Written By: Tim Bannock
Label: Virgin – Rating:
Chilling, discordant notes open “All Secrets Known,” and just as haunting, the vocals come in and remind us all what Alice In Chains lost
when Layne Staley died, but tell us that there can be new beginnings. The guitars build on those first, icy notes to become something filled with melody and hope and loss all at once, and that’s when you remember why this band is where they are right now: they are the masters, and they’ve come back to impart their
otherworldly wisdom in the form of song. All secrets are surely known by these lords of grungy, doomy, melodic rock music.
You can make a big deal about the speaker of this knowledge being new and unknown to you, but the voice of these seraphic beings is not something that can be conveyed by one mouth. No, in this case the Metatron is the entire unit: Sean Kinney, Mike Inez, William DuVall, and Jerry
Cantrell. And even these angels (or demons?) understand that they are but a small piece of something else beyond this realm, and that’s why they have to check their own sanity on “Check My Brain” to make sure the great power of crunching, down-tuned riffage hasn’t turned their wisdom to madness.
Poetry aside, Alice In Chains show that they have moved forward and that they have grown and that they are just as unassailable as they ever were. “Last of My Kind” really showcases the new sounds of the vocals while pummeling you with classic Cantrell power chords. “Your Decision” hints at the acoustic melodies that are to come later on, but rocks you out at the 1/3 mark just to make sure you don’t think they are getting soft. “A Looking In View” crashes to the ground like a meteor, bouncing along the surface of the Earth, laying down destruction and leaving a wake of burning silence on the tongues of the onlookers. “When the Sun Rose Again” is a momentary reprieve of acoustics and guitar acrobatics, wailing away at loss, endings, and hope. And then the
“Acid Bubble” bursts, a stoner rock riff that takes Alice in Chains’ onslaught to new levels of ferocity.
From that point out, the classic AIC sound does not relent. Every song juxtaposes doomy guitars with melodic song writing, versatile singing, and a rhythm section that absolutely crushes every one of their peers. Nirvana died with Cobain; Cornell went on to Audioslave and his own experimental stylings; Pearl Jam shunned the limelight while never escaping it; only Alice In
Chains is left of that 90s sound. They were among the heaviest and most aggressive of that era of bands, and they have not changed, nor have they stagnated. Their sound is alive and well; it pays tribute to the times and crimes of Layne, and it soldiers on with a new beginning, and mixed hope and apprehension. It shows battle scars and even exposes a few new wounds, but it revels in the pain because it knows it will heal, coming back stronger and steeled against adversity.
Alice In Chains is back after a dozen years, and they aren’t fucking around. Beware.