Posts Tagged ‘ Jerry Cantrell ’

Album of the Week 36-2018: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

A twisted riff, an overall gloomy vibe, haunting vocal harmonies… Opening track ‘The One You Know’ leaves very little doubt that we are listening to Alice In Chains. This could be interpreted as a lack of originality, but since Jerry Cantrell and his cohorts single-handedly developed and perfected this style, why bother doing anything else? Especially since ‘Rainier Fog’ finds the Seattle-based band doing their own thing so well. Though it lacks the urgency that their comeback album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ and their masterpiece ‘Dirt’ had, it is more memorable than its predecessor ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’.

When original lead singer Layne Staley died, it took Alice In Chains surprisingly little time to find their footing with William DuVall. As a result, the band sound really comfortable with their own style this time around, especially in jam-oriented tracks like the Zeppelin-esque ‘Drone’. That also means the miserable darkness of songs like ‘Frogs’ and ‘Down In A Hole’ is not quite reached here, though the absolutely gorgeous closer ‘All I Am’ does come close with its somber acoustic basis and eerie electric touches. Due to its powerful dreary harmonies in both the vocal and the guitar department, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’ is another song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Alice In Chains record.

Though good enough, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ was short on true highlights. By contrast, ‘Rainier Fog’ has a few songs that immediately stick, the title track being one of them. It moves from a typical Alice In Chains mid-tempo rocker with a great chorus to a cathartic tranquil middle section that truly highlights the dual lead vocals of DuVall and Cantrell. Furthermore, ‘The One You Know’, the particularly powerful ‘Red Giant’ and – surprisingly – especially DuVall’s composition ‘So Far Under’ have all the trademark Alice In Chains elements in place without having the band sounding like they are on auto-pilot.

One area where ‘Rainier Fog’ truly outshines its predecessor is the ballads. Initially, all but ‘All I Am’ seemed to suffer from the same flaw as the ones on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ – being good, but unremarkable – but repeated spins bring out their qualities. ‘Maybe’ fluently goes through several moodswings and ends up being one of Cantrell’s best ballads by sheer unpredictability, while ‘Fly’ is a rather typical Cantrell ballad, though its chorus and guitar solo are delightfully climactic. Even the relatively upbeat ‘Never Fade’ manages to be highly convincing, with great performances by both DuVall and Cantrell, culminating in what is easily the most unforgettable chorus on the record.

Like most of Alice In Chains’ albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ is a bit of a grower. It appears to be immediate at first spin, but there are too many subtleties here to play it once and then toss it aside. Fortunately, the album has plenty of replay value. Aside from the incredible songwriting – this is Jerry Cantrell, after all – the great production does wonders as well. Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and even Mike Inez’ bass isn’t buried beneath everything else. With Alice In Chains’ style being as distinctive as it is, ‘Rainier Fog’ is unlikely to draw new listeners in, but it is indispensible for people who loved them before. It might even surpass their expectations.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’


Album of the Week 22-2013: Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ was the 2009’s best release. This comeback of Seattle’s greatest Rock band Alice In Chains had something to prove and it did. It prove that after Layne Staley’s death, Alice In Chains could still record an album worthy of the band’s moniker. It became Alice In Chains’ second best album so far, only topped by the classic ‘Dirt’. The second post-Staley album is out now and although ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ lacks the urgency that made its predecessor the masterpiece it is, it’s still a trademark Alice In Chains album. Dark, twisted, a bit sick and above all: good.

Alice In Chains definitely sounds more comfortable on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ than they ever have before. All the trademark elements are present here. The slow, heavy, Black Sabbath-inspired riff work is the basis upon which the double lead vocal harmonies of Jerry Cantrell and Staley’s successor William DuVall rest. In fact, these twin leads in the vocal department are probably even more prominent than ever. DuVall was brought in to replace Staley and while he does a more than adequate job as such, most solo lead vocals seem to be abandoned in favor of the double leads. Plus, Cantrell seems to take most of the former, which seems like a wise decision, since it masks Staley’s absence. I’d love to hear more of DuVall though. I still remember seeing the band in Amsterdam and being overwhelmed by his performances of ‘Love Hate Love’ and ‘Sludge Factory’.

Where ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ had a few songs that grabbed the listener by the throat upon first listen (‘A Looking In View’ and ‘Acid Bubble’ spring to mind), ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ seems to have less immediate standouts and be a somewhat more consistent effort in that matter. That is both a pro and a con. It’s good, because listening to the entire album is a pleasant experience, but it also means there aren’t quite as many hooks that stick immediately. After a couple of spins, the brilliance of some of the separate tracks shines through though.

‘Hollow’ is the perfect opening track, as it’s textbook Alice In Chains. It won’t draw anyone in who wasn’t into the band before, but it will assure fans of the band they will get what they want to hear. An early favorite of mine was ‘Lab Monkey’, which sounds like it could have been on the band’s untitled third album and serves as proof that with slight changes in dynamics, one can actually play the same riff for two and a half minutes without boring the listener. That chorus is amazing too. The title track, with its weird lyrics and quasi-acoustic main riff, reminds me of ‘Frogs’ a little, though nowhere near as deranged. ‘Phantom Limb’ has a start-stop riff that requires headbanging, ‘Choke’ is by far the best of the – furthermore surprisingly unremarkable – acoustic-based tracks and ‘Hung On A Hook’ is a little dark masterpiece that makes maximal use of space.

Fact is, this second post-reunion album probably means Alice In Chains is here to stay. And since they basically single-handedly shaped the sound they’re playing, it’s good to have the originators around to make some more of this great music. This is about more than just cashing in on former glory, this is about creating more from the same well that provided that glory. Until we have a new album – hopefully with a shorter title – I will keep hoping that the next Alice In Chains product I will review is a live DVD with this lineup and a few of these songs.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lab Monkey’, ‘Hung On A Hook’, ‘Hollow’

Album of the Week 52-2012: Jerry Cantrell – Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2

Jerry Cantrell is a genius. And ‘Degradation Trip’ is the best album ever recorded. During his tenure with the mighty Alice In Chains, he was already partially responsible for one of the best albums in Rock history – the bleak and gloomy masterpiece that is ‘Dirt’ – but never would his recipe of slow riffs, dual lead vocal harmonies and an incredibly dark atmosphere work as well as on this intense, pitch black work of art. This is basically the trademark Alice In Chains sound with all the elements that make that band so amazing turned up a bit.

What you hear on this record are the complete sessions of ‘Degradation Trip’. Cantrell funded the entire recording himself and even the only label that wanted to release the album (Roadrunner) didn’t dare to take the risk of releasing a double album and put out a single-disc edition – which Cantrell dubbed the “Reader’s Digest edtion” – half a year prior to this release. While that release was amazing in its own right, the only way to fully indulge the overwhelming atmosphere of Cantrell’s musings is through this double-disc set: there’s eleven additional songs, among which highlights as the Indian-tinged ‘Siddhartha’ (the natural successor to Alice In Chains’ disturbing classic ‘Frogs’), the psychedelic monster ‘Feel The Void’, the monstrous ‘Pig Charmer’ and the mind blowing guitar instrumental ‘Hurts Don’t It?’. Also, this is the original track sequencing as Cantrell intended it to be. Therefore, this version better represents his artistic vision.

Alice In Chains’ frontman Layne Staley was still alive during the recordings of ‘Degradation Trip’, but his drug-related struggles and upcoming death – he died two months prior to the release of the single-disc edition – seem to be a central theme on this album. Though Cantrell doesn’t name any names, it’s quite obvious that the recluse in ‘Bargain Basement Howard Hughes’ is either Staley or Cantrell himself writing this album. Cantrell’s lyrics are also harshly self-critical, condemning the Rockstar lifestyle, mourning the demise of Alice In Chains and questioning his own influence on the latter. Never do the lyrics veer into self-pity, however.

Part of this album’s brilliance lies within Cantrell’s perfect sense of dynamics. With the bulk of the material being gloomy and heavily depressive and the music being so absorbing, the risk of being dragged down into its atmosphere is quite large. Cantrell counters this every time when the atmosphere seems to get too depressive by interspersing somewhat lighter, uptempo Rockers like ‘Anger Rising’, ‘Mother’s Spinning In Her Grave (Glass Dick Jones)’ or ‘She Was My Girl’. Not that the vibe of those songs is anywhere near positive, but it provides a nice contrast with darker monsters as the epic ‘Spiderbite’, ‘Castaway’, ‘Chemical Tribe’ and opening track ‘Psychotic Break’. Closing ballads ‘Gone’ and ’31/32′ do a good job alleviating the sadness as well.

It’s almost unbelievable that most of this album was only recorded by three persons, with Cantrell only being backed by current Metallica bassist (and more importantly, former Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves bassist) Rob Trujillo and Faith No More’s Mike Bordin on drums. Two amazing musicians who were Ozzy Osbourne’s rhythm section at the time and have made themselves extremely servicable to this album’s music. Bordin’s drums also sound very warm and natural. The only additional backing is provided by former Queensr├┐che guitarist Chris DeGarmo on ‘Anger Rising’ and some percussion by Walter Earl. That huge wall of guitars is Cantrell only!

Seriously, I could go on for hours about the genius of Jerry Cantrell and this album in particular, but the only way to fully experience the immense affection I feel for this album is to listen to it and be absorbed by its intense atmosphere. This isn’t the soundtrack to the beautiful first day of Spring or the music that is going to accompany you when you are set out to destroy everything, but then again: it’s so much better than that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Siddhartha’, ‘Spiderbite’, ‘Psychotic Break’, ‘Anger Rising’, ‘Angel Eyes’