Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue
Virgin
Heavy Metal/Grunge
11 songs (54'11")
Release year: 2009
Alice In Chains, Virgin
Reviewed by Adam
Major event
For me, Alice in Chains died with Layne Staley in 2002. Well, or so I thought. After initially stating no intentions to carry on, and then toying with the idea of writing new material with a new vocalist and a different name, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney decided to keep the Alice in Chains moniker. This was a move that I felt some trepidation towards. I had never heard new vocalist William DuVall’s previous work in Comes With The Fall, but I figured he would either be a Staley impersonator or someone whose vocals were so drastically different that they would lead to the band not sounding like themselves. Turns out he is neither. The key to the band’s first album in 14 years is that Jerry Cantrell executed the perfect plan to introduce DuVall to people like me gradually for an album that sounds undeniably 100% like the Alice in Chains we are used to hearing.

By gradually, I mean that you really can’t even tell any difference vocally between DuVall and Staley for the first two tracks. This is because Jerry chose to keep the vocals strictly to the harmonized beauty fans are accustomed to, while keeping his lower register as the dominant voice in the pair. The first track, All Secrets Known, gives me chills and is the perfect opener after a long hiatus with lyrics such as “Hope, a new beginning/Time, time to start living/Just like just before we died”. Even the chorus with it chant of “There’s no going back to the place where we started from” is a slap of reality for those of us who thought this band was finished. The eerie and plodding guitar progression coupled with the trademark darkly harmonized vocals makes for one of the better tracks on the album, and alleviated any doubts I had right away. The second track is the single Check My Brain, a tale of Cantrell’s relocation to California. I was initially lukewarm to this song as I felt the lyrics of sunny days didn’t match the dark sound, but I have come around thanks to a catchy chorus vocals (once again with Cantrell’s voice dominant) and superb bending guitar riffs. Last of My Kind serves as DuVall’s grand entrance, as he takes lead vocals throughout. His vocals really don’t sound anything like Layne’s, as they are more nasal and less tortured sounding, but they are also by no means bad (in fact they’re very good) and certainly don’t detract from the overall sound. The chorus is particularly menacing, with the hardest riffing and most aggressive vocals on the album. At times, it really doesn’t sound much like an Alice in Chains song at all, though that’s not a detriment in this case. Overall, I would have to say that as far as introductions, this one is a rousing success. DuVall even contributed to the songwriting. Any fans of the Unplugged sound will enjoy the sweet acoustic blues of Your Decision, a track which has a melody that sounds a bit like Nutshell. Anyone anticipating this album has probably heard A Looking in View as it was the first single, but I still feel it is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, efforts on the entire album. The guitars are immensely heavy, including Inez’s thunderous bass, and the chorus vocal cries are nothing short of excellent. After…uh…looking at the album in its entirety, I feel this is the best example of the tried and true Alice sound marrying with the new style DuVall’s vocals bring to the table. When the Sun Rose Again is another dark acoustic number, but manages to sound even bleaker, complete with an outstanding guitar solo. A ritualistic drum sound is also used to great effect. The track that frustrates me most is probably Acid Bubble. This is a bit strange because I consider it one of the finest on the album. For just about the first three minutes, the sound is an almost perfect recollection of the twisted sounds found on Facelift. In fact, I would put it right up there with the best that album has to offer. At this point, I was penciling it in as the high point of the album, but a curious breakdown that really just sounds out of place kills takes it down a few pegs. A repeat of this alternation follows. Despite this, the good moments are enough to carry it to at least near the top of the heap. The next three tracks are a bit interchangeable, and are some of the only efforts on the album that didn’t stick with me. They are not bad, just not songs I would go specifically searching for when I put the album on. That said, the pained sound of Private Hell has moments of greatness, particularly in the chorus. It’s not often that music literally brings me to tears, but the closing title track tribute to Layne Staley comes really damn close. Cantrell’s lyrics and vocals are heartfelt and emotional passage to his late friend, and the inclusion of piano accompaniment by none other than Sir Elton John is an excellent addition that really tugs at my heartstrings.

As it was in 1995, those who sounded the death knell of Alice in Chains are eating some serious crow right now. The 14-year hiatus has not changed the sound of this band one iota, and I have to believe no amount of time will as long as Cantrell is around. Then again, those of us who followed his solo work already knew that. In truth, the only real change could come in the form of the new vocalist. Luckily, William DuVall was an excellent choice for a replacement, and the new style he brings is not one of wholesale change, which made it easy for him to settle in. Yes, Alice in Chains is alive and well, and I for one will say that it feels damn good to have them back.
Killing Songs :
All Secrets Known, A Looking in View, Acid Bubble
Adam quoted 90 / 100
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Khelek quoted 85 / 100
Aleksie quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Alice In Chains that we have reviewed:
Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here reviewed by Khelek and quoted 87 / 100
Alice In Chains - Alice in Chains reviewed by Adam and quoted 89 / 100
Alice In Chains - Facelift reviewed by Goat and quoted 73 / 100
Alice In Chains - Jar Of Flies EP reviewed by Aleksie and quoted no quote
Alice In Chains - Dirt reviewed by Goat and quoted 87 / 100
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