August 20, 2018 Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog (Album Review)
Some bands are defined by tragedy, while others are able to take a tragic hardship and persevere in the name of Rock-n-Roll. This would be the case for Seattle titans Alice In Chains, who return this Friday, August 24, 2018, with Rainier Fog, their first album in five years, that comes out via BMG.
It would feel utterly remiss to discuss Alice In Chains (often abbreviated AIC by fans) without harkening back to their formation, in Seattle in 1987, with the band’s classic lineup of Guitarist/Vocalist Jerry Cantrell, Drummer Sean Kinney, Bassist Mike Starr, and Lead Vocalist Layne Staley.
In 1990, Facelift put the boys firmly onto the map – much in thanks to its smash single “Man in the Box” – paving the way for perhaps the band’s most well-known offering, the seminal 1992 album Dirt. Their third full-length, 1995’s self-titled Alice In Chains, continued the band’s impressive career rolling and saw multiple Grammy nods. Unfortunately, as we all know, tragedy struck in April 2002 when Staley lost his battles with depression and addiction, and then in March 2011 when Former Bassist Starr lost his own battle with addiction.
What could have ended the band’s career served instead as a motivation to carry onward in their brothers’ names. After some time spent searching, in 2009, they released their epic “comeback,” Black Gives Way to Blue, with Rhythm Guitarist/Vocalist William DuVall stepping in to split vocal duties with the superbly-talented Cantrell, and the band’s lineup rounded-out by long-time Bassist Mike Inez and Drummer Kinney. In 2013, the band followed this up with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, their fifth overall full-length studio offering and a clear testament to the fact that, even after twenty-six challenging years, Alice In Chains were as strong as ever.
Rainier Fog comes to us after a five-year break. However, no time away could possibly soften the explosive talents of Alice In Chains. In the press release that accompanies the album, a close friend of the group, some dude named Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, writes: “This is a band to cherish and be thankful to have as our own. Our living and breathing gauge of what is right with rock and fucking roll.” You can’t argue with the wisdom of a time-tested, well-spoken and intelligent fellow musician, and there is never any doubting the obvious: Alice In Chains know a little something about Rock-n-Roll.
For album number six, Cantrell and co. pay obvious homage to their Seattle roots with the collection’s title, as well as recording the collection partially in their hometown. For the third time, they enlist the help of Producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Ghost) in crafting the 10-song collection. Known for their darkly gorgeous sonics, stunning vocal harmonies, and an oft sense of doom and gloom, with Rainier Fog, Alice In Chains prove why they continue to enjoy such a stellar, well-respected reputation in the Rock community even after thirty years.
Rainier Fog begins with first single/video, “The One You Know,” which presents the characteristic Alice In Chains sound: flawlessly-layered vocal harmonies from Cantrell and DuVall over the pairs’ driving, meandering guitar work, Inez’s sludgy-y bass-lines and Kinney’s solid drum backbone. Lyrically, there’s a self-introspection that carries over into album namesake “Rainier Fog.” Here, the rainy day stomp of the band’s stellar musicianship seems to intentionally overstep the vocals, clouding over the lyrics as misty pockets in Washington State might obscure the view of Mount Rainier itself.
Gentle echoes of the past slink into “Red Giant,” a dark, dirge-y rocker that looms like a sequoia over the dirt (pun very much intended) of the past. In fact, these nostalgic reminiscences permeate the entirety of Rainier Fog, proving that AIC know how to flawlessly reinvent themselves without forgetting their grungy roots. Case in point, they go for all out harmony on the glittering, acoustic-laden “Fly,” tinged with that dusty Southern grit that made Dirt’s “Down in a Hole” so very palatably delicious.
Amping it back up to doom-tastic levels, they go full-on bass-heavy elegy with the over six-minute opus “Drone,” a black hole of sound that envelopes the ears in a seductive caress. Here, contrasting yet perfectly complementary acoustic guitar work by Chris DeGarmo (formerly of Queensrÿche) is inserted with dazzling effect. Meanwhile, meandering layers of sound weave around the vocal core of “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes,” a kind of blending of its two predecessors into something that gently rocks through its mesmerizing, sonically pleasing hills and valleys.
Next, “Maybe” blends vocal harmonies and acoustics to once again tinker with that scrumptious Southern Rock feel that AIC dabble in so flawlessly. Though, with the seductive suckerpunch of “So Far Under” they go back to sludgy, languid Grunge Rock before they go for a soaring, straight-up, dare it be said upbeat rocker “Never Fade,” a clear memorialization of friends lost and never forgotten. Ultimately, they end with the over-seven-minute, acoustic-laden epic “All I Am,” a meandering, heavily-layered and emotional journey of somber self-reflection. It’s a song that must be experienced for oneself, and a splendid addition to the already fantastic Alice In Chains oeuvre.
To quote the almighty McKagan once more: “From top to bottom, Rainier Fog is, like all great Alice In Chains albums, ‘all killer and no filler.’” It’s an epic collection that proves, without a doubt, that Cantrell and his sonic soldiers know where they came from, and yet they continue to have a clear vision of where they are headed; and it shows a bountiful respect for all of the trials and tribulations of their lengthy journey. There is a reason that Alice In Chains defy genre and elicit excitement in a wide-array of Rock fans, from their magnificent musicianship and to die for vocal harmonies, to their ability to continuously craft brilliant bangers that delve into thoughtful, introspective territories.
Rainier Fog is exactly what it should be: a collection of tracks that author a fully enjoyable and refreshing experience, a sonic journey that will feel like a spiritual rebirth for die-hard fans. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Alice In Chains’ Rainier Fog 5 of 5 stars.