By Ben Apatoff
New PEARL JAM sounding too soft? Still too soon to discuss the latest CHRIS CORNELL debacle? Fear not, grungeheads, because ALICE IN CHAINS are back with a record that's hard and bleak enough to earn the AIC moniker, no matter if only two guys who played on Dirt are showing up. It's called Black Gives Way to Blue, which could be describing the skin of moshers at recent Alice in Chains shows or SULLY ERNA's ego upon hearing this.
Alice in Chains aren't wasting your time with any allegories. "A new beginning…Time to start living/Like just before we died," starts opener "All Secrets Known," and it's hard to avoid hearing more survival themes in "Last of My Kind" and "Lesson Learned." But even WARRANT lyrics would be potent set to this music. JERRY CANTRELL must have been stocking up on riffs since the mid-'90s, for he drops hook after hook in "Acid Bubble," "All Secrets Known" and the sludgy "A Looking in View," while sounding more confident than he ever did on his solo albums. New single "Check My Brain" is a devastating hard rock anthem that'll occupy your mind for hours, like the sort of West Coast depravity ode that VELVET REVOLVER wasted two albums' worth of space trying to come up with. Yes, a band that had one foot in the grave on their unforgettable Unplugged performance are releasing some of their best songs 13 years later.
Singer WILLIAM DUVALL never sounds like he's filling shoes. There are more than enough modern rock singers straining to replicate LAYNE STALEY's tortured growl, but thankfully DuVall is more content to give the band his own invigorated stamp, tackling ballads ("Your Decision," "Black Gives Way to Blue") and bruisers (nearly everything else–this is AIC, so even slow songs are lethal) with equal poise. He and Cantrell harmonize as if they grew up together, and the rest of the band are as tight as they were in the '90s. "Reunion album," "replacement singer" and "modern rock" are no longer terms to shudder at.
Rating: 3.5 piles of them bones out of 5