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Alice in Chains - Black Gives Way to BlueAlice in Chains: Black Gives Way to Blue
Virgin Records

Exorcising Demons From The Past

In some ways, Alice in Chains can't win. No matter what the band does, fans will likely argue about whether the band should have continued after the death of vocalist Layne Staley. Those who thought Alice in Chains would not be the same may be right, but the excellence of Alice in Chains' latest album, Black Gives Way to Blue, is undeniable.

Chock full of lead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell's crunchy riffs, the band's trademark dark harmonic sound sweeps through the record's 11 tracks. Everything one would expect from an Alice in Chains release is present here, from the acoustic-tinged "When the Sun Rose Again," to the bombastic, Black Sabbath-influenced "A Looking in View."

The lead single, "Check My Brain," is a nice balance between the varied styles on Black Gives Way to Blue, as bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney lay down their usual raw and powerful groove. New lead vocalist/guitarist William DuVall pays homage to the style of Staley, but brings his own flair to the vocals, harmonizing well with Cantrell throughout the album.

But the record isn't a retread of the grunge scene. "Take Her Out" features intro riffs and a guitar solo that could very much appear on a Queensr˙che record, while the aggressive bridge and chorus of "Last of My Kind" displays DuVall's vocal range and attitude. "Acid Bubble," arguably Alice in Chains' most progressive number, showcases frequent time changes one might not associate with a band from Seattle, Wash., in the 1990s.

Concluding the album is the title track, which Cantrell has referenced as an ode to Alice in Chains' late lead singer. Featuring a guest piano performance by Sir Elton John, "Black Gives Way to Blue" is a short, moody ballad - running a shade over three minutes - but paints a vivid picture of the band's continuing grief.

The first verse talks about the grief Cantrell and his bandmates still feel, while the second verse lets out a bit of regret and frustration that Staley closed himself off to his friends in his final days, giving in to his addiction without seeking their help. Overall, the somber tune is a fitting tribute to a man many feel is one of the finest frontmen to grace a stage.

If there is any complaint about the album, it's that DuVall doesn't sing lead enough. With a soulful, yet angst-riddled voice, he's a dynamic partner with Cantrell and should have been featured more. That said, perhaps Cantrell singing more lead was by design, to give listeners something more familiar as the band resurrects itself.

Whatever the reason, Black Gives Way to Blue is a long overdue exorcism of pain that signifies a glorious new beginning for Alice in Chains.

- Brian Heaton

Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.