Back in 1990, I remember metal heads getting excited about this new band from Seattle called Alice in Chains. The name was a reference to female bondage. They were an interesting change up in the usual metal fair of the day. Twin guitars, much like Metallica, but with harmonized lead vocals. Neither lead vocalist Layne Staley or guitarist Jerry Cantrell – sounded a thing like the dozens of Robert Plant wannabes (I’m looking at you, David Coverdale!) that had emerged since the mid-1980’s.
Alice’s songs were dark, almost heroin driven. No surprise. Staley once said he started using heroin because he believed it would fuel his creativity. Whether that’s true or not, it certainly impaired his abilities to perform. It did, however, provide him with ample creative gold to mine.
Releasing the EP We Die Young in 1990, which would later grow into their first full album, Facelift, they were a very different metal band, perhaps taking its cues from Guns N’ Roses. They didn’t scream their vocals or their guitar solos. The trended more toward grunge, but without the punk vibe that bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden wove into their music.
Their best album was Dirt, which showed Staley at his best. And his worst. By the time the album was released, Jerry Cantrell was writing most of the music. This was reflected in 1994’s Jar of Flies, which had more basic and acoustic tracks. They recorded one more album, Alice in Chains, in 1995, then added another guitarist, Scott Olson. Staley was unable to play. By 1996, Alice would go idle, never officially breaking up.
Staley died in 2002. That was likely the end. Jerry Cantrell pressed on as a solo artist, his music sounding much like Alice in Chains’ classic sound. You knew something was wrong when you listened to Alice’s biggest hit, “Would?”
Am I wrong
Have I run too far to get home
Am I wrong
Left you here alone…
Staley was openly musing whether he was doomed or not.
The band, however, would not stay down. They did a reunion set in 2005 for tsunami relief. In 2006, they recruited new lead singer William DuVall. DuVall seems to get the classic Alice in Chains sound but without the baggage that took Staley down. Will it work? Seven years later, they’re still together.