by Johnny Papan
VANCOUVER – “It’s about all of the beauty and all of the ugliness, all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses, all of the achievements, all of the losses. The music is very human. I guess that’s all I could say about it. That was kind of the goal, to write material that hit on a deeper level.”
Alice in Chains are an alternative-metal group that received mainstream attention in the early 90s as part of the hysteria-inducing counterculture upheaval marketed as “grunge rock.” Leading this Seattle-sound movement, alongside acts such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, Alice in Chains had a heavy hand in popularizing rawer, moodier musical stylings that killed the leather-bound, pop-infused, fluffy hair antics of hair-metal from radio airwaves. To date, Alice in Chains have sold millions of records, toured the world, and are considered one of the most influential hard-rock acts in modern history.
The band is set to drop their newest record, Rainier Fog, on August 24. Much of the album was recorded at Studio X, formerly known as Bad Animals Studios, in the band’s hometown of Seattle. The last time Alice in Chains were here, they recorded their 1995 self-titled album, the third and final record to be done with the band’s original vocalist, Layne Staley, who passed away from a drug overdose in 2002. In a way, things come full-circle, as Rainier Fog is the third record to be made under the band’s second incarnation with guitarist-vocalist William DuVall.
DuVall joined the group in 2006. It was his differences to Staley that made him attractive to the remaining members of the band. DuVall has a different style, a different energy. He was never to be a “replacement” for Staley, and his addition to the band was the beginning of a whole new story.
“What you wrote before or what you did before doesn’t mean shit because that’s done,” explains songwriter and founder, Jerry Cantrell. “You’re not gonna redo that and you don’t wanna borrow from any of that stuff because it’s already been done well. It’s starting at zero. If you had some success, which this band has, and you’ve written some songs that have had impact over periods of time, that’s a high bar to get to. The positive side is you know you have gotten there before. You just go about the process of putting songs together or collecting things you remember or hear that make you feel good. Or make you feel bad. Just make you feel.”
With the release of 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and now Rainier Fog, it is clear that Alice in Chains are not the same band they were in the 90s. Their dream-like haziness is now submerged in a groovy muck that deepens their heaviness in tone. There’s a different energy, but not so-much so that the band has lost itself. The Alice in Chains of today and the Alice in Chains we knew in the 90s are, in essence, two different entities that share the same identity.
“It’s very fulfilling to go through it and come on the other side with a body of work you’re really proud of,” Cantrell expresses. “To have millions of people of this planet fuckin’ dig your stuff, to be affected by that. That’s a whole other level that touches you really deeply. I think the older you get, the more precious that is.”
Overall, Rainier Fog is a cohesive album that shows lots of diversity within a band that wants to leave the past where it belongs and move forward. You aren’t going to hear anything from Facelift, or Dirt, and shouldn’t expect to. No band ever wants to be a ghost of itself, and Alice in Chains has found a way to evolve while staying true to their own core values. With droning songs like “The One You Know” and “Red Giant” to the angelic, acoustic song “Maybe” as well as the face-smacking title track and everything in-between, Rainier Fog has something to offer for Alice in Chains fans of all eras.
Cantrell concludes: “I mean it, man. I’m completely proud of every fuckin song on this record. They’re all different but they fit together as a cohesive piece of work. It’s a real album. We grew up in the age where you actually still bought records and you had all the real estate of an album cover and sleeves to roll joints on. We still go about making a piece of work like that.”
Alice in Chains perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Vancouver) on August 22.