The follow up to 2009’s ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ is the second since Layne Staley’s untimely death in 2002. Instantly recognizable as an Alice In Chains thanks to the continued input of the ever present Jerry Cantrell, it’s also the second album to feature Staley’s replacement William DuVall. To many Staley was Alice In Chains, it’s lifeblood, it’s identity , its focal point and yet there’s no denying that DuVall has more than ably filled the void; arguably surpassing the original lead singer with his control and clarity whilst still continuing the legacy started so successfully by his predecessor.
‘Dirt’ remains a classic, its identity and success owing much to Staley’s honest interpretation of lyrics and songs written about addiction, rendered even more poignant now by his drug related death years later.
The Seattle scene, which included Alice In Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden began to take over the mainstream with Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ drawing first blood in 1992. ‘Nevermind’ was to knock Michael Jackson off the Billboard number one position. Alice In Chains had already released their debut and yet things only picked up for them on the back of Nirvana as the whole grunge phenomena exploded.
Clearly no grunge band new or old is going to enjoy a repeat of those successes and yet Alice In Chains still command a huge amount of respect and their longevity has to be admired.
The overall feel to ‘The Devil…’ is that it’s a slightly lighter brand of what’s gone before. It was always likely to be lighter than early material such was the angst of youth and the introspective nature of the subject matter and yet it remains a shade lighter even than its predecessor. There’s the deep low of ‘Hollow’ and the chugging ‘Phantom Limb’ keeping Cantrell gainfully employed but the emphasis has shifted onto atmosphere and haunting histrionics. ‘Low Ceiling’ declares that “Mr fun is back” when clearly the depressive tone says not-ironically this is one of the albums standouts with Cantrell’s solo a high point. There’s more than a hint of Black Sabbath to the haunting ‘Lab Monkey’ and the title track has a brooding sparse bleakness all of its own. The most noticeably commercial offering on offer is the relatively uplifting ‘Scalpel’ complete with layered vocals on a hook heavy chorus and a special mention is reserved for the excellent ‘Breath On a Window’ a great example of the 2013 Alice In Chains.
If you’re not a believer in grunge music or Alice In Chains then this album is unlikely to convert you to the cause. However if you count yourself as one of those open minded people who enjoy great rock music or are an existing fan of one of rock music’s pioneering greats then this release will have you champing at the bit. Let’s face it how many of today’s modern rock bands playing their trade would be around if it wasn’t for Alice in Chains. Makes you think doesn’t it?