It has been almost 8 years now since one of rocks most distinctive singers and Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley lost his bout with drug addiction and passed away. It has also been 14 years since Chains fans got a new album from the Seattle group. Times they may change, but the music, well in this writers ears, stays the same.
I was as skeptical as every long time fan of the group who many credit as being one of the pioneers of the Seattle Grunge sound, in seeing a comeback with a new voice and a new attitude. Enter former Damageplan singer, and guitarist William DuVall. DuVall in no way is here to be Staley as he has stated several times, and Chains is not trying to trick any of us into believing that Staley lives on, however their latest album “Black Gives Way To Blue” is as classic Alice In Chains album as one will hear. 20 years removed from the bands first big album, “Facelift” that produced the classic song “Man In The Box” comes this effort and hit song “Check My Brain” which is so very much Cantrell/Staley-like that its almost eerie.
[adinserter block=”1″]It is very rare that a band will carry on after losing such an iconic singer, although in the past it has happened, and to some mixed reviews. Van Halen brought in Sammy Hagar after a split with David Lee Roth, but the band seemed to go in a slightly different direction, and fans had lovingly called them “Van Haggar” as to show that while the core band was the same, it had changed a bit with the presence of Haggar. After a leave by Haggar, the band added former Extreme front man Gary Cherone, produced one album, and graciously threw him out on his can. Then there was AC/DC, forced to add a new singer after the passing of legendary voice Bon Scott. Like Alice In Chains, AC/DC was lucky enough to find a voice very similar to the one it had lost and brought in Bryan Johnson. With Johnson on board the band did not change a single bit of style and is still bringing it large today.
So here is Chains, or as true die hard fans call them “Alice In Chains”, with 3 long time members, Jerry Cantrell, who many say is the true leader, bassist Mike Inez, who has been with Alice In Chains since 1993, and drummer Sean Kinney, who has been with them since the beginning, and the new, or being here since 2005, not-so-new William DuVall. If you want to think that the band died with Staley, then you are cheating yourself of a fantastic voyage into the very distinctive rhythmic rips that Alice In Chains has always, and still is delivering. Quite frankly, Cantrell has always struck many as very anal about his music, so one would swear that he would not put out a second-rate product.
I was more then lucky enough to catch a recent Alice In Chains show at The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa, a smaller, more quaint type of venue, and a perfect choice for Alice In Chains to slowly win back its long time fans. Trying to jump into huge arenas may have had some fans thinking that this was clearly a money act. DuVall, Alice In Chains fans, is no money act. He is not some passer-bye helping Alice In Chains band members collect some cash. He has found his way into owning his spot on stage, and transforming the songs of the past into Alice In Chains songs, instead of songs sung by Staley. His voice commands your attention and dares you to try and say its not real Alice In Chains music. He smoothly found his way through classics such as “Man In The Box”, “And We Die Young”, “Angry Chair” and then brought the house down during the encore with perfect versions of the bands Monicur songs “Would?” and “Rooster”. In between he and the band delivered new hits like “Check My Brain” and you did not once think it was any different. People standing throughout the entire show, singing along, lighting the lighters, and not a speck of disappointment, Alice In Chains for all that will listen, are indeed back.
[adinserter block=”2″]There is still a piece of Staley that does not die, or at least a piece that still touches the band. At one point of the show, Cantrell had made a brief statement about being a “drug free band” and DuVall commented that they are all about “hugs and not drugs”. It was very heavily publicized before the passing of Staley that he had several fall-outs with Cantrell and other band mates due to his addiction and at one point shortly before his death, told members of the press “if you want to know anything about me, don’t reach out to Alice In Chains members, they are not my friends and are not my family”. Cantrell had made reference to the difficulty of the drug battles in solo work such as “Cut You In” where he referenced to a drug using man as a “part-time friend” and he would “call him up whenever he was stoned”. Truly the hinders of the past will not slow Alice In Chains down in the present, or at least that is the message they want to deliver.
So when I am asked, and I have been, what Alice In Chains sounds like and is the band going to survive, I will say a big yes! It is not a lounge act trying to recapture glory days of a once great band, but rather a group that is taking over from exactly where it left off. I highly recommend listening to the new material and catching a show if you are fortunate enough to get a ticket, they do sell fast. Alice In Chains will be back in Philly this summer as part of local rock station 93.3 WMMR’s yearly concert “The MMRBQ” along with another reconnected group Stone Temple Pilots. Perhaps spending time with Alice In Chains will help STP frontman Scott Weiland take a step back and realize how quickly drug abuse can take it all away.
It seems funny for a rock band to be “Anti-Drug” pioneers, but like it or not, the very existence of Alice In Chains to this day has to make some think and take notice. I for one feel the message they deliver, and I for one am an Alice In Chains fan for life. It’s good to have them back!
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