After 14 years since the release of their last album and the tragic death of lead singer Layne Staley, Alice in Chains is back with their most powerful and impressive release since 1992’s influential Dirt.
Black Gives Way to Blue is Alice in Chains’ way of welcoming themselves back into the music world with new singer William DuVall. Fans and critics were concerned when guitarist Jerry Cantrell announced that he and the original members of Alice in Chains would be moving on from Layne Staley by introducing a new singer. However, DuVall has created his own personal sound completely unlike Layne’s. The album begins with the opening track “All Secrets Known,” a track that reinvents Cantrell’s signature style of heavy power chords, then shifts to a more complicated rhythm. It’s not long until DuVall quickly introduces himself on the second track, “Check My Brain,” in which he boasts radio-friendly screams amongst Cantrell’s simple, yet arduous riffs. The song “Last of My Kind” proves symbolic of Alice in Chain’s career status in the music world: “I’m the last of my kind/I’m the last of my kind still standing” showing that Alice in Chains is in fact the true last grunge band in the world today. Jerry Cantrell then revives his classic acoustic guitar and singing abilities on “Your Decision;” a track that brings listeners back to the band’s epic MTV Unplugged session. The heaviest song of the album, “A Looking in View,” might possibly even be Alice in Chain’s heaviest song to date. The verses consist of feedback from Cantrell’s guitar, foreboding drummer Sean Kinney’s slow, yet rocking, drumbeat. “Acid Bubble” provides listeners with the biggest surprise of the entire album. The song begins with Cantrell’s ominous guitar being subdued by DuVall’s impressive vocals that would not seem out of place if being sung on top of a mountain. Midway through the song, the tempo immediately picks up with what is sure to be one of Jerry Cantrell’s most memorable riffs as DuVall repeatedly exclaims “Intend obsolescence/Built into the system,” over intense and harsh power chords, and then returns to its original gloomy state. The song in its entirety feels like you are walking through mud; a slow and intense trudge that at times provides hope, but is a journey of despair.
Although Black Gives Way to Blue feels like an entire journey of despair, the title track and final track of the album provides hope for this tragedy-stricken band. Cantrell takes lead vocals and is backed by one of his biggest influences, Elton John, on piano. “I don’t wanna feel no more/It’s easier to keep falling,” he yells as almost as if a cry for help, as the song serves as a remedy and remembrance for the late Layne Staley. “Lay down, black gives way to blue/Lay down, I’ll remember you,” Cantrell sings, as he and Alice in Chains close out another chapter of their long and tragic career.