Sound — 8
Alice In Chains has been an unstoppable force since the release of "Facelift" in 1990, even successfully overcoming the death of original vocalist Layne Staley in 2002. Their biggest advantage was that they were accessible to fans of grunge, metal and hard rock at the same time. Their sales were boosted by the growing interest in Seattle grunge music early in their career, while they were opening for mainstream metal and hard rock bands. Notably, they were the opening act for the Clash Of The Titans tour, which included Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. Their success continued as they were nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Man In The Box" in 1992 which they lost to Van Halen, but exposed their music to a much larger and mainstream fan base. Their second album, "Dirt," was released in 1992 and went quadruple platinum. After the release of Dirt the band was an opening act for Ozzy Osborne on the No More Tears tour, which once again put them in front of a huge audience who hadn't necessarily been exposed to their music before. Mike Starr left the band at this point and was replaced by Mike Inez. The band spent the summer of 1993 touring with Lollapalooza and then went into the studio shortly after to record the EP, "Jar Of Flies," which was released in early 1994. This is around the time that Layne Staley's drug addiction began taking its toll on him, and Staley entered rehab for a short while. Once his rehab was completed the band began scheduling a tour with Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, Fight and Danzig but Staley's relapse caused the band to cancel their involvement in the tour. In 1995 the band released a self-titled album which charted well and went double platinum. In 1996, Alice In Chains performed on "MTV Unplugged," with Layne Staley looking fairly healthy once again. After this performance the band went on an unofficial hiatus with only a few scattered live performances due to Staley's addiction. There were some live releases and compilations, as well as two new songs recorded in 1998, but the band pretty much stayed inactive until the death of Layne Staley in 2002. The band was inactive until 2005 when the band began a reunion tour which eventually led to William DuVall joining the band to replace Staley. In 2008 they finally released a new album, with much of the lyrical content centering on Staley titled "Black Gives Way To Blue." The album was a success and the band began touring in support of the release. The band announced they were working on a follow up in 2011, and while it took a little while it releases worldwide on May 28, 2013.
"The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" contains 12 tracks and clocks in with a runtime of an hour and five minutes. The shortest track on the album, "Stone," clocks in at just under four and a half minutes. "Hollow" was released as the first single from the album, initially debuted online in December 2012, and then made available for digital purchase in January 2013. A video for "Hollow" was available online at the time the single was made available to download, and was followed shortly after by a video for the track "Stone." The album stays consistently strong from beginning to end, with Alice In Chains' signature mood and groove from the first note until the tail end of the closing track, "Choke." The album opens with the first single, "Hollow," which immediately establishes that the album will be revisited some of the heavier territory in Alice In Chains' sound. The next track "Pretty Done" is slightly reminiscent of "Check My Brain" with string bends being an integral part of the main riff and one of the most emotive solos on the entire album. "Stone" is next, and the opening bass line makes my mouth water like Pavlov's dogs. This is another track with some string bending going on as part of the main riff as well as some inspired lead guitar throwing down some interesting melodies on top of the growling rhythm track. The fourth track, "Voices," is the first track on the album where an acoustic guitar shows up. The fifth track is the title track, "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," and has a hauntingly off kilter feel which just works towards pushing the theme of the song home. "Lab Monkey" starts out with a heavily fuzzed and almost clipping bass line and when the guitar, drums and vocals come in the song builds to a mid-tempo alt metal groove. "Scalpel" is another track utilizing acoustic guitar and is a little bit like the material off of "Jar Of Flies." The track "Phantom Limb" is the only track on the album with lead guitar covered by William DuVall, and while it doesn't compare to Cantrell's lead work, it definitely stands on its own feet. "Choke," utilizes an acoustic for the rhythm with some electric lead guitar and Cantrell on lead vocals and provides a melancholy close to the album.
Lyrics — 8
Enough is enough we can't keep wishing Layne Staley was around. The truth is Layne Staley died a long time ago and William DuVall is doing a great job. DuVall and Cantrell trade off lead vocal duties with the other providing some great harmonizing backup vocals. In addition, on a lot of songs they use the lead guitar melody to emphasize the vocals and provide the haunting quality that has become Alice In Chains' signature. William DuVall has really grown into his role in the band since he first began to play with them in 2006. The vocals throughout the album, whether covered by Jerry or William are melodic and haunting. The lyrics show a new maturity in Alice In Chains' songwriting on tracks like the title track, "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," with a critical look at modern society and the closed mindedness that still runs rampant. The track "Hollow" illustrates the melancholy feeling embodied in Alice In Chains' music: "Turning in circles/ slowing down/ pulling against a closing out/ easy to feed off a weaker thing/ harder to say what I really mean/ hollow as a mountain all tunneled and drilled below/ hollow as a mountain crowned with a cold, blue sky."
Overall Impression — 9
I grew up with Alice In Chains and have followed each of their releases. I watched their "MTV Unplugged" performance when it first aired and was blown away. With the death of Layne Staley I had little hope I would ever hear new material from the band, but then I was elated with the release of "Black Gives Way To Blue" in 2008. Since then I've been mystified by everyone being so hung up on the addition of William DuVall and trying to compare their new material with Layne's material. I know I've really beat this issue into the ground, but everywhere I look I keep seeing comments like this isn't really Alice In Chains anymore with William DuVall in the band. It comes down to the fact that you have to judge an album on its own merit and can't get so lost in nostalgia that you can't appreciate what is in front of you. Layne wasn't kicked out of the band and there wasn't a messy split he slowly killed himself with heroin. The band did not run out and try to find an immediate replacement, but instead they mourned for 3 years before even playing together again. They didn't release an album with a new vocalist until 6 years after Layne's death. Jerry Cantrell remains the primary songwriter in the band, as he has been since founding the band with Layne over 25 years ago. This is a good album and stands along any album released by Alice In Chains throughout their career. William DuVall has shown himself as a full-fledged member of Alice In Chains and his contributions are significant and have to be recognized.
I like that the band has gotten back a slightly heavier sound than what they gave us on "Black Gives Way To Blue." My favorite tracks on the album would have to be "Stone," "Lab Monkey," "Scalpel," "Choke," the title track "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here"... honestly, I could list every track from the album. The track "Hollow" I played so much on YouTube when it was first released that it isn't on the top of my list right now, and I guess the track "Voices" is fairly mediocre to me in comparison to the rest of the album. This is definitely an album that I could listen to from beginning to end and after a half dozen listens it isn't getting old yet.