After All These Years, We’re Still In the Box with Alice In Chains

Alice in Chains (Credit: Pamela Littky)

Despite being dubbed as a grunge band in their infancy, we know Alice in Chains is much more than that. They’re tagged as an alt-rock band these days… but, sprinkle the terms heavy metal, alt-Metal, or hard rock, and you can get the gist of what AIC is all about (more or less). The thing about AIC, they came out at a time when Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Mudhoney cornered the world of music. Subsequently, since the band was from Seattle, they too were caught up in that classification. They have described themselves as the metal stepchildren of the Seattle scene. Ask the band and they’ll tell you, they don’t care what genre they are described as, they just like playing loud, kick-ass music.

The band was formed in 1987 in Seattle by vocalist guitarist / vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer,         Sean Kinney. The duo recruited bassist, Mike Starr, and then lead singer, Layne Staley. Starr was later replaced by Mike Inez in ’88.William Duvall joined the band in 2006 as a co-lead singer and rhythm guitarist replacing Staley after his tragic death in 2002. We’ll circle back to that. Now you’re up to speed, that’s the band’s current lineup.

Truthfully, comparison is a great compliment and motivator. Industry types have described AIC as having a Black Sabbath style with an insane metal edge. From the starting block, AIC impressed us all with the Freshman album, Facelift. Singles like Bleed the Freak and We Die Young hooked their fans, but it was Man In the Box that exposed them to the masses. Since then, the band has done it all. Prior to 2018, AIC put out five studio albums. They include Facelift, Dirt, Alice In Chains, Black Gives Way to Blue and         The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. Over the years, they’ve amassed 31 singles, 10 Grammy nods, 17 Top 10 singles on Billboard, including two # 1’s! They’ve sold over 20 million records worldwide, of which, 14 million of them were in the States. With all that in mind, you know you made it when your music is featured in the Cameron Crowe flick, Singles, in 1992. That film was the quintessential sound of the grunge movement and reflected the bands everyone was listening to. If that’s not cool enough, check this out, Guitar World ranked Jerry Cantrell’s solo in Man In The Box at Number 77 on their list of 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. It’s as if the guitar was nothing more, and nothing less than an extension of his soul; that’s pretty bad-ass. Oh, and by the way, they also won the Kerrang! icon Award in 2009.

The reality of their fairy tale ascension is actually full of peaks and valleys. This is a band that has experienced pride and shame, while feeling the love and pain we all do. All things being equal, it could be argued that Alice in Chains’ Superpower is having a sense of movement within their songwriting. Although the band never split up, they’ve been plagued with extended inactivity due to substance abuse issues, which resulted in the death of Layne Stanley in 2002 at the age of 34.  About those dark times, Cantrell once said “That darkness was always part of the band, but it wasn’t all about that. There was always an optimism, even in the darkest shit we wrote.” Additionally, reflecting on the band’s hiatus, Sean Kinney said that Staley wasn’t the only one battling addiction back then. Staley may have been the focal point, like most singers, so he was singled out. Truthfully, it was pretty much everyone.

With all this reflecting in mind, of all the things we know about Alice In Chains, it’s unlikely they’ll ever win a congeniality contest; nor will they be considered Boy Scouts of the year.  There is a flip side to all this, no matter what tragedy has fallen before them, they have managed to keep it all together. That’s an accomplishment worthy of any Super Hero. Not only have they managed to survive their personal tragedies and slay the ugliest of personal demons, but they’ve also managed to find a way to live with themselves and feel comfortable in their skin again.

We know their musical legacy, but it can also be said that these guys have lived two lives. The life they’ve learned with, and the life they’ve ended up living. They have proven that they didn’t fear life, nor did they choose to go out in a blaze of glory. They haven’t looked back in anger, nor have they lived in regret. By any measurement of accomplishment, they managed to pull it off.

As for going to an AIC show, some of the other hits their fans always scream for include “Rooster”, “Would?”, “Again”, “Got Me Wrong”, “The One You Know”, “Them Bones”, “Angry Chair”, “Sea of Sorrow”, “Over Now”, “Hate To Feel”, “Love Hate Love”, “Down In A Hole”, and “Check My Brain”. Now the band even has a new sixth studio album that was released August 24th, it’s titled, Rainier Fog, including their single “The One You Know”. It’s too early to tell how successful this venture will be, but so far, so good. Fans seem to dig it, and radio stations seem to be embracing it. The band delivers on their signature sound, and we’re all the better for it. This band literally has nine lives, and considering symbols from the Chinese zodiac, we’ll compare them to the Rooster, because he will never die.

Alice In Chains comes to the Southland on Wednesday, August 29th at the Hollywood Palladium; then Friday, August 31st at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium; then, they’ll circle back to play KAABOO on Sunday, September 16th!

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