CD review: Black Gives Way to Blue - Alice In Chains

STEP BACK IN TIME: Alice In Chains' new album is a throwback to grunge - in the best possible way.
STEP BACK IN TIME: Alice In Chains' new album is a throwback to grunge - in the best possible way.

Here's the summary: Grunge also-rans record a new album 14 years after their last, and seven years since the death of their lead singer. On paper, Alice In Chains' new album should be awful.

So why is Black Gives Way To Blue - against all the odds, and in a backwards, anti-pioneering, let's-relive-the-past kind of way - so damned enjoyable?

Here's why. For starters, new singer William DuVall sounds like he's channelling the ghost of Layne Staley - the band's original singer and founding member who died after a drug overdose in April, 2002.

He nails Staley's throaty croak and creaky howl, especially on those all-important ballads. The jangly Your Decision and When the Sun Rose Again may not top No Excuses and I Stay Away as the band's best, but they more than hold their own as mid-album interludes.

Then there's the album's regressive metal sound, which comes courtesy of guitarist Jerry Cantrell and producer Nick Raskulinecz. Black Gives Way To Blue ignores all musical trends of the past 15 years and heads back to 1992 for a thrillingly grungy sludgefest.

Fans of the band's best release - 1994 EP Jar of Flies - will love it.

Opener All Secrets Known starts with the statement: "A new beginning, time to start living," being hollered over cascades of guitar riffs, while moody seven-minute grumbler A Looking In View sounds like Stone Temple Pilots jamming with Nirvana. And the stop-start Acid Bubble features mid-song riffs filthier than sewage pond sediment.

Then there's the repetetive power drill riffs running through single Check My Brain. The lyrics might be nonsensical - "Tears that filled my bong," anyone? - but the pummelling guitars are enough to make you grab your flannel shirt, lace up your Doc Martens and grow your hair out.

Grunge is back. Get used to it.

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