Sound — 10
To hear this new Alice in Chains record at a time when local alt./rock stations are flooded with integrity-lacking corporate rock acts like Nickleback and Three Days Grace, is very refreshing. You shouldn't expect Jerry, Mike, and Sean to have gone back to 1996 in their heads and written an album of themselves pretending to be young and in the nineties again, trying to recycle every shred of the old AIC formula to make a marketable easy-money product. They certainly didn't. If the Tripod album marked the direction of AIC's sound in 1995, and the tracks "Get Born Again" and "Died" represented where their songwriting heads where in 1998, I think it's fairly safe to say that Black Gives Way to Blue sounds like where Alice in Chains would have progressed to by 2009 had they never disbanded in the first place. Have no fear though, still sounds like an Alice in Chains record every minute of the way. It starts off on a much slower tempo than Facelift, Tripod, or Dirt, all of which began with the thunderous sound of We Die Young, Grind, or Them Bones. 01. Instead BGWTB starts off on All Secrets Known, with a slow almost prog-rock sounding riff that builds up and starts the first Jerry Cantrell led vocal line singing ""Hope, a new beginning. Time, time to start living life just before we die". It is a very epic and different sounding start for an AIC album...but sounds strangely every bit like an AIC song. 02. The next track is the single Check My Brain which really stands as proof that AIC can still write a good catchy radio friendly song without musical or integrity compromise. It also demonstrates just how well new vocalist William Duvall has control over a very high vocal range and blend harmonies just right with Jerry Cantrell. 03. The album gets a little dirtier and angry with "Last of my Kind". This song has some serious Dirt-esque aesthetic with the trippy distorted atmosphere and harsh standalone vocals from Will...possibly one of my favorite vocal performances from Will on the entire album. 04. The next song is "Your Decision" which is a sweet modern take of some good ole' AIC acoustic sound. This song is a little less ominous and sounds more hopeful than AIC albums past have sounded. 05. Next on the list is A Looking in View, a long song that really brings the heavy and sets a dark sludgy atmosphere only to lead us into another acoustic track. 06. When the Sun Rose Again has Jerry Cantrell and Will harmonizing an incredibly brooding classic Alice in Chains acoustic number with a powerful solo in the middle that almost reminds me of something that could have been on a take for "Whale and Wasp". 7.) Next up is the sludgiest track on the entire album "Acid Bubble". The song harkens all the way back to AIC's Facelift style and shows that William Duvall certainly has the ability to to tap into the incredibly emotional and technically proficient segments of Layne's 1991-93era vocal range. Lines like "I am the child that lies and cries in the corner" can really be felt soulfully through the depressing harmonies of Jerry and Will. This is another spot on the CD that Will really shines, 08. Lesson Learned is a very typical Cantrell sounding rock song. It's not one of the strongest songs on the CD, but a good song and fun listen regardless. 09. Take Her Out sounds has a different sound or Alice in Chains. It's almost more reminiscent of an upbeat track off of a Jerry Cantrell solo album, but done with all the class and standards of an AIC track. 10. Private Hell is up next and is one of my favorite Alice in Chains tracks ever. It sounds dense, slow, saddening, dark, and brooding and the vocal harmonies/guitar solos sound straight off of Jar of Flies. 11. The final song on the album, Black Gives Way to Blue, is "a beautiful song for a beautiful man" as Jerry Cantrell himself puts it. Written about none other than Layne Staley, it is a masterful heart-stirring tribute to a man who deserves nothing less. The way the final line "I remember you" fades out to end the CD is sure to send a slideshow of Layne Staley pictures/videos running through your brain in true tearjerking fashion...a high class AIC track with some awesome piano played by Sir Elton John.
Lyrics — 9
AIC lyrics have a tendency to look like nothing special on paper, but when heard in the context of the song take on a strong a powerful message unlike any other. This CD is no exception. The topics of the lyrics have definitely taken on a different tone. The lyrics don't sound as hopeless and sad as they once did, but they certainly sound every bit as meaningful and honest to the person who wrote them. The purity in what AIC is doing is every bit in tact, and sure to leave a large impression on the listener.
Overall Impression — 10
I agree whole-heartedly in Alice in Chains decision to carry on and release this album. Will not only has the vocal range to fill in all the right spots of the vocal spectrum for AIC, but he also has his own unique voice and personality that allows him to not sound like a cheap Layne Staley rip off. The songwriting hasn't skipped a beat in the AIC camp...nothing but quality through and through on this CD. Private Hell, Acid Bubble, and Black Gives Way to Blue alone certify that this album is totally worthwhile for me. It might not be the greatest AIC album ever to be recorded, but it is certainly up there with any of their previous work, and it certainly feels really good to have these guys back.