Angry angel was heaven sent
The album I can't live without
I first came across Alice in Chains when I was a teenager in the 90s.
Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden were the hot tickets back then and Alice in Chains seemed to fly under the media-exploited grunge radar somewhat compared to the other big three.
I rediscovered them once again in 1996 when an old flatmate played their MTV Unplugged album.
Like many of the grunge bands Alice in Chains were popular in Seattle, where the grunge movement started in the late 1980s. The Seattle sound was brought to the world's attention when Nirvana's Nevermind went to the top of the charts all over the globe and propelled Kurt Cobain into celebrity stardom.
Cobain was a conflicted man who could not cope as the poster boy of grunge and he killed himself. Many say that grunge died with him, as many bands disbanded or faded into music oblivion after his death.
The underground Seattle scene had been exploited and commodified, which was the antithesis of the ideology of the grunge bands.
Purists perceived bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, Smashing Pumpkins and Bush as Johnny-come-latelies, trying to sound like the original Seattle bands.
The lead singer of Alice in Chains, Layne Staley, was one of the pioneers of the sound the interlopers were trying to imitate.
Alice in Chains first album, Facelift, included one of their most popular tracks, Man in the Box. Two more albums followed, Dirt and a self-titled one.
Several years of touring took its toll on the band and arguably on Staley the most.
He began his frontman spot in the band handsome, charismatic and energetic. He had an incredible range and the power to belt out vocals even when his drug habit started to overtake him.
Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, met Staley in 1993 at the Lollapalooza tour.
"I will always remember him as the bright, funny and amazingly talented singer who got up there every hot summer day in a gorgeous suit and sang like an angry angel. We would laugh until we split our sides arguing about who was 'more metal'."
Staley wrote many of Alice in Chains' lyrics, which dealt heavily with drug addiction. The haunting and stark truth comes through in not only them but the extreme power in which he was able to belt them out.
The Man in the Box live version proves this power and range, especially in the chorus.
After the release of their self-titled album Staley took a self-imposed exile and disappeared into his Seattle apartment and was rarely seen by anybody.
In 1996 the band resurfaced, including Staley and performed their live unplugged New York show.
Staley was a shadow of the young man he was several years before, gaunt, white and covering his arms and hands and hiding behind sunglasses.
Despite his ragged appearance he still managed to power out the hits.
Down in a Hole is one of the more poignant numbers, the lyrics seem to mirror what Staley was going through: "down in a hole, and I don't know if I can be saved", which ultimately was the case several years later.
He comments to the audience part way through the gig, "this is the best show we've done in three years".
Fellow band mate Jerry Cantrell points out: "Layne, it's our only one", to which Layne replies, "huh, yeah, but it's still the best". The unplugged album was a change in gear from the raw, powerful live concerts of years gone by.
However they proved they could cut it in a more low key environment and stripped down to the basics. The band only performed a handful of times after the unplugged concert and Staley became more of a recluse and spiralled deeper into his heroin addiction.
Unlike Cobain, who cut things short and shuffled off quickly, Staley took years to succumb to the drugs, finally dying from an overdose in 2002.
His body lay in his apartment for two weeks before being discovered.
Every time I listen to this album tears well up, knowing the final outcome for this beautiful, talented, tortured man.
The uncanny parallel of the songs and Staley's path to self destruction are heartbreaking, life imitating art.
The Alice in Chains MTV unplugged album reminds me of growing up and remembering how much of an impact the short but sweet grunge era had.
This album came out two years after Cobain killed himself and the whole genre seemed like a distant memory.
The stripped back to basics sound, the acoustic guitars and organic sound of Staley's vocals capture that time perfectly.
The unplugged album is like a grown up collection of the original songs, akin to maturing and growing up with the band. I miss the honest incomparable grunge genre, but I can be transported to this nostalgic time simply by listening to this album.