Released: 2009, Virgin Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
If there was ever an example of a band being bigger than any one of its members, that example is Alice in Chains. Make no mistake, the late Layne Staley was a HUGE part of the band’s identity and his unmistakable voice will forever be associated with Alice in Chains. But the band was never a one man show, as the songwriting and performance contributions of surviving members Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney are just as much a part of the Alice in Chains sound as Staley’s voice. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Alice in Chains has a new studio album out. BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE is the first new material from the band since Staley’s passing and the first to feature new vocalist William DuVall. And guess what – it sounds like Alice in Chains, and it sounds phenomenal.
Those who may have questioned the band’s decision to soldier on minus Staley need only listen to the first track, “All Secrets Known” to dissuade any apprehension. Opening inauspiciously enough with Cantrell’s simple staccato guitar lines, the track evolves into something truly dynamic. The opening lyrics are a declaration of intent for the band today, “Hope, a new beginning/Time, time to start living/Just like before we died…” New vocalist/guitarist William DuVall isn’t positioned as a replacement for Staley, but rather as a new addition to the band. As such, he manages to capture the AIC vocal style seamlessly without attempting to be a Staley clone. Most of the vocals on the album are shared between DuVall and Cantrell and many of the familiar harmonies that the band excelled at are present. In fact, it’s a little jarring (in a good way) how familiar they feel.
BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE covers much of the musical territory one would expect from AIC, albeit with a fresh coat of paint and a new sense of purpose. There’s the groove heavy (“Check My Brain,” “Take Her Out”), the tripped out heavy (“Lesson Learned,” “Acid Bubble”), the outright heavy (“Last of My Kind,” “A Looking in View”) and the compellingly subdued acoustic tunes (“Your Decision,” “Private Hell”). Rock radio stations seem to forget that the AIC catalog goes much deeper than “No Excuses” or “I Stay Away,” so it’s refreshing to hear such an unflinchingly strong return from the band. The album has a consistently dark undertone to it, which ties each track to each other and leads into the closing title track. A touching tribute to Staley, in its brief three minute running time it ends up being the most uplifting tune on the album, letting just a sliver of light peek through the dark musical horizon.
BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE isn’t an attempt to cash in on the band’s legacy or a cheap slipshod reunion; it’s a new chapter for one of the most talented bands in hard rock/metal. If you’ve ever had even a passing interest in Alice in Chains, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. A new beginning indeed…