Black Gives Way to Blue – Alice In Chains

Not many people, fans & critics alike, expected to see a new Alice In Chains album of original material materialize after the death of frontman Layne Stayley. I included myself in the majority but – the first Alice in Chains album in nearly fourteen years, Black Gives Way to Blue was released last year in September. Its their first release with new vocalist/guitarist William DuVall, who took over from Staley. This is their first album released on Virgin Records and their first venture away from Columbia, who handled all of their previous releases. The album has been certified gold by the RIAA on May 26, 2010, with shipments exceeding 500,000 copies.

The layered guitars in All Secrets Known allow the lead off track to retain the group’s heat-choked atmosphere while adopting a melodic flair. It sounds like the AIC of their peak in the early 1990s. We then come to the corrosive lead riffs of Check My Brain. You have to just hear the ‘Oh yeah” and you know that this is the band at their prime. The song is about the excess of Los Angeles and California. Duvall fits right in with his singing & guitar playing. This is the first time an Alice in Chains song would hit #1 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart since their 1994 single No Excuses. Check My Brain received a nomination for “Best Hard Rock Performance” at the 52nd Grammy Awards. Duvall shines in the heavy Last Of My Kind, as he barks his aggressive lyrics.

My favourite track is up next – the fourth track of the album, Your Decision features an acoustic rhythm and breaks from the dark, aggressive leanings of the previous songs in exchange for a more upbeat feel. The single has, so far, reached number one on the Billboard Rock Songs chart, number one on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and number four on the Alternative Songs chart. This makes Alice in Chains the first artist to have two songs top the US Rock Songs chart. It’s a bit like saying that the decision is yours if you want to give in to the pressure and take the easy way out. Life gives you the options and obstacles and it’s your decision as to which path to take. After that ballady greatness, we head to more heavier things in A Looking In View. The song basically speaks to any number of things that keep you balled up inside and offering a window to your soul. A steady guitar rhythm starts off When The Sun Rose Again, and then what sounds like a tabla joins while the two singers sing the lyrics. Jerry Cantrell provides us with a minimalistic solo.

What AIC were famous for was the slow heavy guitar riffs that drone in your head as you listen to it – that’s perfectly observed in Acid Bubble. “I am the child that lives and cries in a corner, Dies in a corner, Alone inside your mind”, is powerful enough to blow you away in it’s intensity. Lesson Learned is about taking the hits and the lows and using that a learning a lesson and move on. Even in your darkest hour you will find a shining light. I’m not sure who is the ‘she’ that is mentioned in Take Her Out; it might be a metaphor for pain, life or love. It could be an arena favourite. A bit slower comes Private Hell, with vocal harmonies parallel to the Layne/Jerry era. It’s about keeping your issues to yourself and being very private about it. And finally we come to the title track, a dedication to Stayley. Elton John joins the band on piano as the pain of losing a friend is finally opened up as Cantrell sings Black Gives Way To Blue in memory of the departed singer/guitarist.

I like this album a lot and will line it up against Dirt & their self-titled 3rd album as matching their best. Here’s the video for Your Decision – and stop staring at the hot chick and enjoy the awesome guitar solo.

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