It’s an impossible task to replace greatness!
A few years ago the only 90’s Seattle grunge group worth their weight in dope, ALICE IN CHAINS, no doubt infuriated legions of overly opinionated Gen Xers by reforming and recording a new set of songs without their original lead singer, the talented yet troubled drug casualty Layne Staley. Presumably to the ire of Velvet Revolver and Audioslave fans everywhere, a relative unknown, guitarist/vocalist William DuVall from LA-based rock act Comes With The Fall, was hand chosen by AIC songwriter, lead guitarist and co-vocalist Jerry Cantrell to stand in for the departed Junkhead instead of some big name that would have surely propelled the hype machine forward faster. Though anyone deeply and truly touched by this brilliant unit’s often morbid music will easily see the merit in its new incarnation, there are likely many narrow-minded morons who took foolish offense to an AIC frontman with skin a great deal darker than Layne’s near translucent, sun-starved exterior.
Understandably, such a drastic move did sound strange to even some of the most dedicated fans of ALICE IN CHAINS, who are certainly entitled to a skeptical opinion on their beloved band’s true intentions for reuniting without their fallen comrade, but as history reflects, they were always the grungers who chose the road less traveled. While Kurt Cobain constantly did his very damndest to carefully and calculatedly posture himself as the epitome of the enticing underbelly of early 90’s despair in America, AIC seemed far more dark, drugged and depressed than the overrated Nirvana ever were, more content spending their time languishing in the shadows than the spotlight. This attitude oozed from monumentally influential early releases like 1992's grunge metal masterpiece DIRT, which featured the instantly infamous lyrics: “What’s my drug of choice? Well what have you got?” and the attitude even seeped into their mellower acoustic excursion EPs: S.A.P. and Jar Of Flies.
While Layne Staley was perceived by many as the dark horse of the band, more perceptive fans were well aware that guitarist Jerry Cantrell was not just responsible for writing the musical soundtrack to the group's tales of misery but also for nearly as many lyrical contributions as Staley. This confliction was confirmed by Cantrell's solo output once ALICE IN CHAINS went on hiatus in the late 90's, most notably with his second record, the sprawling 2-disc set Degradation Trip, released just before Layne's death in 2002, which felt like a natural continuation from the group's grim 1995 Self-Titled swan song. A couple years of touring for that solo album actually sowed the seeds for the impending reunion as future AIC singer William Duvall stood in as backing vocalist and rhythm guitarist with Cantrell's group. All it took was one inspired performance onstage with Duvall and original Alice In Chains members Mike Inez (bass) and Sean Kinney (drums) to convince that there was still unfinished business amongst them.
Now on their second release since rekindling their collective fire, May's The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, their follow-up to the Grammy nominated comeback Black Gives Way To Blue, further confirms that Cantrell and his cohorts never skipped a beat during their lengthy time away. The album features songs like the surprisingly heavy "Phantom Limb” and album opener "Hollow," reminiscent of a time when a three-legged dog graced the cover of an AIC record. “Voices” and “Scalpel” both find the band in more ponderous, acoustic-driven mode, seemingly lamenting the loss of Layne at times but also reminding listeners that even as survivors you're never left unscathed. Making your way through so much shit will certainly make someone a bit cynical, and ALICE IN CHAINS are no less susceptible than most as evidenced by the thunderous title track's lyrics "No problem with faith, just fear" and it's crazily creepy accompanying video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0_2Wq9Aos4. Yet a sense of entitlement is derived from survival and the wisdom attained through the experience is priceless, assuring that Cantrell will have many more dark tales to tell.
ALICE IN CHAINS perform this Saturday at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix.
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