Album: “Rainier Fog”
Artist: Alice in Chains
Release Date: Aug. 24
Losing Layne Staley was never the plan for Alice in Chains.
The iconic grunge singer’s overdose shook the band to its core in 2002, resulting in a a lasting hiatus that would plague any future releases. For years, it was a mystery if Alice in Chains could ever replace Layne Staley.
Until William DuVall entered the picture.
Mixing signature riffs and attitude from guitarist Jerry Cantrell with the edgy yet powerful vocals from DuVall gave Alice in Chains a rebirth. The band found their own stride outside of the shadow of Layne Staley, and the DuVall-led 2009 debut “Black Gives Way to Blue” was both a welcomed return to form and breath of fresh air for the grunge rockers.
With 2013’s “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” Alice in Chains found a formula to both sustain and build on their renewed success, becoming one of the last remaining overseers of grunge rock in a dwindling period.
“Rainier Fog” is a different story.
Partially recorded at Seattle's Studio X, Alice in Chains brings elements of both the old and new to “Rainier Fog” that encourages listeners into finding new value in old stock.
Jerry Cantrell has proven that he can make a harmony work elegantly off of heavy guitar riffs. Three albums in as the de facto leader of Alice in Chains, “Rainier Fog” is perhaps the best example to date of the dwindling ideas left for Cantrel. As the chief songwriter for the album, Cantrell exemplifies a prowess for intriguing lyrics while employing his signature knack for catchy guitar hooks. The album feels dated in many senses, showing Alice in Chains slowing down rather than ramping up.
Cantrell also handles most, if not all, of the vocals on “Rainier Fog.” DuVall works as Cantrell’s side man throughout the album’s harmonies, and is also credited with penning the track “So Far Under” and co-writing “All I Am.” Cantrell’s control over the band overarches each progressive Alice in Chains record, and becomes more visible as DuVall moves closer to the side in the studio.
“Rainier Fog” is an odd story for Alice in Chains. Cantrell has effectively maneuvered and engineered the Alice in Chains sound around his guitar parts, employing bass and drum sections to play off of riffs and licks. The harmonies fans know and love are there in spades, and heavy drums deliver a punch to “Rainier Fog” that is hard to shy away from. Only Cantrell is up to the same song and dance that has lingered throughout the best of Alice in Chains’ work. It’s a reliance on the same-old same-old that gives “Rainier Fog” an exhausted feel even with the quality production and vocal performances.
DuVall continues to be a welcome addition to the Alice in Chains lineup. His tenacity on the mic works to give each track something extra, even those that fall short.
“Rainier Fog” is top-heavy with thick, sludgy riffs followed by acoustic driven tracks throughout the second half. Album opener “The One You Know” shows Cantrell at his best, intertwining a guitar riff with a heavy bassline from Mike Inez that reminisces “Man in the Box.” With a steady yet thumping drum performance from Sean Kinney, Cantrell provides a wah wah heavy solo that gives the track an even more attractive middle section.
“Maybe” brings a break in pace for “Rainier Fog.” The track is driven by acoustic guitars and laid back drums that serve to give a larger platform to Cantrell’s and DuVall’s harmonies. With track-opening vocals from Cantrell and DuVall, the track sounds so close to cuts from “Black Gives Way to Blue” and “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” that it loses steam before the first verse can begin.
“Rainier Fog” offers appeal to veteran fans and new listeners alike. Cantrell is never one to disappoint with dedicated and intrinsic guitar work. He devotes himself to each Alice in Chains record in both musicianship and lyrical ability. Only his presence throughout the majority of “Rainier Fog” goes beyond an already perfected place to the left of the stage on guitar. While successfully maintaining a mostly original lineup, Alice in Chains have reserved their spot amongst the ranks of reigning rock heavyweights with creative drives.
For better or worse, “Rainier Fog” marks a point where Alice in Chains should reflect on their current path.
Brian Evans is the Senior Arts Editor and can be reached at Brian.Evans@ubspectrum.com and @BriamEvansSpec.
Brian Evans is a senior English major and The Spectrum's senior arts editor.