Thirty years after forming, grunge rockers Alice In Chains continue to impress. They have retained their signature grunge sound, with hypnotizing vocal harmonies and mind-bending hard rock, while also managing to stay fresh and relevant with introspective lyrics in a world where so many talented artists can run out of things to say.
Rainier Fog is the band's sixth studio album, and third since William DuVall joined the group in 2006 as lead vocalist and guitarist, joining longtime members Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, and Mike Inez.
The LP's title was inspired by Mount Rainier, which is the largest of five active volcanos in Washington state. The name reflects a conscious decision by the band to get to their geographical roots, as this is the first album they have recorded in their hometown of Seattle since their 1995 self-titled record (sometimes referred to as The Dog Album).
After frontman Layne Staley's death in 2002, it was unclear whether Alice In Chains would continue. Having received huge commercial and critical success in the '90s, the band hit a creative wall long before Staley's tragic passing. The Dog Album was their last full-length studio album with Staley, as they spent the following seven years releasing just a few new singles with greatest hits collections, plus a couple of live albums.
When William DuVall joined the group, he literally and figuratively breathed new life into a band that hadn't done much in over a decade. Replacing an iconic frontman is never an easy thing to do, but DuVall has done a phenomenal job as vocalist and guitarist, allowing Alice to regain momentum and continue to release inspired songs and albums every few years while touring on a regular basis.
From the opening guitar crunch of "The One You Know," the album immediately sets a dark and aggressive vibe, with a familiar sound that longtime A.I.C. fans will recognize. The record's title track, an autobiographical tribute to Seattle, is a straight-ahead rocker written by Jerry Cantrell with Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan, who is also from the area. "Red Giant" is appropriately titled with Sean's big drum sound laying the foundation for sludgy guitar riffs.
The album settles down with "Fly," as Jerry and William deliver passionate vocals complimented with acoustic guitars and trippy riffs. The second longest track on the album at six-and-a-half-minutes, "Drone" sees the band exploring a few different sounds, opening with slow and thick riffs before including a screaming solo and acoustic playing from former Queensrÿche guitarist Chris DeGarmo.
What completes a song is not just the music but its lyrics. A.I.C. has always explored troublesome emotions and real-life feelings, notably the 1992 track "Down in a Hole" and 1995's "Heaven Beside You." Jerry shared some insight into his songwriting process in an interview with Rolling Stone:
Maybe it’s a little hard because you have already said so much. I can’t write "Them Bones" again, I can’t write about my dad again. I can’t write about my brother again. I can’t write about that ex-girlfriend again... But it’s easy to be pissed off about something. Stuff still makes me emotional. Stuff still makes me love. I experience things. I see people going through things. Shit happens to you. There’s still stuff to grab, but it’s challenging to me. It’s always the part where I feel I’m stumbling around in the fucking dark.
"Maybe" is an emotional rocker that exemplifies the band's talent of once again layering electric and guitar parts that compliment the song's lyrics of loneliness and despair. Setting a dark vibe with sludgy guitar riffs and haunting vocals, "So Far Under" has strong melodies and a deep groove that is reminiscent of vintage Alice In Chains. True to the song's name and lyrics, the music captures the spirit of "Never Fade" with hard-hitting drums, energetic guitar, and an upbeat chorus.
Closing out the 10-track album is "All I Am," a 7+ minute song that is a fitting closer. As for its inspiration, Jerry says "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... Multiple times in your life, you come to points where you question your faith or just assess. It’s a character questioning, ‘Is this all I am?'"
Pick up the album on Amazon. You can also stream the full LP below on Spotify.
The band is currently on a North American tour. For concert tickets and more, check out the Alice in Chains Zumic artist page.