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ALICE IN CHAINS Black Gives Way to Blue Parlophone (2009)

Album Playback: Thursday 23 July - Sanctum Soho Hotel, London

Alice In Chains

You really don't have to the be the biggest fan of Grunge music in order to appreciate the importance of Alice In Chains releasing another album, especially if you take under consideration the fact that a) this is the first effort to be released under the band's moniker in fourteen years and b) this is a band that has sold fourteen million albums in the US alone.

The prospect of their upcoming release "Black Gives Way to Blue" reaching similar levels of success could continue through EMI's promotional tactics, including their recent invitation to a selected group of London-based journalists, myself included, to the Sanctum Soho Hotel. There, after being exposed to some really tight security measures (mobile phones switched off and all bags left outside the seating area) and while waiting for the representative of the label to explain how the whole process would work, we were treated with a few hors d'oeuvres and drinks that made the whole 'meet and greet process with fellow journalists even more enjoyable.

The area was pretty nicely arranged with several tables scattered in front of a small projector screen, two absolutely massive Genelec speakers and a sub woofer that was bigger than my fridge at home and minutes after we positioned ourselves we were given a short presentation of the schedule and the album by a member of EMI. The promoter informed us that "Black Gives Way to Blue" is scheduled for release on the 28th of September, that the band's upcoming show in London on the 4th of August became sold out in less than two minutes (!) but the most important of all was that the eleven compositions we were about to hear had not yet been given any working titles.

The presentation began with a funny message from Jerry Cantrell (guitars) and Sean Kinney (drums), both thanking us for attending and generally creating a pleasant atmosphere by playing with classic British stereotypes and that was soon followed by a screening of the band's latest video for "A Looking In View".

Now, I don't know if, from a practical point of view, making a seven minute video is a wise decision, however both the composition and its visual representation were grabbing and impressive. Music- wise, the composition is straightforward rock/metal, based on some massive down-tuned guitar riffs and trademark "snarl-to-a-scream" vocal performances by both Cantrell and the band's new vocalist William Du Vall. "A Looking In View" is also classic with regards its choice of topics, as the themes presented to us were more or less what we had expected from Alice In Chains, namely, sin, redemption, abuse, self-punishment, isolation, desperation & suicide.

All the activities up to that point were important towards creating the right atmosphere for the attendants of the event, however, the reason why we all gathered there was to listen to these eleven compositions and that was exactly what followed.

The album:

All Secrets Known: Slow paced composition based on a guitar driven theme. Riffs are simple and a lot of attention has been put into creating an eerie atmosphere in the background. As a consequence, this song will take its listener on a nice moody trip.

Check My Brain: Based on a massive down-tuned riff, this four-minute composition bears all the classic ingredients of an Alice In Chains songs. Good vocal collaboration between Cantrell & Du Vall.

Last Of My Kind: Quite a confusing opening theme, feeling like a collection of sounds. Composition is based on a 'disturbingly' heavy riff, however the refrain is based on a straight in- your- face Metallica-influenced theme.

Your Decision: First acoustic composition of the album. Here Du Vall is provided with the opportunity to prove that he is worthy to fill Layne Staley's shoes and he does a good job. Chorus is heavier than the main theme and the twin vocal performance in the refrain by Cantrell/Du Vall is impressive. Quite an emotional composition.

Looking In View: Another simply crafted slow-paced composition based on massive riffs and a melodic chorus/refrain. Simple and effective!

When The Sun Rose Again: An unusual composition performed by acoustic instruments but intended to come across like any heavy composition. The lack of electric sound and the heaviness of each individual performance create a unique atmosphere. A very impressive guitar solo adds to one's general appreciation.

Acid Bubble: A composition with quite a few surprises, separated into two parts. The first part moves to a similar pattern with Track 1, but half way through the composition comes a great surge of energy translated into a massive heavy riff that many Metal bands would love to have been able to come up with. The tempo of the composition is generally slow, but its rhythmical structure is ever-changing.

Lesson Learned: The most straightforward composition of the album; simple riffs, simple melodies, catchy refrain.

Take Her Out: Another slow, vocally driven composition supported by numerous short guitar solos and with many interesting things happening in the background in terms of guitar sounds and effects.

Private Hell: The one composition that really stood out for me. Slow opening melodic theme, twin vocal performance that almost puts you in a trance and a catchy heavily distorted refrain that still resonates in my mind. The most emotionally charged composition of the album!

Black Gives Way To Blue: A fitting closing theme, based on a ballady main theme, accompanied by some beautiful piano performances.

So, there you have it: a template review of the new Alice In Chains album. Now, having only listened to "Black Gives Way to Blue" once, and under the circumstances described above, I do not believe that I am yet entitled to either an opinion or the right to give any suggestions as to its overall importance/worth - however, I will say this: just as every Metal kid growing up in the 80s, I learned to treat bands like Alice In Chains as 'the enemy', but now that I am older and, hopefully, somewhat wiser, I get to really appreciate what this band has presented to us.

"Black Gives Way to Blue" is classic Alice in Chains material with a sound that's heavier than ever before, and as such it ought to enthuse the band's loyal fan base. The only reason I can think why anyone might react to it negatively would be as a result of that person's inability to accept anyone other than the late Layne Staley behind the mic, but that will hopefully not be the case. This is one album that I am really looking forward to listening to again soon, as something tells me that it will probably end up keeping me good company in the months to come.

Review by John Stefanis

Best of 2009

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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