Back when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were still playing bars and “grunge” was something you pulled out of a clogged sink, Alice in Chains was touring in support of their first album “Facelift,” with heavy metal superstars Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth. The exposure that they got from this opening spot landed them a tour with rock legends Van Halen. Even though the two bands had vastly different styles and approaches to music, fans of Van Halen found themselves enjoying the music of Alice in Chains for its pure power.
Earlier this year, Alice in Chains released an EP called “Sap,” and last month they released their second full-length album of screaming vocals, great lyrics and angry driving guitars, “Dirt.” Once you start this album, you won’t be able to stop until it’s over, and then you’ll play it again, and again, until someone tells you to turn it off.
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The first side starts off on a high note with “Them Bones” and the angry lyrics of “Dam That River,” and then settles down for two more sedate songs, the melancholy song of forgiveness that came too late, “Rain When I Die,” and the pop-like “Down in a Hole.” The latter is a song that is beautifully written but doesn’t fit in with the power and intensity of the rest of the album. The next song is a good example of what Alice in Chains’ music really is. “Sickman” plays Layne Stanley’s singing range against a contrasting background of Jerry Cantrell’s angry guitar and Sean Kinney’s pounding drums, leading you into the final song of the first side, the anti-war “Rooster,” “My buddy’s breathin’ his dyin’ breath. Oh God, please won’t you help me make it through.”
The second side offers non-stop anger. The first song, “Junkhead,” provides a frightening look inside a junky’s mind. “Dirt” and “Hate to Feel” are the album’s strongest and best songs with their lyrics of frustration and hopelessness. The Pearl Jammish anti-heroin “God Smack” and the paranoid “Angry Chair” make sure that there is no “second side let-down” as there often is on other albums. “Would,” Alice in Chains’ addition to the “Singles” movie soundtrack, finishes the album in strong fashion, making sure that you stick around for the final question, “If I would, could you?”
Now that they are no longer a novelty, Alice in Chains is finally receiving the respect that denied before Nirvana brought “grunge” to the mainstream. With “Dirt,” they have placed themselves on top of the Seattle music scene with groups like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. It’s about time. Maybe someday people will stop singing Nirvana’s praises and start remembering who brought “grunge” to the people – groups like Alice in Chains. n