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- Three decades and one tragedy after Seattle’s grunge heyday, Alice in Chains have found renewed success and will play the Pikes Peak Center on Oct. 18.
Who would have imagined, then, that in 2018, we’d find ’90s grunge-era stalwarts Alice in Chains — the band behind alt-rock hits like “Rooster” and “Man in the Box” — at the top of the Billboard rock charts with a new LP? Their latest effort, Rainier Fog, is their third album with frontman William DuVall, thus equaling its output of full-length albums recorded with the late Layne Staley. DuVall and company — founding guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez — will bring their downtuned, heavy stylings to the Pikes Peak Center on Thursday, Oct. 18.
For the uninitiated, Alice in Chains was formed in Seattle in 1987, following a series of musical “false starts” by Cantrell and Staley. The band was one of many to find success in the Pacific Northwest explosion of the early ’90s, first rising to fame with their debut LP, Facelift, the first album of the grunge era to be certified gold. Their creative zenith is largely considered to be the 1992 album Dirt, a harrowing, junk-sick exploration of turmoil and addiction. The band also notably brought its melodic gifts front and center with the acoustic-led EPs Sap and Jar of Flies, which remain fan favorites and enjoyed commercial success, the latter being certified triple platinum.
While musical rewards can be found in the original band’s later output, by 1996 Staley’s addictions and reclusive behavior had essentially ground their activity to a halt. The singer was found dead in 2002. The surviving band members briefly reunited for a string of charity concerts before selecting DuVall as a new singer in 2006.
Rainier Fog has received critical notice for its songwriting and the interplay between DuVall and Cantrell’s vocals, which is probably the most vital praise the band could receive. If all the major acts to emerge from the Seattle scene in its heyday had their individual defining characteristics — Nirvana had the punk weirdness, Pearl Jam the earnest anthems, Soundgarden the sweet balance between the Beatles and Black Sabbath (and the superhuman vocal cords of Chris Cornell) — Alice in Chains always sounded haunted, the frank bleakness of their lyrical obsessions receiving a moving, sorrowful dimension through the harmonies of Staley and Cantrell.
(As an aside, grunge purists may interject here that the Seattle sound was captured best by the likes of Mudhoney, and may debate the etymology of the term “grunge” itself, but hey, the victors always get the benefit of writing the history curricula, and pop music is no exception.)
When evaluating the contemporary, “Mark II” incarnation of Alice in Chains, which has now been operating at a more consistent clip than its original lineup, it’s actually quite striking what they’ve achieved on Rainier Fog. DuVall has never attempted to imitate the vocal style of Layne Staley, and trying to copy such a singular talent would be an intensely unsatisfying endeavor for both the performers and listeners. Instead, DuVall acts as a compelling new focal point and an extremely effective foil for Cantrell’s melodies, allowing the band to explore new musical shades. “Red Giant” rumbles in an overtly metal direction, “Fly” and “Maybe” glow with a psych-pop sheen, and seven-plus-minute closer “All I Am” ups the band’s heaviness to seismic proportions.
Through it all, however, there’s no question that the band you’re listening to is anyone but Alice in Chains, showing that the group still has plenty to say to longtime fans, newcomers, skeptics and true believers.
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