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 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 - according to coroners, he actually died on 5th of April, 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 songnote 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, Jerry Cantrell's second solo album, Degradation Trip and Metallica's Death Magnetic were both dedicated to him.
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.
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. Their sixth album, Rainier Fog, was released August 24, 2018. It debuted at Number 12 on the Billboard 200 and Number 1 on the Hard Rock charts. Even over a decade and a half since the untimely demise of one of their most established members, the band continues their stride and stands strong.
- William DuVall - vocals, guitar
- Jerry Cantrell - vocals, guitar
- Mike Inez - Bass
- Sean Kinney - Drums
- Layne Staley - vocals, guitar 1987-2002
- Mike Starr - bass, 1987-1993
- 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
- 2018 - Rainier Fog
See also Jerry Cantrell's solo work
"Gonna end up a big ole page of them tropes":
- Ate His Gun: "Dirt" mentions this. And scraping brains from the walls.
- Badass Boast: comparatively rare in their lyrics compared to some metal bands, but still there:
- From "Last of my Kind" : " A wolf alone upon the hillside / I live on what they throw away/ I go to sleep behind the 8 ball/ I live to fight for one more day"
- And "Phantom Limb": " My regrets are many, true.../ Still so much worse lies ahead.... for you!
- 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!".
- Big Rock Ending: A particularly disturbing variety in "Head Creeps". Kinney's drum fills become chaotic, slowing down behind the guitar's dissonant squeals. "Hate to Feel" has a similar ending.
- 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. Ironic, as the song is about censorship.
- At least the above example tries to make some sense. There's another hilariously bad radio edit where the aforementioned curse words are just edited in reverse instead of actual words. Staley's upward inflections in the words are also reversed and it sounds very off.
- Break-Up 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: The eponymous album; with the exception of three of the singles, every song on it was written by Layne Staley about addiction. To a lesser extent, Dirt, as many of the lyrics are in some way about a gloomy topic like death, depression or addiction ("Rooster", which is about Jerry's father's experiences in Vietnam, and "Down in a Hole" about a failed relationship are both depressing enough to qualify; "Dam That River", which was about an incident where Cantrell and Kinney got into a fight that ended with the latter smashing the former over the head with a coffee table, may be the lightest song lyrically, and that's if you don't interpret it as having a Dual-Meaning Chorus about Gary Ridgway dumping his kills in the Green River).
- 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, "It Ain't Like That" through "Real Thing", has an extremely noticeable glam sound left over from their predecessors Alice N Chainznote .
- Its also visible in the lyrics depending on which member is writing them. Layne's lyrics were by far the darkest, often being about hopelessness, depression, and suicide. Jerry's tend to be more about failed relationships and introspection. Duvall's, while not lighthearted by any stretch, seem to be more standard metal lyrics, full of Badass Boasts and the like.
- Destructive Romance: The narrator of "Sea of Sorrow" is escaping one of these while telling their ex that without them, their problems are theirs alone and they no longer have a crutch to rely on while they continue being dysfunctional.
- 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. However, select songs such as "Hate to Feel" can be considered straight-up doom.
- Drugs Are Bad: Very, very bad; many of their songs, especially on Dirt, are about drugs' destructive influence and the pain they've caused. This becomes Harsher in Hindsight when you consider that Layne Staley and bassist Mike Starr died from drug overdoses.
- 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.
- "God Am" has three potential meanings. It's obviously a pun on the word "goddamn", but it also refers to the well-known name of God which is often translated as "I Am". It could also be construed as a way of emphasizing the idea of God being far beyond human understanding, using broken Engrish like a small child might.
- Dying Alone: Layne Staley ended up dying in his apartment alone—it took two weeks before anyone even realized he was dead.
- 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. The lyrical content, while hardly sunshine and rainbows, wasn't nearly as bleak and depressing as on subsequent albums, being slightly more standard to what you'd expect from a mainstream metal band at the time.
- Pre-Facelift demo songs like "I Can't Have You Blues" and "Social Parasite" are perfect examples of 1980s glam-metal era AiC.
- 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", "Would?" and "Died". And especially "Over Now." And a good portion of Black Gives Way to Blue, especially the title song.
- Hair Metal: Started out as this, as some 1980s demos will demonstrate; 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.
- I Am the Band: Jerry Cantrell has been this since Layne's death. Sean Kinney is the second most prominent member having also been there since the beginning.
- 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.
- The Lost Lenore: Demri Lara Parrott, Layne's ex-fiancee. After her own steady slide into addiction culminated in a fatal overdose in 1996, Layne fell into a severe depressive low and was placed on suicide watch; Mark Lanegan, who was a close friend of Staley's, specifically pinpointed this as the point where Layne just stopped caring about life and majorly accelerated his decline.
- 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.
- "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 despite the gloomy lyrics.
- "Check My Brain" has a very upbeat and poppy chorus where Jerry (a former addict) wonders why the hell he ever moved to an environment like Los Angeles.
- Madness Mantra: "Love Song."
- Metal Scream:
- Sometimes used really effectively by Layne.Heeeeeeere, here comes the rooster,
YOU KNOW HE AIN'T GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!
- Tom Araya provides one in his guest appearance on "Iron Gland."
- Sometimes used really effectively by Layne.
- 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 fight 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. A few may interpret it as having 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.
- "Love, Hate, Love" is absolutely about a serial killer however. The lyrics wouldn't be out of place in a Slayer song.
- 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.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Layne. Like Kurt Cobain, he is regularly seen as a dour, morose figure, and while this was quite true during the final few years of his life, the reality is that for most of his life, Layne was a silly, lighthearted, fun dude with a goofy, irreverent sense of humor who would always come up with something ridiculous just to make his friends and bandmates laugh.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "IF! I! WOULD! COULD! YOU!"
- Religion Rant Song: "Bleed the Freak" and "Get Born Again" are fairly straightforward "Christianity is silly" songs, especially the latter. "God Am" is a pretty straightforward Type One example in its verses, with Layne asking God why He seemingly does nothing while horrible things are happening in the world. "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" is a little ambiguous in that, while it mostly seems to be from the perspective of a holier-than-thou person and references both the titular belief and hatred of homosexuals ("Jesus don't like a queer") in the chorus, the song later argues that there's no problem with religious faith itself, but there is a problem with using religion to scare people.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Rooster" is about Jerry Cantrell's father's harrowing experiences during The Vietnam War. note
- Signature Style: Largely slower-paced material with a distinctly metallic bent, heavy usage of odd time signatures, relatively simple leadwork that involves large amounts of wah, and an extremely heavy focus on eerie vocal harmonies and tradeoffs. Jerry's riffing also tends to involve relatively unconventional usage of bends to create an uneasy, disorienting feel ("It Ain't Like That" and "Check My Brain" being good examples).
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: They were relentlessly cynical during the Layne Staley years. The William DuVall albums, though by no means idealistic, are much more optimistic (see the song "Lesson Learned", for an example of a more lyrically optimistic AIC song).
- 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").
- 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.
- Speech Impediment: Layne developed an "'s' as 'sh'" one in his later days, thanks to drug-induced high. This is most audible in the MTV Unplugged performance.
- 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, "Degradation Trip specifically being one to Dirt''
- "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. There's also old camcorder footage of them screwing around in their rehearsal space once, with Staley playing a very basic kick-snare-kick-snare beat and Kinney rolling around on the ground shrieking. They captioned it with a scroll which read: WARNING - SINGER DRUMMING, DRUMMER SINGING
- 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."
- Technician vs. Performer: Present in the original lineup, as Cantrell had some knowledge of theory and had actually been choir president in high school and wrote songs in a much more deliberate, involved manner in general, while Staley had little actual musical experience and was more or less completely self-taught, and his few songwriting contributions were often very unconventional in style due to this. Averted with the current lineup, as DuVall was a guitar player first and foremost; Cantrell even mentioned how much of a paradigm shift it was.
- 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.
- "Rain When I Die" alternates between 6/4 during the verses and 4/4 during the choruses. "Hollow" from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is also written this way.
- "Nothin' Song", off of self-titled, averts this. Although the verses have a weird drumbeat throughout, all of it is in 4/4. "God Am" from the same album also counts.
- "All Secrets Known", off of Black Gives Way To Blue, is written almost entirely in 6/4, save for a small interlude, which is in common time.
- The second riff from "Acid Bubble", also from the aforementioned album, is written in 12/4, with a drumbeat in 4/4.
- The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here's title track has breakdowns 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..."