Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

Posted: June 1, 2013 in Music

aic_cover_layers1When grunge music was all the rage twenty years ago, the music scene experienced one of the most heavy shifts in style in history. The explosion out of Seattle area not only introduced a new sound to the world, but pretty much changed the rock and roll landscape forever. Gone were the leather pants and hairspray of glam metal, replaced by the much more natural flannel shirts and Doc Marten boots.

The music, itself, was dark and gritty. Less attention was paid to clean production and high-pitched perfection, instead focusing on the raw emotion and poetic songwriting the genre became known for. It was all done with such a genuine approach, that fans of all kinds of music were drawn into the “grunge scene” and embraced it as the soundtrack to their lives.

Of the multitude of groups holding the flag for the movement, there were four bands that led the way. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains all placed an undeniable stamp on the early 90’s, each with their own take on a sound that changed rock and roll forever. Combined, these four heavyweight bands have sold almost 200 million albums worldwide -an astounding number when you consider the fact that they were all basically just garage bands that happened to catch a break.

The melancholy nature and dark cloud lyrics of  grunge music eventually led to its demise. The “gloomy reality” of the movement proved itself to be just that in 2004 when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (who, at the time, was more popular than Jesus) took his own life. The self-inflicted shotgun blast was not only the shot heard around the world, but fatally wounded the grunge era as a whole. Most of the bands disappeared into the woods, while a very few carried on, trying to piece together the tattered remains. Pearl Jam carried on pretty much unscathed, but only after putting on their happy faces and changing their style to a more positive vibe . Soundgarden had broken up by the time 1997 rolled around. Alice in Chains also gave up performing as a band at that time (although they never officially called it quits), due to lead singer Layne Staley’s insatiable drug habit.  In fact, his addiction led to his death in 2002, which was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for the grunge era.

Fast forward to 2013, and – lo and behold – it seems as though grunge is attempting to rise from the ashes. Pearl Jam has announced a fall release of their new (and reportedly back to basics) album, Soundgarden’s new album King Animal is all over the radio and album charts, and even some of the lesser-known acts have cut new records in the last few months (Mudhoney/The Melvins). For many music fans,  the most anticipated release – and perhaps the most intriguing – comes from Alice In Chains.

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (released May 28th) has the rock media abuzz and the fans in a frenzy. A definite line in the sand has been drawn between those that think the band died with Staley and those that welcome the return of grunge’s “heaviest” group. As the major force behind the songwriting, Guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell has been determined all along to keep AiC alive. The band released an album in 2009 (Black Gives Way To Blue), which introduced vocalist William DuVall to the masses – and people went bat-shit crazy. Fans screamed at the fact that the vocals sounded “too much” like Staley’s, and that Cantrell was tarnishing the storied  Alice in Chains lore by even thinking about moving forward.

Since that release four years ago, the band has continued to work – quite naturally, mind you – towards tightening the sound and continuing to legacy – and that cohesiveness shines through The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. The album is a definitive return to the sound and style that brought alternative music fans and heavy metal warriors together in one common place decades ago – and has the band right back at the top of the modern rock scene, whether they want to be there or not.

Alice-In-Chains-2013

The record opens with “Hollow”, and the track is quintessential Alice in Chains: dark, bleak lyrics anchored by one of Jerry Cantrell’s heavy, plodding guitar riffs, which is in turn buoyed by the dirge-like rhythms of bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney. The harmonies are keyed flat, which adds to the eerie, haunting feeling the band has always been know for.

There’s no easing up with “Pretty Done”, which finds the band teetering back and forth into true heavy metal territory with a grand, almost-epic chorus that few bands can pull off , let alone accomplish it on almost every track. The guitars have an air-raid siren pierce to them, and flow heavy from start to finish. The “cohesiveness” mentioned earlier is more obvious here than ever, as there isn’t a single flaw to be found.

Chances are you’ll be hearing “Stone” on rock radio (if you haven’t already) – as the band has released the cut as a single. Filled with a gloomy, Black Sabbath-esque bass and guitar line, Cantrell and DuVall swoon their way over four-plus minutes of unadulterated rock pleasure.

While being known as a “heavy” band, Cantrell has never shied away from the slower, softer songs from time to time. “Voices” is simple in structure, intentionally stripped down, and a toe-tapping track so memorable you’ll be humming the chorus long after listening to it.

Not to get lost in the mix are the mysterious title track, the experimental “Lab Monkey,” and the compelling tale told in “Low Ceiling” – all decent songs in their own right but – at least for me – mere appetizers leading up to the rest of the album.

“Breath On A Window” gets back to business with a more straightforward and familiar style – akin to the Dust era recordings. While being unapologetically familiar, there is a freshness to the track that I attribute to DuVall coming into his own and finally putting the ghost of Layne Staley behind him .

The record up to this point has been pretty much what I expected – and I expected it to be great. What I didn’t expect was “Scalpel” that – believe it or not – could easily be mistaken for a country song had it not been surrounded by such hard, heavy tracks both before and after. It’s a pleasant surprise, though – and reinforces the fact that Alice In Chains are impossible to pigeonhole as a certain “type” of band – which only adds to their appeal. Good songs are, after all, good songs regardless.

Of the remaining three tracks, “Phantom Limb” stands out for its absurdely heavy groove, while “Hung On A Hook” brings back memories of “Down In A Hole” (perhaps intentionally). The album closer “Choke” is a softer send off than expected, but is filled with great songwriting. The fact that it wasn’t a powerhouse was a statement in it’s own right – leaving something on the table for the next album.

And there will be a next album. Without a doubt. Alice in Chains is a reborn, reinvigorated band that has – with the release of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – not only firmly planted their feet back into the arena of modern rock, but set their eyes to the distance roads. Roads they will be traveling for years to come.

9.5/10

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