Welcome back Alice In Chains! After a nearly fourteen year period since their last album, 1995's self-titled release, Alice In Chains returns with Black Gives Way To Blue. This release also comes after the death of original lead singer, Layne Staley, who died back in 2002 of an overdose; bringing in new lead singer, William DuVall, who actually shares leads with AIC's other frontman, Jerry Cantrell. Has Black Gives Way To Blue been worth the wait? Or should Alice In Chains have been laid to rest?
Like many Alice In Chains fans, I was quite skeptical of the band returning, especially without Layne Staley, who arguably made Alice In Chains sound what it is today. But, to my surprise, new member William DuVall fits Layne's shoes quite nicely. As many fans will remember, quite a lot of Alice In Chains best tracks were because of the harmonies between Jerry Cantrel's and Layne Staley's clashing vocals, not to mention the nice mix of both hard and acoustic sounds.
Fourteen years later, it's as if nothing has changed. Sure, Jerry's voice is much more prominent this time around, having written most of the tracks on the album himself, but when he and DuVall sing together, it's like being back in 1992. But as with all my movie reviews, it's best to analyze this on a track by track basis:
The album opener, "All Secrets Known," sounds a lot like "Dirt" (from the 1992 album of the same name), featuring Cantrell's classic moan-like vocals it pretty much is the classic AIC sound you've been waiting to hear in forever. "Check My Brain" follows up with more of that classic heavy grunge sound, and more apparent inclusion of DuVall's voice, but the constant chanting of "California..." reminds more of that annoying Phantom Planet song than it should Alice In Chains, even if the sound is nothing alike.
The next song, "Last Of My Kind," is the only track on the album co-written by both Cantrell and DuVall, and thus, is one of the few tracks that actually features William on true lead vocals. Right away you'll know he's not Layne Staley, but despite that he sound's damn close enough that this sounds like any other Alice In Chains track, and musically is one of the album's stand out tracks in my mind. But with the hard sound of AIC also comes the acoustic, and "Your Decision" delivers just that, with really nice harmonizing between DuVall and Cantrell.
Then there's "A Looking In View," this seven minute face-melter was the the first track released the album, and is the only track on the album that was written by the whole band. And while it's prettiest much the heaviest, loudest track on the album, it's also the longest... a bit too long for my taste since the riffs never really change. Next are the acoustic, "When The Sun Rose Again," and the broody "Acid Bubble," both are classic Alice In Chains in their sound, but aren't as memorable as other tracks on the album.
Following them are "Lesson Learned" and "Take Her Out," which like the rest of the album sounds like Alice In Chains should, but these two, at least to me, sounded like they directly came from Layne's days, and Cantrell/DuVall do a near perfect harmonizing on both of these tracks to create that feel.
As Black Gives Way To Blue comes to a close, the tone of the album becomes much slower. "Private Hell" sounds much like "God Am" from the band's last album, and overall just sounds like it came from that 1995 release. The final, eponymous track, "Black Gives Way To Blue," really is the main attraction here, as it's the one track on the album that clearly is about the late Layne Staley, and sounds like a really personal track. Even more interesting the that the band got Elton John to provide piano on the track, but sadly I felt the three minute track could have used more time to close out the album because it's just so good.
Overall, Black Gives Way To Blue is a really good album on its own, but what makes this album all the more special is that despite the fourteen year gap, and loss of the original lead singer, Alice In Chains sound just like they did back in 1995. I honestly can't think of any other band that has returned with a new lead singer and still sounded just like they used to, and I think the band should be commended for overcoming the hurdle of losing Layne, and coming back to play just like they used to without missing a beat. Alice In Chains are back!
Overall Score: 9/10