Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Album Review: Alice In Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

Just so we get this out of the way first, no the title is not referring to the band. Alice In Chains, arguably the first grunge band on the Seattle scene in the late 80s, could be considered a dinosaur by some cynics. The band has a rocky 25 year history, marked by severe drug problems and the death of original front man Layne Staley. Regardless, Alice is back with frontman William DuVall, who recorded with the band for their last album Black Gives Way to Blue. At the very least, of this new release, I can say that Alice In Chains is far from approaching “Dinosaur status.”

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is a classics-sounding Alice In Chains record. For the longtime fans, all the elements that they love the band for are there. The riffs are heavy and distorted, the vocals harmonize in an eerily, ethereal way, and there are moments of great softness on the album. Unfortunately, things start to blend together early in the album, making it confusing to keep track of the tracks.

In better news, only the first few tracks of the album blend together which each other – and the rest of the band’s catalog, so there is enough room for new life to emerge. Tracks like “Stone” and “Pretty Done,” sound rather similar, and classic Alice-y, so they easily fall prey to the “sounds like every other song they’ve recorded” complaint, as do others on the disc. I suppose the issue is that due to the heavy and slow nature of the riffs, the elements create a hypnotic effect on the listener. The hypnosis lulls one into being unsure of the lengths and starts/stops of tracks – not exactly the affect you want to have to keep people interesting in listening.

On the other hand, the classic Alice vocal harmonies are always a welcoming touch to the tracks. The harmonies, beyond the eerie sweetness, also help to build up the sonic landscape and assist in creating a full sounding record. In addition to this, one of the disc’s other strengths is the split in aesthetic. About one third of the tracks are more acoustic-based or softer numbers, in contrast with the sludgy, heavy tracks that make up the majority. Songs like “Voices” and the title track are done in this softer fashion, and showcase the group’s lyrical ability and musical beauty. The title track also provides Alice In Chains a soapbox, from which they take jabs at the hypocrisy of Christians’ opposition to the LGBTQ movement. The band’s thoughts are perfectly captured by the line “The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer / The devil put dinosaurs here / No problem with faith, just fear.”

These two sides, the soft/melodic and heavy come together well on the seven minute-epic, “Phantom Limb.” The verses take the heavy, creeping riffs common throughout the album, while the chorus uses beautiful harmonies and echoing guitars to create this haunting track. While not an emotional climax, it defintley represents one of the more ambitious, and successful, tracks on the disc.
Overall, the album’s hypnotic, sludge- y tracks weigh the project down. Yes the riffs and melodies are heavy, interesting and rock out – but only on the first listen through. Even during the first listen, those riffs and melodies begin to blend together.  Undoubtedly the Alice-In-Chains loyalist will be pleased with the LP. Those of us who have not drunk the punch-in-chains, will undoubtedly want something a little different.

Key Tracks: “Hollow,” “Voices,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Phantom Limb”

Rating: 6.5/10

-          Jackson Sinnenberg, whose reviews can usually be found at The Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio’s music blog


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