New album – and their first in five years – Rainier Fog sees Alice in Chains reach their third release with ‘new’ vocalist William DuVall. Avid A-I-C fans will be pleased to know that they haven’t picked this album to make some sort of massive deviation from the sound and feel their previous five efforts.
In fact the sheer familiarity of the sound available to the ears on …Fog is one of the most successful aspects of the record. If you’re au fait with the band, you’ll be right amongst the action from the get go as the band hit their well-worn groove straight off and don’t stray off the path for the ensuing hour of downtuned fun and frolics.
You’ll doubtless be up to speed with opening track The One You Know, which the band have been playing live and for which they released a video in May. It’s quite superb, built on a strident yet melodic set of riffs and a plenty-to-get-your-teeth-into chorus, but pleasingly there are even better tracks awaiting as the album unfolds.
The title track isn’t one of them, though it’s very far from bad; rather it’s a by-numbers grunge grinder, Jerry Cantrell front and centre with a classic Seattle riff, rhythm buddies Mike Inez and Sean Kinney gratifyingly high in the mix in support.
Red Giant is similarly solid and dependable, but Fly is something else. It’s quintessential Alice in Chains in fact; woozy through the verses, building gracefully towards a beautifully stately chorus and then exploding into a hair-raising solo from Cantrell. As the song ebbs away you’ll actually feel your goosebumps receding as the gentle outro lead work lulls you back to ground level. It’s stunning stuff.
The doomy Drone sees the band fusing Black Sabbath muscularity to Crosby Stills and Nash filigree as only they can; Riffs lurch drunkenly in and out of focus and intensity, but DuVall and Cantrell’s harmonies remain bang on point throughout the song’s many shifts in focus. It’s the masterful manipulation of sound by veteran artisans, you’ve heard it all before – yet still it mesmerises and delights.
The acoustic-based Maybe keeps up the good work with more fantastic vocal interplay, but if you feel its all getting a little soft at this point don’t worry. Next up track So Far Under is a glorious slab of good, old fashioned doom metal that’ll not only give the neck muscles a good workout it’ll have you off up into the loft looking for your prized old flannel shirts. It’s that good…
But perhaps best of all is penultimate track Never Fade, a fantastic synthesis of styles that sees the band hooking up a gorgeous pop chorus to heavy riffage in scintillating fashion. Strangely enough it brings to mind sometime A-I-C wannabes Life of Agony just a little, which in itself is probably more of a tribute to Cantrell and company’s lasting class rather than LoA moving from the role of the influenced to the influencer. Whatever, it’s a magnificent piece of music that you should acquaint yourself with soonest.
The melancholy yet uplifting All I Am ends things on a characteristically downbeat note, yet you’ll go away from first contact with this album feeling nothing but joy; Rainier Fog is a fabulous set of songs, performed by a band that seems to be able to pull off bombastic melodic grandeur as easily as shelling peas. Please don’t leave it five years between albums next time guys!
Rainier Fog is out on Friday August 24 on BMG Records.