CD Review: Alice in Chains, “Black Gives Way to Blue”

41KwE8vxMcL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]When a band soldiers on with new personnel after a loss — such as, say, the overdose death of original Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley — the preeminent task is always to try and reassure the audience that, yes, this is the same band you knew before, yet this has to be accomplished in a subtle manner. By plopping in a sound-alike replacement, you risk losing your credibility and, worse, you come off as insensitive to the band’s legacy. On the other hand, if you go too far in the opposite direction, you alienate your original fanbase.

The fact that Black Gives Way to Blue, the album by the mostly reunited Alice in Chains, deftly straddles the two is quite an achievement. New singer William DuVall fits into Staley’s timbre, but he sounds unique enough to avoid being called a clone. The new songs seize upon everything that AiC had come to represent musically, so it’s a comfortable transition in that respect, too. Truth be told, however, that’s all that can be considered comfortable, and so much the better for that. I have never walked away from an AiC recording wanting to pick wildflowers and draw smiley suns and rainbows, and Black Gives Way to Blue continues that streak. From the opening confessional, “All Secrets Known,” to songs like “Acid Bubble” and “Private Hell,” you can be assured a heavy time in the offing.

I can’t say the album is a total triumph, though; there are some glaring instances of calculation. First off, DuVall isn’t given a lot of spotlight time, mostly trading harmonies with guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell through the recording. He takes the reins on “Last of My Kind” and proves himself worthy of inclusion, but if he wasn’t worthy why did he get the job? It’s a bit of a bet hedge there, as is the realization Cantrell wrote most of the album himself, leading the skeptic to wonder if this is so much a return as it is the natural progression of Cantrell’s solo career. Another head-scratcher is Elton John’s piano on the touching closer, the album’s title track. When I heard that Sir Elton was contributing, my thoughts were, “This will either be amazing or a complete embarrassment.” It’s actually neither, as there is nothing in the performance unique to Elton. It didn’t need to be him on the track — it was little more than stunt casting, another bet hedge.

The third strike, but really only a half strike, is that this CD probably has hit new loudness thresholds in the volume wars. It is beyond jarring, and I found myself turning the car stereo down to half the usual volume level just to listen at all. The vinyl version (conveniently packaged with a CD inside) is by far the better way to go. Because of vinyl’s limitations, gratefully so, the master has to be level-dropped to accommodate, and the experience is so much easier to take. If any vinyl apologists are looking for new weapons with which to defend themselves, this surely is a good one.

If you are an Alice in Chains fan, you’ll be pleased that the group has come together again with a familiar, but not entirely duplicated, piece of music. You won’t come away from the album filled with love for all mankind, but coming from the band that told us, “They’ve come to snuff the rooster,” would you want it any other way?




  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    I've only heard the 2 singles from this album so far, but they have me totally geeked for this record. The tripod album was a bad way for this band to go out, as it was clearly the sound of a band being dragged down by a suffering (albeit talented) anchor.

    I've read in other places accusations of AiC being basically a Cantrell solo vehicle, but I've never bought into that. Look at the writing credits for past albums and his name is all over the place.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    There's no denying that Cantrell has always been a primary force within the band, but only two songs get writing credits beyond him alone, whereas they used to be equally shared by him, Kinney, Starr (later Inez) and Staley. Now, we've discussed on the site before how bands share equal credit to get equal cuts of the writing profits, and perhaps that had been the case for AiC and now is a case for the truth being told… From the aspect of trying to present this as a unified group however, it reads poorly.

    That said, as I said in the review, this sounds like an Alice In Chains album.

  • ben23

    download

    ALICE IN CHAINS: BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE

    here

    http://wanukore.com/alice-in-chains-black-gives

  • Russ

    this CD probably has hit new loudness thresholds in the volume wars.

    Ugh, my pet peeve. For a while downloads escaped the loudness wars but they are now just as shrill.

  • dallazx

    I was a huge fan of AiC, but I can't say much nice about this album. Some bands can't continue after the lead singer is gone…Ever. Layne really was everything to AiC. It wasn't just the sound..it was the raw disturbing emotion you could feel in the subtleties of Layne's voice. I understand that Cantrell has a right to use the name & try to capture the magic again as he was a huge part of the original, but I do think DuVall tries pretty hard (although not all the time) to sound like Layne & that is just too distracting to listen to. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to a band & enjoy the catalog in it's finality. It's not horrible like some scab lead singers of the past, but now Alice in Chains has something in common with Journey. Not good.

  • B. Pope

    Dear Reviewer,

    This comment is in regard to your uninformed, cynical comments concerning Elton John's contributing to the new Alice in Chains CD. In a very good, in-depth interview with Jerry Cantrell in Guitar World magazine this past month, Jerry explains how much Elton John's music (and Bernie Taupin's lyrics) meant to him when he was growing up. In fact, he cited Elton John as being his #1 inspiration for making his own music. It just so happened that Elton John was working in the same studio that AiC was using, and given that the AiC CD had this keyboard related track on it (the first time Alice in Chains has ever had any type of keyboard on any of their albums), Jerry had the music and lyrics sent over to Elton, and asked if he might consider playing on the song. It just so happens that this particular song is Jerry's eulogy-of-sorts to Layne Staley, a deeply heartfelt song that Jerry said, because of profound and lingering grief and depression, he couldn't get do until now. The article said that Elton was moved by the lyrics, and coupled with finding out how much Elton had positively influenced and inspired Jerry and his drive to become his own unique musician, Elton agreed to participate. Cynical comments such as yours, especially when uninformed, remind me of why it's a waste of time to read reviews of subjective things like music, works of art, movies, theatre, etc..

    P.S. If the CD is too loud, turn down the volume. I know that's asking a lot, but……

  • jb

    as a musician and a fan of alice,i know its hard enough to replace such a vital piece of the bands sound(ie-layne) they took time off (maybe even broke up) after layne's passing then found this guy to sing.i haven't heard the album but i have heard ol' bill,and i have to say i just don't like his voice and he's not the right replacement for alice.

    its not that he's a bad singer,just not the right guy.poor gary from extreme had to go thru the same thing.though i'm not big on extreme,gary is a good singer…just not for vh.i thought john who replaced vince in the crue was a much better singer than vince.and the bands sound was better.but vince just fits with the crue.

    so either way ol' bill is doomed.to me alice would of been better off if jerry took over the vox or they got a singer with a name (like velvet revolver did) he didn't even have to be a big name…just someone who could fill layne's shoes w/o sounding like him.i wish them luck.

  • jb

    as a musician and a fan of alice,i know its hard enough to replace such a vital piece of the bands sound(ie-layne) they took time off (maybe even broke up) after layne's passing then found this guy to sing.i haven't heard the album but i have heard ol' bill,and i have to say i just don't like his voice and he's not the right replacement for alice.

    its not that he's a bad singer,just not the right guy.poor gary from extreme had to go thru the same thing.though i'm not big on extreme,gary is a good singer…just not for vh.i thought john who replaced vince in the crue was a much better singer than vince.and the bands sound was better.but vince just fits with the crue.

    so either way ol' bill is doomed.to me alice would of been better off if jerry took over the vox or they got a singer with a name (like velvet revolver did) he didn't even have to be a big name…just someone who could fill layne's shoes w/o sounding like him.i wish them luck.

  • Curney

    Yo B Pope, I completely agree with your comments regarding the reviewers article, personally I was impressed that the piano accompaniment on Black Gives Way to Blue is restained and subtle and all the more affecting because of that.

    Also what sort of metal fan complains about the music being too loud?

    Such a comment must require ones immediate retirement from the metal community.

    Finally sorry to be so pedantic but piano accompaniment can clearly be heard on “Sea of Sorrow” also

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    It's not about metal being too loud. It's about the recording being so compressed that you lose quality. It's all booming and mucked up. If the mastering had been inched back just a tad, you could hear tones from Cantrell's guitar that are completely lost. The vinyl version shows that pretty clearly. And when I want it really loud, I'll turn the stereo up, but I want to hear the man play for cryin' out loud.

    This is why Death Magnetic was superior in almost every way on vinyl versus that overcompressed mess of a CD.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    It's not about metal being too loud. It's about the recording being so compressed that you lose quality. It's all booming and mucked up. If the mastering had been inched back just a tad, you could hear tones from Cantrell's guitar that are completely lost. The vinyl version shows that pretty clearly. And when I want it really loud, I'll turn the stereo up, but I want to hear the man play for cryin' out loud.

    This is why Death Magnetic was superior in almost every way on vinyl versus that overcompressed mess of a CD.

  • tjtull

    I don't get it Nick Raskulinecz produced this album and he did a superb job on RUSH's Snakes & Arrows. To overdrive this music to such distorted levels when it was being mastered is INEXCUSABLE. I was thinking just the other day that this CD is really hard to listen to all the way through. Sure enough, it's clipped like no other CD I own. Do these people not realize we have knobs on our stereos for volume. So much of the music is lost to this loudness nonsense. PLEASE STOP IT!! It's ruining music!!

  • tjtull

    …and it's really a shame because I love the songs on this album.

  • Erik

    BGWTB is a good album, I love & respect AIC, but I endlessly miss Staley (still).
    Cantrell did his work, but DuVall simply can’t deliver the emotions like Staley was able to.
    When I listen to AIC albums (with Staley) I have always the feeling of being on edge, so really scarry and beautiful at the same time.

  • http://www.warchild.ca/auction Stephanie

    Message from War Child Canada: Hey Alice in Chains fans (from a fellow AIC fan), this week’s 102.1 the Edge Thursday 30 Rockin Auction item is a sweet guitar signed by Alice in Chains when they were in Toronto for the BlackDiamondSkye tour. BID NOW! http://www.warchild.ca/auction

    All money raised will go towards helping children whose lives have been devastated by war.

  • dobyblue

    B.Pope – old post I know, but hopefully by now you’ve figured out
    that the loudness wars have nothing to do with the volume your stereo is
    playing at. It refers to a loss of dynamics, and because they dynamics
    have been slammed at the mastering stage it renders the music lifeless
    and causes listener fatigue at higher volumes. We WANT to turn it up,
    but loudness wars mastering prevents this. Listen to any track other
    than the title track on CD then compare it to any track from Facelift.
    It’s nothing to do with the songwriting, the mastering is crap.