Alice in Chains do this for themselves first and foremost. It was perhaps a darker record than anything the band had previously done, and that’s a pretty weighty statement, I know.
So now, what of Rainier Fog? Can AIC keep the fine run up to form? You bet your ass they can! In fact, Alice in Chains have gone and smashed it out the freaking park. I’d say this is their third best record, and better than the self-titled record of 1995. What makes Rainier Fog so special is difficult to say. However, this IS a record review, so you need something more than just “it’s wonderful!” I think Alice in Chains is finally comfortable with themselves again, having no second guesses or over thinking. This is where the new Alice lets back in old Alice to play rather than keeping her chained in the corner (see what I did there?) One of the songs released before the album itself was ‘Never Fade,’ which is a perfect example of the two sounds colliding. The closest you get to an out and out single like ‘Check My Brain’ or ‘Voices’ is the title track. It sits snugly between the schizophrenic opening stomp of ‘The One You Know,’ and the so-creepy-it-easily-could-have-been-on-dirt ‘Red Giant,’ which has one of best choruses you will hear all year. A glance at the lyrics makes you think Alice in Chains are talking about their commander in chief. With that said, these lyrics are the best the band has penned in a long time.
Hardcore fans are going to really enjoy the albums mid-section of ‘Drone,’ ‘Deaf Ears, Blind Eyes,’ and ‘Maybe.’ These are the real deep cuts, with brethren tracks like ‘Love, Hate, Love’ and ‘Junkhead.’ You know, the tracks where the pace is achingly slow, the tempos inconsistent, and the mood is smoky and sinister. There are hooks here, but you must work with them to allow them to embed into you slowly and excruciating, but once in you, they are there to stay. Wonderful.
Performance wise, this hardly needs to be said, but vocally, Duvall and Cantrell are beyond reproach. Alice in Chains’ trademark, unconventional melodies and harmonies are as strong as ever. Sean Kinney is still one of Rock music’s most underrated drummers, and its hard to think of many more tasteful players. He is much more solid than flashy, a true inspiration within his art. Cantrell’s lead lines are the real star on Rainier Fog. His licks and solos are often a track’s high point.
Final mention for me must be the closing ‘All I Am.’ I feel like this is one of the most beautiful closing tracks you will hear this year, and even rivals the gorgeous title track from Black Gives Way to Blue. The run time is over seven minutes, but I could go another seven. Perhaps an effective way to end this review is with lyrics from this track that seems to sum up the whole vibe of Rainier Fog for me.
“Ghosts and damage no advantage for me
I’m past believing
Understand the price you pay disarming
When you can leave it all behind”