By at 8:39 AM Tuesday, September 22nd 2009


A New Dawn Breaks For Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains, Reviews


Honoring or even replicating a multiplatinum band’s legacy after their lead singer dies is a sticky situation no matter what the scenario. AC/DC may have made it look like a cakewalk, but most others are on a path to glorified karaoke.

For Black Gives Way To Blue, Alice In Chains‘ first full-length album in 14 years, careful steps were taken to make sure the record was worthy of the band name, and not to box new singer William DuVall (of Comes With The Fall, who also played in Cantrell’s solo band) into a Layne Staley impression.

Alice In Chains

“We have never worked this fucking hard on a record,” guitarist Jerry Cantrell told Rolling Stone. “It’s a hell of a challenge to try to add to a legacy. It takes a big set of fucking balls — four sets of balls — to take on a challenge like this, and we did it for the same reasons we made music before. We care about it, we respect what we did, and we also respect the fact that we want to continue to make music with each other, so there’s a certain level that it has to live up to.”

Such is the case when your mascot lead singer is dead and you try to regain your former glory. The record sounds precisely like what it is: an updated rehashing of a sound and style that’s fourteen years old. Had Alice In Chains remained intact and continued to release material in the nineties, it certainly wouldn’t sound like anything like Black Gives Way To Blue. But the nostalgia trip is part of the draw here, if not a mandate, and Cantrell and Co. have carefully crafted their return in a way that treads those familiar paths, but gently pushes forward. Too gently, it turns out, but the polar alternative would be much less desirable, so to err on the side of respect for one’s own legacy can’t be faulted – as long as the sound isn’t entirely reliant upon the past.

Opener All Secrets Known is evidence in itself of the meticulous care Jerry Cantrell has taken in shaping the revival. The familiar lumbering guitar riffs and chugging low end are certainly like putting on an old favorite jacket, relating and reminiscing, seeing if it still fits. DuVall’s lengthy moans, coupled with Cantrell’s faithful harmonies, outline the style similarities to his predecessor, but impressionism is checked at the door. When the song breaks open at the halfway point, leading to a despairing, amputated solo, rays of evolution shine through. Hope begins to sprout for this new formula.

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The menacing beehive buzz of Check My Brain is all over radio at the moment, and for good reason; it’s the best song on the album, an electric wire riff with peeling leads left and right under an impossibly addictive chorus that rivals any hook in the band’s history by way of memorability.

Subtle experimentation is vital to the album’s believability as a supplement to the legacy rather than a leech. The weak points, including the Megadeth spin on Last of My Kind and loping groove of Take Her Out, are minor and forgivable offenses, particularly given the success of downtempo tabla-tap acoustic jam When The Sun Rose Again and radio-hit in waiting Your Decision.

The lyrical constructs are sentimental reflections on regret and loss, but there’s no necrophilic tendency to be found here. The album-closing title track (yes, Elton John plays piano) is a direct ode to Staley, a narrative of the collective healing process of a band who’s lost a voice, a brother, a core piece of their foundation. At only three minutes long, the song ends too soon, leaving a void that serves its reminding purpose.

For a group nearly caught in the mire of their own tragic history, Alice In Chains have returned with respect and justice served. A fairly predictable step under the looming cloud of what was, but a well-executed one nonetheless. Now that honor has fully been paid and the brush has been cleared, further greatness may still lie ahead for these rock survivors.


Alice In Chains

Black Gives Way To Blue

Released: 29/09/2009
Label: Virgin Records
1. All Secrets Known
2. Check My Brain
3. Last Of My Kind
4. Your Decision
5. A Looking In View
6. When The Sun Rose Again
7. Acid Bubble
8. Lessons Learned
9. Take Her Out
10. Private Hell
11. Black Gives Way To Blue.

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. Mitcheljd says:

    I really look forward to hearing this album. I’ve seen them twice with DuVall and I think they have earned the right to move on.

  2. Hypernation says:

    I would have rated higher than 3 and a half considering the fine line they walked to retain the sound – and the songs are pretty quality. But thta’s just me. Great review.

  3. Skwerl says:

    i like this album a lot. however i think the rating is a far one, though my reasoning might be slightly different. it’s worthy of the alice in chains name, and justifies the resurrection. which is an accomplishment and a relief. but i think there’s still a bit of room to grow. it’s no dirt or s/t but i’m definitely looking forward to the next one. i think now that this one’s out of their system, they could benefit a lot by heading into the next one a little less carefully, a little more confidently.

  4. bystander says:

    well, why is everyone afraid to rate pj and aic’s new albums a bit higher? I think AIC deserves 4/5 at least, just for bringing that great sound in 2009. But this is a nice review anyway

  5. Afraid? Pearl Jam has been my favorite band since ’92. I agonized over that review, and gave it the rating it deserved. AIC could’ve rocked harder and been far more innovative to earn that extra half star.

  6. Spinett says:

    Yeah, but just like Skwerl said, in this particular case, they had to make a “safe” album to gain trust, and avoid unnecessary criticism. Now, they can afford some innovation on the next album. I still haven’t heard this one, though, I’m busy listening to “Frances + The Machine – Lungs”, which I suggest Antiquiet could review in the near future.

  7. Thanks for the recommendation – we’ll have a listen.

  8. bystander says:

    PJ is your favourite since ’92? you’r old man :D so i shouldn’t argue your rating then :D
    But, i think most pj fans would say it’s album of the year, and it’s faaar better than anyone expected…You didn’t expect new ‘ten’, did you? IMO backspacer is in level with yield…But then maybe i’m too hyped bout it.
    Or you’re too harsh…4 seems to be mainstream rating for backspacer everywhere. But don;t really wanna whine bout it :)

  9. Rory says:

    I would have givin it a 4/5.

    This is a tight record, and it is funny you mentioned When The Sun Rose Again and Your Decision in the same sentence, as they are easily my favorite songs on this record.

    Simple and soulful…still Alice In Chains, still awesome.

  10. trucks says:

    i just noticed this site actually gives stars after everyone commented on them…i never noticed them before.

  11. Rory says:

    Now that you posted that link…I realized this record got the same amount of stars as the new Muse record.

    That is a disgrace to this album because that Muse record is a piece of shit.

  12. Skwerl says:

    as for aic and muse getting the same rating, i think that comes down to the authors. i think johnny would have given muse a lower rating, and fernando might have given aic a higher one.
    i agree that the muse record is a piece of shit. wouldn’t have given it more than two stars personally. wouldn’t have given backspacer more than 3. we all respect each others’ opinions and we don’t even bicker about that stuff. just mean to say that everyone uses their own scale.
    though maybe we’ll start doing ratings by committee.

  13. SLCPUNK says:

    This album is simply fantastic. I have to disagree however with the low points, “Take Her Out” is one of my favorites thus far. The only track I can’t wrap my head around is “Acid Bubble”, but give me another weak.

  14. tng/dharma69 says:

    Ratings by committee, huh? Not sure how I as a reader would feel about that as I prefer individual voices over collective group-think. Why? Oh, just because you guys have fairly individual styles and trains of thought and I like being able to agree or dis-a-fucking-gree with “you”. Plus it’s refreshing knowing there’s a difference of opinion among you and why the opinions may differ. I like contention. It usually breeds interesting thought/conversation.

  15. Yeah I can’t get behind album review death panels.

  16. Skwerl says:

    aight, fuck that then. and i dig that reasoning dharma.

  17. Spinett says:

    In my opinion the main score should be decided by the author. There’s another way, though, ie. each one of you could write a few (rather short) sentences at the end of someone’s elses review, describing your opinion about the album. For example:

    [XXXX]: Bla bla bla bla bla [3,5/5]
    [YYYY]: Bla bla bli bla bla [3,5/5]

    If you do so, it is later possible to create a table (example here: which’d include names of albums you’ve reviewed, and the scores each one of you have given them. So that readers would be able to identify with the opinion of author, whose music taste is the most akin to theirs in some particualar case.

  18. Skwerl says:

    yeah, we’re working on some big new features for the reviews section. first step will be setting up a system where we can provide quick thoughts on all of the albums that come between the ones we select for review. it would all be organized by release week, so you can scope out what’s coming and what we know about it. just to cover the landscape more completely. then i think we’ll work to port that ‘quick thought’ feature to full reviews, so after one of us writes one, the rest can chime in at the bottom with counterpoints or addendum.

  19. zoopster says:

    I like the fact that you guys all review different stuff. I enjoy the variety. Though it might be interesting to see what the other reviewers think about an album, even if they didn’t review it. Most of the time I think you guys are spot on. Haven’t heard the AIC and PJ CDs in their entirety, but I trust your guys’ judgment and rating on both…..

  20. MusicFiend says:

    You could do what most hip hop sites do and post the author’s rating and enable a “user rating” which posts the average of however many stars the fans/site readers give it. Album should be 4.5 IMO

  21. Sasho says:

    Great album!! It’s at least four stars for me after only one spin!! But who said we can judge music like we do with stars, or make lists of our bands’ favourite albums, it’s all relative and subjective!! Art can’t be compared!! But it’s probably good fun to do that!!

  22. j says:

    The album is great. And it grows on you.I agree with Johnny that it’s not out of the box. But I also don’t think they just sit around going “hey I wanna write something like I did 15 years ago and not experiment”. I just think they write what they like. Cantrell is still who he used to be and just plays what comes naturally I’d like to believe. I do not agree or at least wouldn’t claim to have any idea what they would be playing had they never went on hiatus. I think it’s impossible to know and insulting to act like they wrote the music purposely to avoid new trends or whatever. To me that would make it forced, pretentious, and for all the wrong reasons. I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not a forced record even though I do think the production is a bit too glossy at times. The best thing about it to me is that while after this they can do anything. I like that about it, and really when you think about it, what would people say if it were. That’s not AiC and shit like that. They had to prove that they’re the same band and that even though they lost Layne it’s still a great BAND. Not just one person. The problem I have is when people say Duvall dosen’t have conviction because he didn’t have the same life experiences as Staley. Then again would they really want him to, after all it did KILL Layne. What if he had gotten sober and sang? Would he still have conviction? You get the point. At the end of the day, they are just songs and if AiC had one downfall it’s what made them so special in the first place- that their songs weren’t merely songs, but also their life. So this record had to accomplish a couple thing. First to prove they’re still AiC, and the second to make a record where even though their is emotion tied to it, that it doesn’t define the music itself. That if a band later on wants to cover it later on, it’ll be cool and not just a “they’ll never be better than…because they didn’t shoot smack” and all that shit. Case in point. Brian Johnson. Did anyone care that he sang Highway to Hell. No, because it even though it was a great song, it was still just a song. I’ll quit rambling now. I hope you get what I’m trying to say. And I like Johnny for his honesty. I also like his review. But I still think it deserves the extra 1/2 star. Bastard. Lol JkK dude, good review. I think we can agree to disagree :)

  23. j says:

    “I like that about it, and really when you think about it, what would people say if it were. That’s not AiC and shit like that.” Screwed up, shoulda proof read. oopsy. just meant what would people think if they had experimented and not sounded like themselves

  24. jake says:

    Maybe they could have more aptly named the album “Frozen in Time.” I say that endearingly, as I think it’s a positive that they gave deference to their classic sound. Otherwise, what’s the point of releasing an album under the Alice In Chains name? I’m excited to hear what’s offered on this record.

  25. Joseph says:

    ALBUM OF THE YEAR!!!! God I’m glad there making music again!! Rip layne!!

  26. zhitnik says:

    No mention of Acid Bubble? That is by far the best and darkest song on the album…stylistically and structurally. Simply epic. This reviewer needs to give it a few more spins.

  27. Reis says:

    I don’t believe that it is fair to judge this album against Dirt. Dirt was the originator and over the years has stood the test of time. (being one of the albums I have owned in various formats from the beginning). Having listened to this album, it is safe to say that they do not tread new ground, but instead build on the already solid one for which they are known and revered. A more modern sounding album would not have been fitting for a band with a much influence as AIC. DuVall may not be Layne, but he harmonizes vary well with Jerry. A solid 4/5 easily, and I am going through my 6th full listen through.

  28. zoopster says:

    I agree that this album should not judged against Dirt. It can be compared, certainly, but it needs to be judged on it’s own merits in the end.

    But I also felt that way about the self titled album, and since then it has stood up on it’s own and become one of my favorites. I think this album is destined to do the same. After giving it multiple listens over the past few days, I’m hooked.

    I can say that Jerry hasn’t lost a thing, and his songwriting has gotten even better, if anything. Songs like “Last of my kind” and “Acid Bubble” stand up easily alongside ANY of his best work, and Duvall’s voice blends effortlessly with Jerry’s, but not in such a way that you are constantly reminded of Layne. The guy can sing.

    I was equally impressed with the last song, a tribute to Layne that could have easily been cheesy and fallen flat on its face, or at the best become filler. But this song is great. Lyrically poignant and deep. It shows off well the genius and diversity of Jerry’s writing.

    I’m not sure if the original appeal of the band was owed to Layne’s voice, or the overall darkness of his personality and lyrics, or the fact that he was a junkie(you know how people are drawn to the dark side of life), or the beautiful harmonies amidst the swirling distortion and the killer riffs ………whatever it was, it is still there, even without him….the darkness, the great lyrics, the feeling, the harmony, the quirky dissonant structure.

    Alice in Chains are not treading water on this one, they are chugging along as great as ever. Yeah, they’re not reinventing the AIC wheel, but they are still making progress while maintaining that sound we all love so well. Solid album. I would rate this one 3 1/2 to 4 stars for sure.

  29. robD says:

    Well Zoop, i’ll say this about the original appeal of the band in my opinion. It was laynes voice that brought credibility to Cantrells writing. After all, he was the brains behind the band who structured and wrote most of the son old songs. If anyones never listened to his solo albums, do so and youll understand what Im talking about. Anyways, it is a great album befitting of the bands legacy and hope to hear more.

  30. Doug says:

    Album of the DECADE!!! Can’t stop listening to it…

  31. DeeDee says:

    It’s just okay for me. Something ‘big time’ is missing and lacking to compare it to their other songs. But if you compare this to current stuff; it’s pretty good.

    We all miss Layne. His voice, especially, but also his ability to convey emotion cannot be duplicated.

    I didn’t even realize just how amazing Layne’s voice was until several other lead singers TRIED to sing a very hard Alice in Chains library.

  32. Deadhole says:

    This album kicks the ass of those who do not believe that Staley lives on in the music and lyrics now. A new voice and the same old skin makes this just as powerful as anything that has come before. This is a true reflection of greatness. You will always be loved and missed.

  33. GrimmHatter says:

    I, for one, commend them on not trying to break any new ground on the new album. I rarely understood that about comeback bands. When I got to listen to Alice in Chains, it’s because I want that grungy, biting AiC sound. That’s the whole reason I love this band so much. So if they would’ve come out with anything but that, I would’ve probably been deeply disappointed. But as it is, Black Gives Way To Blue is high quality Chains, even without Layne. Maybe I have a unique perspective because I had not heard a single drop of this album (not even pre-released singles) until I bought the entire thing, but A Looking in View is an absolutely sinister piece of music. I’m a little suprized Johnny didn’t mentioned that one in his review, or that it doesn’t get more attention than it does. And I definitely wouldn’t consider Take Her Out as a low point. That was the first song I truly latched on to during my first play through of the whole album. But really, there just is not a bad song on the whole thing. I will admit I haven’t quite “figured out” Acid Bubble, which is one a lot of people are giving a lot of praise to. I’m guilty of sometimes skipping past it because it has kind of a clunky flow to it. Overall, I would not have given this album lower than 4 out of 5. But maybe that’s just the fanboy in me. I’ve been around since the Facelift days, and a good sound is hard to give up.

  34. Grewrr says:

    I disagreed with a lot of points made in this review.. for one, I think Check My Brain is the WORST song on the album. I also would’ve probably rated it 4½, but I admit a lot of that has to do with nostalgia and excitement after finally getting my hands on some new AIC material.
    I also disagree with it being “not modern enough”. What does that even mean? Is there a unifying quality to all modern music that the new album lacks? If so, I’m happy with that. Most “modern” music is garbage in my opinion (though there are admittedly good bands if you care to look for them) and that early 90’s sound is what makes AIC’s sound.. well, theirs. It’s not outdated at all, hell, the 90’s wasn’t even long ago! What is with the obsession some people seem to have that all bands should try to sound as ‘modern’ and ‘now’ as possible?
    Anyway, I respect your opinion but will have to agree to disagree on certain areas. I for one and enjoying the hell out of Black Gives Way To Blue :)

  35. Andres says:

    Great album, it’s all I have to say.

  36. Slade says:

    All of you here are missing something. Anyone of you HUGE AIC fans ever hear Degredation Trip? It’s Jerry Cantrell’s second solo album and came out after Layne died although was mostly recorded before he died (but basically off the scene completely due to his addiction). Listen to that if you want to hear what Cantrell can do without the mantle of AIC to tote around and all of your expectations…it is pure rock and the riffs are so hard…the acoustic tracks – Solitude, Gone, and 31/32 – sorry but they put anything on the new album to shame. Those of you who might say, ya well that was not AIC, so what. Cantrell was AIC…so was Staley and no one can do what he did vocally…but Cantrell was the guy that wrote the music, lyrics and sang so much of the material as well. So his solo stuff, to me, is just another AIC album without Layne…and much better than this one. Why is this being left out. So much good music on this two albums no one seems to ever discuss. Anyway, not that I hate this new album, but come on guys…I love AIC and have from the very start, but it is weak and tries too hard and lacks the real punch that used to leave your jaw sore for days. Hopefully Cantrell will relax back into himself and write from that place within him and not from some imaginary shell he believes is beyond himself.

  37. Skwerl says:

    i have degradation trip. great album.

  38. DamBuster says:

    After a first listen, was a little disappointed at the general lack of urgency, there are no songs in the vein of ‘Again’ or ‘Them Bones’ for example. However, it has really grown on me, some weaker moments (Take Her Out, Lesson Learned just don’t do it for me), but it is the climax that really hits home, two of the most poignant songs that Cantrell has ever written. ‘Private Hell’s apparent description of Layne Staley’s final condition is massively emotional, as it the final, title track. Not that different to most of the work on ‘Degradation Trip’, however I think the addition of William DuVall’s vocals elevate this record well above the other.

  39. zoopster says:

    I think you are right about the lack of urgency. I think that is owed to the absence of Layne. Duvall is a technically great singer, and he’s singing all the right notes, but Layne had that unquantifiable something, that x-factor or whatever you want to call it; his vocals were balls-out, soulful, over the top, chill inducing. That is what is missing.

    Great album, though, still rockin it 3 weeks later, and it’s still growing on me. Current fave: Take Her Out. idk why I like it, but I keep comin back to it.

  40. Brent says:

    I agree and disagree with you guys. I am a hardcore AIC fan. I agree that they purposely made an album that sounded like them. I think they did it,not necessarily to make money,or be safe. I think it just felt like home. It’s a comfort zone. If you listened to Jerry Cantrell’s solo work over the years…he never strayed too far away. I do agree with the review in the sense,that if the band had survived the nineties their sound would be drastically different. If it didn’t change they wouldn’t be relevant. I think that Duvall will eventually force them to go in a new direction. He won’t be satisfied rehashing what Layne did for long. He’ll want to continue to grow as a singer. The band will follow. They are smart enough to know that they must evolve to stay relevant. They are artists after all. We will see great things from them. They are just knockin the rust off!

  41. Patch says:

    I can’t find any of Jerry Cantrell’s solo stuff, hence i’ve never heard it..

    I love Alice’s new album but i reckon William DuVall’s vocals are a lot weaker than Layne’s, but they definately do the job. I’m happy the whole album is classic Alice. It’s probably the best album to come out sincethe 2000’s. It seems to encompass a little bit of all of Alice’s past albums and megre them together into one sound which kicks my a** sideways (In a positive way).

  42. soak it in cidar says:

    I question your opinion of “Check my brain” being the best song on the album. Great song yes! Most pop radio playable for a metal song, more like it.. Of course this is all opinion and that being said, critics are the worst critics. Only artist should discuss art. Im glad you didnt pick wich songs made the album. We would be listening to a metalica black album….. souless dribble

  43. C C says:

    This album is superb. Alice in Chains is back. One of the best album I buy this year.

  44. Nojudgments says:

    GUYS!! just listen to When the Sun Rose Again, close your eyes and feel it, that’s what music is all about and AIC did it again, when Layne died I never thought I would have the chance to enjoy something new from them. It’s an amazing album and they haven’t changed their CORE. I just have to thank AIC for bringing the feeling again, that’s worth my 5 Stars

  45. Kittydevil72 says:

    I was scared to listen to this album, fearing that I would compare the two, AIC’s. For a long time, I wouldn’t listen to it, but I was excited that there was a new movement taking place in support for them. As expected, I sampled the album through iTunes. Most of the tracks were right on with the old AIC, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I have to admit, us, the true die-hard AIC fans most likely felt, they too, were in their comfort zone once again. I won’t compare William to Layne – that wouldn’t be fair game. Yes, I do – we do, miss Layne very much, but there is some solid sound here. I am enjoying the album very much. The piano version of “Black Gives Way to Blue”, hit me in the heart, like a punch, when I first heard it. In fact, I cried. It is a very heartfelt tribute to Layne. Short and sweet. That’s how Layne liked it. Layne is up there, patting Jerry on the back. To the new AIC – keep it coming! Give us some risky, hard-core tracks the next time around – go WAY out of the box.

  46. Rob says:

    I have not stopped listening to this album since it leaked. To me, a person with a well developed palate when it comes to all things metal/good rock, this is a fantastic album. Every song is very, very good.

  47. JRH says:

    The lyrics on this album are not quite as creative or brutally real as Layne Staleys, but this album…just sounds better probably any of their previous albums. Its just more consistanly good. Its even more positive in many ways which I think is a mature change. I actually liked “Last of my kind” and thought it was a cool new sound blend of old and new with great riffs to back it up. I also haven’t stopped listening to this album since I got it. 4 and 1/2 stars. Great comeback.

  48. kevin says:

    Black Gives Way To Blue is one album that has come out in the last ten years that after I got done listening to it staright through, I actually had a smile. In my own opinion, “Private Hell” and “Acid Bubble” are the best written songs in the last ten years hands down. The most important part of this album is that everything flows together, the harmonies, the melody, the tone and the rhythm. Most music during this generation has lacked everything but tone. When you buy an Alice In Chains album you will receive the true meaning behind Music: (Rhythm, harmony, form and tone). And even after 14 years and the loss of one the greatest Vocalist (Layne Staley) to ever take the rock stage, Alice In Chains are still the only band to make somthing ugly sound so beautiful! 4.5 STARS!!!!!!!!!!

  49. Hey Alice in Chains fans,
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  50. […] Chains would return to the studio in the Spring, and finally record their follow-up to  2009?s  Black Gives Way To Blue. Recently, guitarist Jerry Cantrell took some time to further detail how that process is coming […]

  51. […] whole years after the surprisingly strong comeback album Black Gives Way to Blue, it’s about time we get some more information on new material from Alice In Chains. Scarce […]

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