Music

Alice in Chains Revive Their Classic Sound Again on 'Rainier Fog'

Photo: Pamela Littky

The main issue with Alice in Chains' Rainier Fog is that the band never climbs from the bottom to the top of that mountain to give us all of their range. Still, a solid effort.

Rainier Fog
Alice in Chains

BMG

24 August 2018

Falling somewhere between alternative and metal, their chronology (the early 1990s) and location (Seattle) led to Alice in Chains being labeled or marketed as grunge. Facelift (1990) brought us the sounds of Black Sabbath lyrics and guitar riffs along with guitar solos reminiscent of the best 1980s work plus Layne Staley's haunting, angry, and unique voice. The band's finest moment, Dirt (1992) solidified their sound as a band. Dirt is also the group's darkest statement with songs about heroin abuse, death, bitter fights with close friends, emotionally damaged Vietnam veterans, despair and desperation about lack of control over one's own life, and their penultimate track "Would?" about singer and musician Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone who died of a heroin overdose in 1990.

By the mid-1990s Staley's own heroin addiction was taking a toll on him. They managed to produce the well-received Alice in Chains (1995), though it is a step back. The band also released two softer, mostly acoustic EPs, Sap (1992) and Jar of Flies (1994) in which they pushed themselves to become even more than they already were. Both are excellent as is Above (1994), the one album from Mad Season, a supergroup with Staley.

After Alice in Chains the band moved into mostly archival mode releasing compilations and live albums including Unplugged (1996). Music Bank (1999), a compilation of demos, a few new songs, and mostly already released studio work suggested the band was either wrapped up or stalled indefinitely. "Died" stands as the final song Alice in Chains recorded with Staley. On April 5, 2002, exactly eight years after Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Staley died from an overdose of heroin and cocaine. He weighed merely 86 pounds.

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell released two solo albums. He made Boggy Depot (1998) with Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney and Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 (2002) without them. Both releases sound like lost Alice in Chain records. Although known more for his guitar work, Cantrell performs a lot of the vocals for Alice in Chains going all the way back to Sap. While it's obvious Staley isn't singing, the vocals don't sound as different without him as one would expect. In 2005 the band reunited with new vocalist William DuVall who previously joined Cantrell for his Degradation Trip tour and the group began the second phase of their career. Black Gives Way to Blue (2009) and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013) revive the signature Alice in Chains sound.

Rainier Fog basically brings us more of the same. Beginning with a frantic guitar vamp "The One You Know" is a mid-tempo cruiser with all the trademarks of Alice in Chains: sludgy riffs, wah pedal, a soaring chorus, a solo that still shows Cantrell's Van Halen influence, and vocals that—minus the full-throttle roar—sound as close to Staley as anything we can probably get. Cantrell and DuVall sound similar enough and trade vocals so much that I'm not always sure who is singing what when. Still, when they sing "An imposter, I'm not the one you know," it's almost as if the band is still conscious that some people don't accept a version of Alice in Chains without Staley. Through most of the album, the songs follow the structure of "The One You Know", which sounds thick and sludgy. Cantrell explains that "Rainier Fog" "is a little homage to all of that: where we come from, who we are, all of the triumphs, all of the tragedies, lives lived." "Fly" lightens the mood a bit.

Although I'm jonesing for an all-out metal riffer in the vein of "Them Bones" at the midpoint, the slower, "Maybe" does give the album a different tone with a perky, light, and catchy chorus—though the lyrics seem to pull in the opposite direction. DuVall says that "So Far Under" is about "about feeling completely up against it—outnumbered, surrounded, facing seemingly unbeatable odds and being really pissed off about it". If "So Far Under" were faster, it might be the track I was looking for several places ago. "All my friends are leaving" is the key line of "Never Fade". Cantrell had put together some ideas, but the song was unfinished. DuVall stayed in the studio, wrote the lyrics as he thought about the recent passings of his grandmother and Chris Cornell, and put it all together at three in the morning. "All I Am" is an atmospheric, moody song. Since it's about looking backward, it's well-placed as the album's closing track. "I was thinking about the imagery of an old boxer or old soldier that's been through a ton of battles, and all of the scars you obtain through life, all the triumphs, all of the falls," Cantrell explains.

The steadfastness and solidity of a mountain contrasted with the etherealness and amorphousness of fog provide a fitting album title from a band that both perseveres and adapts. The main issue with Rainier Fog, though, is that the band never climbs from the very bottom to the very top of that mountain and gives us all of their range. They stick relatively close to base camp, a well-stocked, but comfortable mid-point that largely eschews dynamics.

Returning to "The One You Know", which asks, "Does it matter / If I'm still here or I'm gone", the answer is yes. What I'd like to see next, however, is an EP like Jar of Flies with its previously unmapped areas and side trails that explore a new side of the band and offers a few surprises.

7
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.