After the death of iconic singer Layne Staley, it seemed that the identity of Alice in Chains had been lost forever. Staley’s rough, recognizable voice and dark, meaningful lyrics were two of the centerpieces of the band.
But the return of Alice in Chains sounds a lot like what made them famous with Staley. And why shouldn’t it? The driving musical force behind the band remains, with Jerry Cantrell still on guitar and providing vocals, Mike Inez still on bass and Sean Kinney still sitting at the drums. It’s not hard to sound like you do, even with the loss of an influencing and lead band member.
Cantrell and company added singer and guitarist William DuVall to the mix, whose voice automatically clicked with the band’s heavy metal tendencies and dark lyrical content.
Fans were reserved their right to be skeptical of the band’s return to the studio, but they might as well throw those reservations away, because Black Gives Way to Blue is an absolute time machine, transporting listeners back to the heyday of Alice in Chains. All that’s missing is everyone’s favorite lead singer.
And as far as the new goes, DuVall fits in perfectly. “Last of My Kind” works as one of the heaviest songs on the album and proves to be DuVall’s initiation to the band. The song is both lyrically and vocally impressive, as DuVall finds what will be the song that will make even the sternest Alice fan accept him.
It’s safe to say that Cantrell is the leader of the band. Much like on the band’s first three albums and numerous other recordings, Cantrell appears as both the main vocalist and as a dual vocalist to accompany DuVall. What was one of the most significant and recognizable components of the Alice in Chains style were the unique vocal harmonies between Cantrell and Staley of sometimes overlapping content. All of that is reborn with DuVall at Cantrell’s direction.
Cantrell’s guitar playing is up to par as well. The Wah-wah effect and absolutely heavy metal playing complete with soaring solos is noticeable just about everywhere on the album. Cantrell’s riffs have always pummeled at the ears of its listeners, and is does so here too, just give “A Looking in View” a listen. Melody wise, no one really constructs a song like Cantrell does, and this dark, brooding style is one of the best parts of Alice in Chains.
Where you won’t hear those particular Cantrell solos and riffs are on the bands slowed down acoustic tracks. Either I’m crazy or “Your Decision” sounds just like “Nutshell” or another classic Alice in Chains acoustic work. “Black Gives Way to Blue” features the unlikely teaming with Elton John on piano, but it really works, and proves to be a beautiful exit for what is a thunderous album.
My winner on the album is “Private Hell”, a morose ballad that might be the most similar to old track on the album. The “Ahhhhhhhhh’s” belted out by Cantrell and Duvall doesn’t do anything but make me imagine Staley singing a track as great as this one.
As far as content goes, it’s all here. The lyrics are mostly dark, totally relatable and memorable, and the music gives you a taste of the past. The album is the way heavy and hard rock should be done, and I’m glad one of the greatest bands to play the genre of rock has returned to show the rest how it’s done.
Black Gives Way to Blue is a tremendous ode to lost singer Staley and good music and general. The debate about whether or not the guys should have changed the name of the band might linger, but I don’t care, if you can point me in the direction of a better return to brilliance than this, I’d love to hear it.