Alice in Chains - _Black Gives Way to Blue_
(Parlophone, 2009)
by: Daniel Cairns (8 out of 10)
This record should not work. It's a reunion record. They're all in their forties. One of them shuffled off the mortal coil seven years ago. Everything's working against them.

Why have Alice In Chains succeeded triumphantly then?

Seriously, _Black Gives Way to Blue_ is a mighty record. Atmospheric, melodic and probably the heaviest thing they've done. The first song "All Secrets Known" begins with a cyclical riff that could be the lighter, less threatening brother of "Them Bones", before Jerry Cantrell (a voice that was as compelling as Staley's in its own way) croons the first few lines. And what does he sing? "Hope... a new beginning."

It's a world away from the negativity that dominated their lyrics years ago. Stylistically it's pretty back to basics though, and hearkens back to their debut full-length _Facelift_. Rather than sounding like a shameless rehash, it comes across as an honest, full steam ahead alternative metal record. It's refreshing in a time dominated by subgenre nonsense.

Everything that made Alice in Chains so excellent all those years ago returns on this record in fine fettle. Layne may be gone, but new vocalist William Duvall is a more than adequate replacement, and the vocal harmonising sounds as rich and mournful as ever. Cantrell is on top form as far as songwriting goes, too. Aside from a slightly underwhelming latter half, it's plain sailing. "A Looking in View" is seven minutes of primal riffing that shows all these bloody kids how it's done. "Last of My Kind" (which would be quite apt if Pearl Jam weren't still fucking croaking about) shows that William Duvall can wail with a venom that wouldn't shame his predecessor. The title track meanwhile, which features none other than Elton John (probably the only time he'll ever be mentioned on Chronicles of Chaos, unless I have something to do with it), is probably the prettiest thing I've heard in yonks, with Cantrell crooning a loving ode to Layne Staley. "Tomorrow's haunted by your ghost", he gently sings, as Elton plinky plonks about a bit.

It's apt that he mention Staley's ghost though, as it's that very spectre's absence that weakens _Black Gives Way to Blue_. With Staley, Alice in Chains were amazing. Without him, they're simply excellent. Who else could have made "Sickman" sound as psychotic as it does? No disrespect to Duvall, but he's far too stable and healthy to dredge up any of that song's fury. Who else could make _Jar of Flies_ sound as haunting as it did? Seriously, that record will still creep people out in twenty years time. _Black Gives Way to Blue_, for all its strengths, sounds merely functional compared to those undeniable highs (no pun intended).

So yeah, Staley is definitely missed. Without him, Alice in Chains lose some of their edge, but that doesn't stop their new record being an unexpected triumph. They're a different, healthier entity now. After all they've been through as a band, to deny them their glory now would be churlish. _Black Gives Way to Blue_ proves that though they may never exorcise the ghost of their old frontman, they can at least move on and not let it hinder them.

Elton John is brilliant, by the way. Anyone who says otherwise can eat a bag of severed dicks.


(article published 8/10/2009)

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