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Alice in Chains - Rainier Fog (Album Review)

Thursday, 06 September 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Named after an ominous volcano near Seattle, while acting as a tribute to the music scene that shot them to prominence in the early 1990s, ‘Rainier Fog’ is Alice In Chains’ third record since reforming after the death of frontman Layne Staley in 2002. Erupting with flavours old and new, it’s a classy effort that demonstrates exactly what master craftsmanship looks like. So why is it difficult to shake the feeling something’s missing?

It’s fair to say Alice In Chains mark two have not only kept the band’s legacy alive, they’ve built on it in style.  Their comeback effort ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ – which introduced singer and rhythm guitarist William Duvall as Staley’s replacement – was a stunning musical and emotional requiem for the band’s fallen brother. Its dense and weighty follow-up ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ then revealed itself to be a complex and impressive musical statement.   

Yet the latter was also bogged down by overlong, mid-tempo numbers that tended to plod through excessively sombre territory.

Better paced and more tonally balanced than its predecessor, while also being the group’s most accessible offering since their first two albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ dishes up moments that, dare we say it, are downright radio friendly and uplifting.

The title track churns out one of those swaggeringly infectious, almost supernaturally cool, grooves the band do so well, with DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s guitars driving it towards a chorus full of anthemic potency. Even catchier is Never Fade, which effortlessly unfurls the most commercial hook the band has ever written.

Recording in Seattle for the first time since ‘95, and with producer Nick Raskulinecz once again at the helm, there’s an energy, immediacy and spring to these songs – even the ones caked in deepest darkest sludge - that feels less thought out and progressively indulgent than the band’s last release.

The One You Know mimics industrial machinery with ferocious staccato rhythmic blasts and Drone shows why Alice In Chains were always more of a metal than grunge band. Its doom-drenched riff underlines the reasons many consider them the heirs to Black Sabbath’s throne. Red Giant, meanwhile, is simply immense and packed with bludgeoning riffs, dive bombing guitar strikes, wickedly sarcastic, scathing lyrics plus contagiously off kilter hooks and harmonies. It’s one of their finest numbers.

There’s no denying everything here – from bestial heavy moments to sparkling acoustic based tunes such as Fly and Maybe – is well executed. The trademark harmonies betwixt Cantrell and Duvall give everything that vintage signature and - whether delivering sublimely phrased solos or idiosyncratic devil-baiting riffs – the former’s axe work is once again an unstoppable hell-sent presence.

The problem is that these songs are mostly lacking in fiery intensity and emotional gravitas. It’s all very stylish, but we’re used to more profound substance in the band’s songwriting. Elsewhere, the record also misses the mind-blowing twists, turns and tangents their previous efforts possessed. Possibly rebounding too far away from ‘The Devil Put…’ approach, things get dangerously close to formulaic at times and even the longer songs are predictably structured.

To say this is the band’s weakest post reformation effort does it a slight disservice.  Such a label is by no means a disgrace given the quality of the records that preceded it.  Besides, ‘Rainier Fog’ is yet another effort that sounds exactly like an Alice In Chains album without resembling any of their previous releases. After nearly three decades, that’s a commendable feat in its own right.

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