Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Album Review: Alice In Chains - "Alice In Chains"

Some people love 90s grunge. I am not one of those people. One of my friends requested that I listen to and review Alice In Chains' self-titled third album. I had never really listened to Alice In Chains before, so I was interested. Then I hit play. Ugh. Just my luck. It's goddamned grunge.

Well, not quite.

Alice In Chains don't fall under the same category of grunge I've heard before. They're no Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Stone Temple Pilots. It might just be my inexperience with the genre, but Alice In Chains gave off a bit of a stoner rock vibe to me. This album reminded me heavily of Kyuss circa 1992, but less heavy and without John Garcias' sweet, smokey vocals.

I have to hand it to guitarist Jerry Cantrell, his style of playing stands head and shoulders above other grunge guitarists. His riffs are groovy and dark, chugging and bouncing around with purpose. His lead playing is interesting too, with lots and lots of melodic leads being played pretty much all the way through the album. A lot of the time they're long drawn out notes that hold suspense or provide a dissonant clash against the rhythm playing, and sometimes they're more involved, more technical (well, technical for grunge) passages as well. I have to admit that Cantrell's playing is what I enjoyed most about this album.

The rhythm section is tight too, with Sean Kinney's drums and Mike Inez's bass playing providing a solid backbone to Cantrell's riffing. Although Kinney's chops seem great while listening to the album, once the album closes, I couldn't really remember much of it. In fact, when I try to remember specific points in the album, they come up blurred and distorted. None of the album really stuck with me all that well. Again, that might just be my inexperience with grunge, but I think a testament to great music is that it should stick in your head.

If there's one thing that I did remember after the album, it would be the late Layne Staley's vocals. I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak from this, but here goes nothing. I don't like them. I wouldn't say I hate them, because saying that would chalk Staley's voice up there with JBeibz, Lil' Wayne, and Nikki Minaj, and quite frankly, he doesn't deserve that. Objectively, his vocals are something praise-worthy. He's got a good range and he can convey his emotions perfectly fine. It's just the tone of his voice that sounds like someone taking a belt sander to my ears. The harmonies he takes with Cantrell are even more painful for me. This is all personal taste, don't forget. Maybe you'll love his voice. Give Alice In Chains a listen and determine for yourself how you feel about it.

The last couple things I want to touch on are production and running time. Production is great, keeping all the instruments and vocals well balanced in the mix, and making sure everything sounds nice, thick, and warm without getting too muddy. I've got to say that the running time is lengthy. Very lengthy. Alice In Chains spans just over an hour in length (about 65 minutes), making it one of the longer albums I've listened to in a while (other contenders include Dopesmoker, The Wall, Yellow & Green, and Lateralus). Not many albums can stay enjoyable all the way through when they clock in at over an hour in length. To keep me immersed in it for its entire running time, the music has to get shaken up a bit and go through some changes during the album (except for Dopesmoker, because "sometimes the riff is just so fuckin' good that you just want to hear it over, and over, and over again. Sometimes for 52 minutes."). If Alice In Chains cut out a couple songs and/or trimmed a couple of the 7+ minute long songs and brought everything down to 40 minutes or so, I think I'd have enjoyed Alice In Chains much more. It's tough to sit through almost half an hour's worth of music more once you're tired of a certain band/ genre. Think of me forcing you to listen to Pig Destroyer's Prowler in the Yard immediately after you finished with Carcass' Symphonies of Sickness ( there's a NSFW picture on that page. Unless you work in a slaughterhouse or butcher shop). 

Yeah. You'd get sick of it too.

Bomb-Ass Tracks

Heaven Beside You: This track's main riff gives off a southern rock style sound with the twisty turvy main riff and the deep fried licks over top. And when it hits the swingy half-time of the post-chorus, you can't help but headbang a little.

I know there are usually three songs listed here, but this is really the only one that stood out to me.

On a Playlist With: Pearl Jam, Kyuss, Soundgarden

Overall Score


For me, Alice In Chains wasn't what I would call a bad album, but it's most probably not going to stick with me. I really liked the guitar work and riffing, as well as the big stoner rock feel I got out of the album, but having to listen to Staley's voice for so long kinda killed it for me.

I feel like if you're someone who likes grunge, then this album is a a great piece for your collection. If you aren't into grunge, then I don't think this album will really do anything for you. I can see the appeal, but it's just not for me. I'm going to keep it on my iPod for sure though, and should I feel inspired to listen to it again, maybe I'll make a re-review for it.

That's all for now, folks. Keep rocking those ripped jeans and flannel shirts.

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