ALICE IN CHAINS
Completing the second cycle of Alice In Chains’ discography, Rainier Fog, this is the band’s third release with vocalist William DuVall. Bringing back a very familiar taste of their roots, older and newer fans can be assured that this album doesn’t show any signs of the band falling anytime soon. As one of the remaining and important rock bands in our day in age, their work stands strong amongst all the other bands.
The reason I bring up the term “second cycle”, is because this album makes their third studio release in a row with DuVall, contrasting the “first cycle” of albums with late vocalist Layne Staley. Facelift, Dirt, and the self-titled Alice In Chains were all sung by Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, while Black Gives Way To Blue, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and Rainier Fog were done by DuVall and Cantrell.
The opening track and first single, “The One You Know”, starts and continues with a striking, dissonant guitar chord playing throughout the song, which immediately gives an uneasy feeling, yet reminiscent to a Primus song.
1) The One You Know
2) Rainier Fog
3) Red Giant
6) Deaf Ears Blind Eyes
8) So Far Under
9) Never Fade
10) All I Am
The chorus is absolutely beautiful, serving us the classic AIC harmonies, along with the melodic tones of the previous two albums. Along with giving us throwbacks, I hear a lot of Facelift grooves thrown into the mix of this entire release. The title track, “Rainier Fog”, is a homage, “created as a tribute to the Seattle scene that launched the first wave of grunge bands by the end of the Eighties” (https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/alice-in-chains-talk-honoring-seattle-comrades-with-new-album-rainier-fog-666951/). The track’s name also comes from Mount Rainier, which overlooks the Seattle area. Honestly, I was surprised as to why this song wasn’t a single as well. It extremely has the capacity to be on radio airplay, but then again a band as big as Alice In Chains wouldn’t have to worry on singles to carry them through radio play. “Red Giant”, the third song off Rainier Fog, comes in with a heavy riff along with the depressing feeling of doom. An uplifting chorus along with some sludgy tones, this song makes me appreciate bassist Mike Inez’s work. The only thing I would say is that if you’ve heard the last two AIC albums, it would be at this point where everything would come to melt together. The structures used by the band has become their personal style and while that is not inherently a bad thing, you would start to notice the next note of the song.
Ending abruptly, we start to hear “Fly”: a nice acoustic opening with some effects thrown in for good measure. If the band didn’t have their harmonies, guitar tones, and sound, I honestly could have said this was a bad hard rock song with prominent southern rock influences. However, this isn’t the case and the result is calmer yet still kicking piece. “Drone”, despite its guitar tone, is very sludgy and southern rock-sounding. Not even halfway through, the song changes direction, with a different time signature but comes back to the sludgy riff we had. We don’t hear this change anymore for the rest of the song, which I would have loved to hear them come back to. The sixth track “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes”, becomes a filler for me as the notes overlap with the previous song, and I lose interest a bit. I feel this is their weakest tune off Rainier Fog. “Maybe” barges in with the duality of DuVall’s and Cantrell’s vocal lines, with a nice melody to it. I dislike how many words are in the chorus alone. It’s like Jerry Cantrell just wanted to see how many rhymes he could fit in this song. However, this has to be one of the best tracks on the album. Lyrically, it’s a bit too much to take in one sitting. The eighth song and second single is “So Far Under” with both music and lyrics by William DuVall. All previous tracks were either a collaboration between bandmates or solely Cantrell. You can see the lyrics are much different and concise compared to Cantrell’s writing. I appreciate this difference immensely as a difference in songwriting can even out albums. It’s a good single, but as we move into the third and last single, “Never Fade”, it is lyrically made by both DuVall and Cantrell. It is the best single out of the three released, and another strong point on the album. The verse aesthetics are strikingly different compared to the chorus aesthetics, which elevates the track. It has such a catchy hook, that the weaker songs on the album could have used a lot. The final song, “All I Am”, sets the tone in a somber way, bringing us down from “Never Fade”. With its duration and grim lyrics, it gives off the question, “Is this all I am? Who am I?”. At first, I thought it could be regarding amnesia or even Alzheimer's disease. I was really disappointed by the end as the vocalists clearly had an opportunity to end on a really emotional tone, with its final lyrics, “Cannot recognize the face before me / It’s unfamiliar”, but they built the song back up with an ending guitar solo. I was still impressed with Cantrell’s guitar work, but structurally they could have ended on a perfect note with just the lyrics fading out after.
I feel William DuVall brought a more sensitive touch to the band, making songs more singable, yet I can tell he’s building off previous AIC releases to keep that recognizable sound. DuVall stated “We make a habit of kind of starting pretty much with a clean slate every time we've gone in. And that challenges you, so we'll have to see how it manifests this time. But we're not there yet.” (http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/its-too-early-to-talk-about-new-music-from-alice-in-chains-says-william-duvall/). This is why I find each album with DuVall slightly different, and Rainier Fog shows that. Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting evolution is also a good point to look into, as the band became a two-vocal band instead of just ONE lead singer. Cantrell’s writing and guitar structure always impresses me, as well as Mike Inez’s bass presence. Drummer Sean Kinney was amazingly the only one I wasn’t hearing as much. His biggest impact of drumming is during “The One You Know”. Besides that, he was pretty much in the background. I really appreciate his existence though, because he’s been with the band since their inception. The “Alice In Chains” sound is such a great blend of harmonies, sludgy riffs, and catchy choruses, all the while with topics diving into drug abuse, personal philosophical battles, and even war.
I give Rainier Fog a 8 out of 10, due to it being such a solid album, with minimal weak points, with the strongest songs being “The One You Know”, “Rainier Fog”, “Maybe”, “So Far Under” and my favorite “Never Fade”. The impact and influence they have had on the grunge scene is legendary, but on the modern hard rock scene? It’s becoming prevalent that AIC is a crucial factor. Alice In Chains’ sound is an absolute classic and I hope they continue doing it well.
For more info on the band, check out their website: https://aliceinchains.com/
Jerry Cantrell (Lead/rhythm guitar, vocals)
Sean Kinney (Drums)
Mike Inez (Bass guitar)
William DuVall (Vocals, rhythm/lead guitar)