Some of you will know I review albums quite often, and I've decided to expand on the idea with this new column, "Unable To Shut Up".
A full-length review
A "How To Buy" guide, giving you my opinion on what and what not to buy from a particular artist
A playlist of the best songs from one genre/artist
And a bite-size mini review, perfect for
lunchboxes those with short attention spans.
This doesn't mean the end of my regular reviews though, they'll just be less often. And as you can tell from the title, I'll be endeavoring to make this monthly.
This month's features-
Full-length review: Alice In Chains: Black Gives Way To Blue (2009)
How to Buy: Slayer
Mini-review: Bleeding Through: Bleeding Through (2010)
Alice in Chains
refused to die with singer Layne Staley in 2002. Back with new frontman William DuVall with their first album in 14 years, Black Gives Way To Blue
heavy, groove-laden and often beautiful.
Alice in Chains [L-R Sean Kinney, Jerry Cantrell, Layne Staley (front), Mike Inez]
Alice in Chains weren't really a grunge band-their riff-heavy sound had them labeled as such, but they had more in common with the groovier side of metal-though they're often lumped in
grunge's "Big Four" equivalent (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and them). Being from Seattle naturally didn't help.
Beginning around the same time as the other grunge bands, the mid-late 80's, AIC were formed by late vocalist Layne Staley as Alice'N Chains, originally a glam-speed metal act playing
Slayer covers. The struggling young musician soon met Jerry Cantrell when working at a studio, and they became fast friends. After a brief period in a funk band Staley joined the
then-named Diamond Lie with Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr, soon taking the name Alice In Chains.
After a promo EP We Die Young, Alice In Chains' first album proper Facelift was released, selling a respectable, but not huge, 40,000 copies in its first 6 months. The album's two
singles "Man in a Box" and "Sea of Sorrow" charted admirably in the Mainstream Rock Chart and the videos were circulated heavily on MTV, and Facelift sold ten times it had in the last 6
months in a sixth of the time.
After further successes (including a second EP, Sap) the band released Dirt, seen by many to be their best work. Since certified quadruple platinum, it included fan favorites such
as Rooster, Would? and Down In A Hole. It earned them an opening slot for Ozzy Osbourne and a high placing on Perry Farrell's traveling Lollapalooza festival.
After their second acoustic EP Jar of Flies topped the Billboard Charts, Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction, and Lollapalooza would prove to be their last ever major tour. A scheduled tour with Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies was canceled after Staley started using heroin again.
Their last album with Staley Alice in Chains and the all-acoustic MTV Unplugged were the dying breaths of a great band, Staley performing a final four shows supporting Kiss before Alice in Chains dissolved. Six years later, Staley was found dead in his home after being killed by a massive heroin and cocaine overdose.
A few years later Alice In Chains regrouped with new vocalist William DuVall and were reportedly recording a new album. A year on from that announcement, Black Gives Way To Blue was released.
The album starts out with the grating harmonized guitars of "All Secrets Known", DuVall's dusky voice not quite matching the heights reached by Layne's velvet tones, but still an admirable replacement. The drums soon kick in, pounding furiously, and the familiar vocal harmony makes it feel like Layne was never gone in the first place.
The album's first single "Check my Brain" starts with a droning, groove-grunge riff, the classic AIC vocal harmony really nailing it for the first time on the album, Cantrell's wailing solos giving the song's already druggy riff an almost light-headed quality.
Following is the first real heavy track on the album, "Last of my Kind", the crunching guitars and barked vocals around the 2 and a half minute mark recalling Black Album era Metallica. It's followed by the plaintive, acoustic "Your Decision", the characteristic sweet vocals chiming beautifully with the flangered, watery guitar.
The mood abruptly changes with the crushingly heavy "A Looking In View", like Rooster's hellish, vast counterpart, the atonal harmony offset by the rolling drums and squealing solos. At 7 minutes, it's the longest track on the album, and it's a punishing listen, but worth it.
Following is another downbeat number, acoustic this time, "When the Sun Rose Again", Cantrell musing the light at the end of the tunnel, an obvious reference to Staley's death and the difficulties for him overcoming it, gently tapped tabla in the background serving only to emphasize the gorgeous harmony.
The album's other lengthy track, "Acid Bubble", is not quite as heavy as "Looking In View", but certainly as epic, the Eastern-influenced, droning guitar and heavily picked bass giving the song a heady, stoner-like feel.
Of the penultimate four tracks, the first three, "Lesson Learned", "Private Hell" and "Take Her Out" are, while not unremarkable, simply difficult to write about because there's nothing to distinguish them from other AIC classics like Brother or Rooster, and while such consistent quality must be applauded, a deviation from the formula wouldn't particularly suit AIC.
The emotional, acoustic and beautiful closer "Black Gives Way To Blue" is a gentle farewell to Staley, sung entirely by Cantrell, with plaintive piano courtesy of (who else?) Elton John adding new flavours to the song, the chorus "Lay down, black gives way to blue/lay down, I'll remember you" with gentle electric slide guitar harmonizing with Cantrell's voice, it's the perfect end to a near-perfect album.
Black Gives Way To Blue is a phoenix rising from the ashes-a beautiful masterpiece rising from unthinkable tragedy. The songs are brilliant, the voices are still fresh, and it swerves from stunningly heavy to acoustic at its leisure and doesn't feel in the slightest sense schizophrenic. A true modern metal masterpiece.
FOR FANS OF: Pantera, Nirvana.
3 Classic AIC Tracks:
Man In A Box (Facelift, 1991)
Rooster (Dirt, 1992)
No Excuses (Jar Of Flies, 1994)
Anything you may want to know about Slayer can be found in my World Painted Blood review (listed below).
Your collection is incomplete without these.
Reign In Blood (1986)
The definitive thrash album, hands down, and voted "heaviest album of all time" in a Kerrang! poll. From controversial opener Angel of Death to the legendary closer Raining Blood, via speedsters such as Altar of Sacrifice, Necrophobic and Postmortem, this album sums up everything great about metal. Extreme metal started here, boys and girls.
Seasons In The Abyss (1990)
While it was seen as a sell-out by some fans due to sacrificing balls-out speed for groove, the idea is a bit ridiculous. Blitzkrieg opener War Ensemble is as fast as anything on Reign In Blood, and while it's true it's slowed down in places, the likes of Expendable Youth and the lengthy title track remain some of the best things Slayer have ever done.
You need these if you're a fan.
South Of Heaven (1988)
While most fans credit Seasons as the point Slayer went groove, it started much sooner, with South Of Heaven. Realizing Blood would be impossible to repeat, they got slower and groovier, as on the title track, Spill The Blood and Mandatory Suicide. The balls-out speed was still there, as on Silent Scream, but while South has great songs on the whole it's not the best Slayer album.
Hell Awaits (1985)
Slayer's most progressive offering, the complex song signatures and lengthy songs sharing little in common with Blood's murderous speed-metal consistency. It contains some of the band's best, though, the opening title track (with the eerie backmasked calls of "Join Us") and Necrophiliac.
God Hates Us All (2001)
Despite the incredibly awkward release date of September 11th, 2001, God Hates Us All toned down the nu-metal tactics Slayer had been employing since the mid 90's, and remains without a doubt their angriest album to date. Kicking off with the witheringly heavy Darkness Of Christ/Disciple, GHUA is by no means consistent, but its aggression is worth noting.
Christ Illusion (2006)
Their best album in 15 years, Illusion finally put the nu-metal bollockry to bed, revisiting their classic 80's work and showing Slayer could slow down and still be heavy as fuck, as on the controversial Jihad. Again, not consistent, but still fantastic for the good songs on it.
Do not buy. Period.
Undisputed Attitude (1996)
Slayer? Covering Minor Threat, The Stooges and other 80's hardcore punk?
Just no. This is boring when it's not painfully generic or just disinteresting. Kerry King has rightly dismissed it as "a piece of shit". Even the cover sucks.
Unabletothinkofname's Best Of: Metallica
Whether you love or hate Metallica, my god, you've certainly heard of them. Here's their best tracks, in my opinion.
Kill 'Em All (1983)
Seek And Destroy
Ride The Lightning (1984)
Fight Fire With Fire
Ride The Lightning
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Fade To Black
The Call Of K'tulu
Master Of Puppets (1986)
The Thing That Should Not Be
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
...And Justice For All
...And Justice For All
To Live Is To Die
Black Album (Metallica) (1991)
Sad But True
Of Wolf And Man
Wherever I May Roam
Nothing Else Matters
The Memory Remains
The Unforgiven II
Low Man's Lyric
Garage Inc. (1998)
Turn The Page
Whiskey In The Jar
Crash Course in Brain Surgery
Am I Evil?
Stone Cold Crazy
St. Anger (2003)
Some Kind Of Monster
The Unnamed Feeling
Death Magnetic (2008)
That Was Just Your Life
Broken, Beat And Scarred
All Nightmare Long
The Day that Never Comes
The Unforgiven III
Suicide And Redemption
Bleeding Through: Bleeding Through
While I'm not a huge fan of metalcore at all, and probably not the best judge, this album's pretty kick ass. Having heard some of their earlier stuff, it's not on par with the new stuff here. Bleeding Through distinguish themselves from the pack with Maria Peterson's gothic keyboard flashes, and vocalist Brandon Schapetti's clean vocals have never sounded better. As the metalcore scene is dominated by generic tools like Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold, Bleeding Through are a good two steps ahead.
Recommended Track: Anti-Hero.
FOR FANS OF: Atreyu, As I Lay Dying.