Sound — 9
Layne Staley fans are likely suffering an internal dilemma at this moment. On one hand it's likely they want the spirit of the late vocalist to be the one-and-only frontman to take the reins of Alice In Chains. Of course, the music was in large part due to Jerry Cantrell's songwriting skills, and who's to say he shouldn't carry on with the band? Well, it seemed like there wouldn't be any new discussions made about this topic, but after a highly successful reunion in 2005 at a benefit for tsunami victims, the ball began to roll. That re-introduction into the public eye led to a variety of songwriting sessions, and eventually, their 4th studio album Black Give Ways To Blue. The record is the first with new vocalist William DuVall (Comes With The Fall), and it soundsdrum roll pleaseremarkably like Alice In Chains circa 1993.
To accomplish anything close to the classic AIC sound, you need to recreate the trademark harmonies of Cantrell and Staley. DuVall is a perfect replacement, which becomes quite clear when you become hard-pressed to tell the difference between he and Staley in more than a few new tracks. Black Gives Ways To Blue may not match the quality of an album like Dirt, but it at least gives fans confidence that AIC does not necessarily have to rely on Staley to deliver a quality song. The majority of the songs revolve around the joint vocalization/harmonization of DuVall and Cantrell, and in a way that ensures that we aren't scrutinizing every aspect of DuVall's lead vocals at least at this point in the game.
When you take the focus away from the individual performances and concentrate on the riff work and general songwriting, there are some novel arrangements. All Secrets Known revolves around a cyclical guitar line that is heard underneath a good portion of the song. It doesn't set out to blow your mind with crazy guitar tricks or a fast tempo. Instead, you can tell everything is thought out carefully, from the symbolic lyrics to the short and subtle (yet dramatic) guitar solo. The first single Check My Brain certainly is a track that is most reminiscent to old school AIC material, and it does succeed at having a memorable melodies and harmonies.
DuVall does have his moment in the spotlight with Last Of My Kind, which at last allows you to dissect his style a little bit more accurately. Let's get one thing straight the guy is a highly capable vocalist, regardless of how closely he resembles Staley. He actually sounds like more of a hybrid of Staley and Sebastian Bach, which is not a bad combo. Out of the entire batch of new songs, however, it's probably Acid Bubble that makes the biggest impression for its twists and turns in arrangement, as well as the incredible sludgy tone on the guitars.
Lyrics — 9
It's hard not to love a CD that sends out an in-your-face message immediately. The first track answers the naysayers with the opening line, Hope; A new beginning; Time; Time to start living like just before we died. You just don't capture the mood of the band and/or the audience better than with lyrics such as those. While the entire album doesn't take on the topic of resurrection or new beginnings, you still get some fairly intense personal material along the way.
Overall Impression — 9
This particular reviewer has been a dedicated AIC fan since about 1990, and it was originally hard to even fathom the idea of another individual taking over Layne Staley's role. Black Gives Way To Blue at times seems like Cantrell is easing us into the newest phase of AIC, and that's probably for the best. Cantrell's own voice has a strong presence on the album, while DuVall is usually kept back in the mix (not counting Last Of My Kind). Staley had such a strong presence in his vocal delivery that the magic probably won't ever be completely recaptured. However, in terms of the grunge/sludge style of Cantrell's guitar and the general heart of the songwriting, Black Gives Way To Blue is an album that should satisfy most AIC fans from back in the day.