Music: Alice in Chains

L-R: Sean Kinney, Jerry Cantrell, Layne Staley, Mike Inez
Related Acts:

A grunge / metal band from Seattle, Washington. Alice in Chains was one of the biggest acts of the early '90s. Founded in 1987 by frontman Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, they are most known for their dark, gloomy sound and vocal harmonies between Staley and Cantrell. They were arguably the first band of the grunge scene to achieve commercial success with their debut album Facelift. During this time their anthemic hit "Man in the Box" received significant play on MTV's Headbangers Ball block, giving them an audience among metal fans. Their next release was an acoustic EP called Sap, probably best known for the song "Got Me Wrong," which was featured in Clerks.

Their follow up full-length album, Dirt, was released in 1992, and became a success with the mainstream audience, due in part to Nirvana's release of Nevermind and the breakout of grunge. They released another acoustic EP in 1994, titled Jar of Flies, which quickly topped the Billboard 200 charts making it the first ever EP to reach the number one spot (and remained the only EP to gain this distinction until Linkin Park released Collision Course with Jay-Z in 2004.) One year later they released their self-titled final studio album which reached number one again, and is often considered the last album of the grunge era.

The group's self-titled 1995 album dealt came around the same time that Layne Staley's heroin addiction began to overwhelm the singer and caused tension within the band. By 1996, the group disbanded and Cantrell released a solo album, Boggy Depot. In 1999, the group reunited to produce a greatest hits album/box set with several new songs. Despite teasing a full-on reunion, Staley's heroin addiction culminated in him dying from an overdose in early April 2002. Staley's corpse would not be discovered until two weeks later (April 20, 2002, ironically on the eight year anniversary of the death of fellow grunge singer, Kurt Cobain's death.) After Staley's death, Alice in Chains officially disbanded.

Even after his death, Layne Staley remains a major inspiration for many artists today, with many singers such as Sully Erna of Godsmack (the band claims that their name is not a reference to the AIC song of the same name, but even if it's genuinely not, the connection is hard to avoid making,) Aaron Lewis of Staind, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park citing him as a major influence. In addition, he was an inspiration for Jerry Cantrell's second solo album, Degradation Trip and Metallica's Death Magnetic.

The band reformed in 2005 for a tsunami benefit concert and began touring with a number of guest vocalists, including Phil Anselmo, Maynard James Keenan, James Hetfield, Chester Bennington, Sebastian Bach, and Ann Wilson. They chose William Duvall as their official new vocalist in 2006 and released their first new album in 14 years, Black Gives Way to Blue, in September of 2009. The album peaked at #5 on the Billboard chart and has sold in excess of 500,000 copies.

On the 8th of March 2011, the band suffered its second Author Existence Failure when former bassist Mike Starr was found dead in Salt Lake City.

Their fifth album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, was released May 28, 2013. By its second day, it reached #1 on the iTunes' rock album chart. Even 11 years since the untimely demise of one of their most established members, the band continues their stride and stands strong.

Members:
  • William Duvall - vocals, guitar
  • Jerry Cantrell - vocals, guitar
  • Mike Inez - Bass
  • Sean Kinney - Drums

Former Members:
  • Layne Staley - vocals, guitar 1987-2002
  • Mike Starr - bass, 1987-1993

In addition to several demos, compilations and live albums, the band has released the following:
  • 1990 - Facelift
  • 1992 - Sap
  • 1992 - Dirt
  • 1994 - Jar of Flies
  • 1995 - Alice in Chains
  • 2009 - Black Gives Way to Blue
  • 2013 - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

The band exemplifies the following tropes:

  • Ate His Gun: "Dirt" mentions this. And scraping brains from the walls.
  • Berserk Button: Making fun of his addiction was a surefire way to make Layne Staley extremely angry. When The Rocket (a now-defunct Seattle-area music 'zine) wrote an article on the retirement of Alice in Chains' longtime manager that included the words "But who's to wipe and change Alice in Chains now?", Layne evidently took great umbrage to this and sent them a jar of urine and a bag of human feces with an attached note that read "Wipe and change this, motherfuckers!".
  • Bowdlerise: In the radio and video edit versions of "Man in the Box," the word "shit" is censored and rewritten in the lyrics, so that they say "Buried in my pit" in the first verse, and "Shove my nose in spit" in the second verse.
  • Breakup Song: "Down in a Hole" was Cantrell's way of admitting to his long-time girlfriend that the life he had chosen as a member of a major touring act was simply not something that would allow him to maintain the relationship.
  • Careful with That Axe: Layne's screams at the beginning of "Them Bones" and one in the middle of "Sickman."
  • Concept Album: Every song on Dirt is in some way about death, depression or addiction. "Rooster" is the only exception, and even then death and darkness are prominently featured, since it's about Jerry's father's experiences in Vietnam.
  • Darker and Edgier / Lighter and Softer: In the Staley era, their studio albums is the former and their EPs are the latter. Their full-length LPs are all heavy metal albums that become gradually heavier; their debut Facelift is heavy, but still very glam-inspired. Dirt is much darker and heavier than the previous album, and the self-titled album is by far the heaviest of the lot. In between those three albums are the two acoustic EPs, Sap and Jar of Flies, which are more folksy and blues-inspired than the metal albums.
    • Of course, the EPs are only light and soft as far as AiC music is concerned; compared to any other acoustic record, the two are still as heavy and dark in their own right as is possible for acoustic songs.
    • Strangely, Facelift alone manages to fit this description. The first half, "We Die Young" through "Love, Hate, Love", is the dark and heavy style familiar to Aic fans that was kept for their following albums. The second half, "Ain't Like That" through "Real Thing", has an extremely noticable glam sound left over from their predecessors Alice N Chainznote .
  • Determinator: Kinney almost didn't play on Facelift because he had broken his hand; Greg Gilmore of Mother Love Bone was slated to do session drums for the album. The producer felt that it wouldn't be the same without Kinney, however, and so Kinney wound up taking his cast off and recording drums with a broken hand, a bucket of ice by his side at all times for whenever the pain became unbearable.
  • Doom Metal: They could be seen as a more alternative take on the genre, especially in Dirt and Alice in Chains, given the slow tempos, heavy Epic Riffs and serious subject matter. While not themselves classed as doom metal, they certainly influenced the genre.
    • Sludge Metal: Starting with Dirt, strengthening in Alice In Chains, and now this is their default metal style upon their revival. (listen to Lab Monkey or Acid Bubble)
  • Drugs Are Bad: Very, very bad; many of their songs, especially on Dirt, are about drugs' destructive influence and the pain they've caused.
  • Dual Meaning Chorus: There are multiple theories on the meaning of the chorus in "Would?" and also several regarding "Dam That River"; the latter is definitely referring to the uncontrolled bleeding from a head wound that Sean Kinney gave Jerry Cantrell after he smashed him over the head with a coffee table (confirmed by Word of God), but it could very well be referring to Gary Ridgway's habit of dumping the bodies of his victims in the Green River as well.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: While Facelift had all of the standard Alice in Chains elements firmly in place, it also had extremely prominent glam influences from their earlier days.
  • Epic Rocking: They have several songs between six and eight minutes long. The only song over eight minutes is "Frogs" at 8:18.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: "Again".
    Hey, let them do it again, yeah
    Hey, you said you were my friend
    Hey, turn me upside down, Oh
    Hey, feelin' so down.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Rain When I Die" does this.
  • Genre-Busting: Have incorporated influences ranging from Doom Metal, Grunge, Alternative Rock, Hard Rock, Hardcore Punk, Blues, and even Country Music into their sound at various points. Alternative Metal is really the only genre label that is relatively uncontroversial when describing them.
  • Gone Horribly Right: After his parents' divorce, Layne became convinced that his father would return if he became a celebrity. Fast-forward 15 years, Layne is a famous rock star, his father does get in contact with him... And then both of them fell into heroin abuse.
  • Grief Song: "Get Born Again" and "Died." And especially "Over Now." And a good portion of Black Gives Way to Blue, especially the title album.
  • Hair Metal: Started out as this; while they obviously shed all traces of it later on, there were still some very noticeable traces left over from that era on Facelift, particularly on the second half.
  • Important Haircut: About the same time Layne began using heroin, he cut off his signature dreadlocks.
  • In Name Only: To no one's surprise, there are some that categorically refuse to accept the "new" Alice in Chains, deriding Duvall's voice and songwriting talents as less than Staley's before the album was released. Even though Cantrell has done most of the singing since that album.
  • Loudness War: Both Black Gives Way to Blue and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here are extremely loud in comparison to the Staley-era albums.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "No Excuses" sounds like an upbeat song, but it's actually about Layne's addiction alienating him from the band.
  • "Would?" is incredibly upbeat and the chorus is really happy, but the lyrics are about the death of their friend Andrew Wood of fellow Seattle band Mother Love Bone. Although the upbeat feeling could also be interpreted as getting over the grief.
  • "Real Thing", the closing track of Facelift, is about a drug usernote  who rejects his friends' concern for help. Just like other songs on the last half of Facelift, the song is very glam-metal inspired.
  • Madness Mantra: "Love Song."
  • Meaningful Echo: A tragic, Real Life one. In his last interview, Staley essentially said goodbye to the world and talked about how he wished his life ended differently.
    "This fucking drug use is like the insulin a diabetic needs to survive. I'm not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this shit. It's a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning and I'm throwing up all the time and shitting my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It's the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body." [...] "I know I'm near death, I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It's too late. I never wanted [the public's] thumbs' up about this fucking drug use. Don't try to contact any AIC (Alice in Chains) members. They are not my friends."
    • Now, read the lyrics to "Would?" and this.
  • Metal Scream: Sometimes used really effectively by Layne.
    Heeeeeeere, here comes the rooster,
    AH YEAH!
    YOU KNOW HE AIN'T GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!
    • Tom Araya provides one in his guest appearance on "Iron Gland."
  • Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: They are masters of depressive, hopeless lyrics. While they rarely have gory lyrics and aren't too bad with profanity, the sheer despair that their lyrics give off keep them firmly in the 8 - 10 range. A few songs on Facelift and Jar of Flies are in the 5 - 6 range though. Their Alice N' Chainz material was about 3-5.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Their heavier material is generally in the 6 to 8 range. Their acoustic material, meanwhile, is in the 2 to 4 range.
  • Murder Ballad: "Dam That River", maybe. It was definitely about Cantrell and Kinney getting into a war of words that resulted in Kinney getting so angry that he picked up a coffee table and smashed Cantrell over the head with it and the song was Cantrell's middle finger to Kinney in regard to that chain of events, but it may or may not have a dual meaning as a song about Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, who was still active and at large at the time that the song was written and had racked up an immense body count in the King County area.
  • New Sound Album: Dirt sounds very different from Facelift, having a more Doom Metal sound and completely excising all of the last vestiges of their Glam Metal days. Alice In Chains also sounded very different from Dirt, having a more psychedelic influence, and the heavier songs being more Sludge Metal than straight doom metal. Naturally, after a long Hiatus, Black Gives Way to Blue" also sounds unique from its predecessors. The trope was finally averted by The Devil put Dinosaurs Here, which, while still sounding distinct and having its own voice, was just a natural streamlined progression from Black Gives Way to Blue''
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "IF! I! WOULD! COULD! YOU!"
  • Religion Rant Song: "Bleed the Freak" and "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here".
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Rooster" is about Jerry Cantrell's father's harrowing experiences during The Vietnam War. note 
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: They were relentlessly cynical during the Layne Staley years. The William DuVall albums, though by no means idealistic, are much more optimistic.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Their characteristic harmonies, usually with Layne/William having the strangled nasal whine and Jerry the smoother tone, though Jerry seems to do the nasal every once in a while. Also Ann Wilson, Chris Cornell and Mark Arm's contributions to Sap.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": In their glam days, was Alice 'N Chains spelled with an S or a Z? It doesn't help that Layne was inconsistent about it on their fliers.
  • Spiritual Successor: Jerry's solo albums Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip are considered to be continuations of the Layne Staley era
    • The Song "Private Hell" is generally considered to be this to "Down In A Hole". "Private Hell" in turn has its own spiritual successor in the form of "Choke" on the next album.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Drummer Sean Kinney sings lead vocals (actually just yelling random stuff into a megaphone) on "Love Song" from the Sap EP. In fact, all the band members switch instruments on that track.
  • Surreal Music Video:
    • From the Staley era: "We Die Young," "Angry Chair," "I Stay Away," and "Grind."
    • From the Duvall era (so far): "Lesson Learned" and "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here."
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: "We Die Young" was inspired by Jerry Cantrell's reaction to watching young children dealing drugs while he was taking the bus to rehearsal after Kinney had kicked him out of their apartment following a fight.
  • Uncommon Time: Many Cantrell-written tracks use this. "Them Bones" alternates between 7/8 during the verses and 4/4 during the choruses, and "Rain When I Die" is written in 7/8.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Nothin' Song" is pretty much just nonsensical rambling put to a song, but the outright disjointed strangeness of the lyrics actually helps show you just how deteriorated Layne was becoming at this point.
  • Yarling: "Ahhhhm th' Meeeiin in th' bahks..."