Saturday, March 2, 2019


(c) 2018 BMG

  1. The One You Know
  2. Ranier Fog
  3. Red Giant
  4. Fly
  5. Drone
  6. Deaf Ears Blind Eyes
  7. Maybe
  8. So Far Under
  9. Never Fade
  10. All I Am
Jerry Cantrell--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars
William DuVall--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Mike Inez--Bass
Sean Kinney--Drums, Percussion

The record kicks off with the lead single, "The One You Know", which seems appropriate, because instantly the listener is greeted with an unquestionably Alice In Chains riff, hard and chugging, downtuned and sludgy, somewhere between grunge and metal, right in the world that AiC occupied so perfectly in the early-to-mid-90s.  Kinney's thudding work on the kit is the perfect time-keeper on this plodding, chunky rocker that carries a bit of a "Grind" feel to it.  Cantrell has always been one of the most underrated guitar players in the hard rock/metal world, and his talent is on full display here, as are his vocals, which William DuVall complements with near perfection.  No, DuVall is not Layne Staley, but that's kind of the point; this is Alice In Chains v2.0 doing their absolute best to recall what you fell in love with about the band in Version 1.  And with "The One You Know", and the follow-up title track, "Rainier Fog", it is easy to remember the halcyon days of this great band.  A tribute to the area where the band broke, "Rainier Fog" is probably my favorite track on an album full of great songs, and is, to my mind, the best song the band has produced in the DuVall era.   

The album is chock full of crushingly heavy riff, courtesy of Cantrell, and a deep-in-the-pocket bass presence, which Inez has brought to the band since replacing the late Mike Starr on the 1994 EP, Jar Of Flies, and the following year's self-titled album, Alice In Chains.  His bass is particularly noticeable on tracks like "Red Giant", and particularly on the doomy, sludgy "Drone",  which finds Cantrell and Company channeling their inner-Black Sabbath on a nearly 7 minute long mid-tempo riff rocker that would likely leave Ozzy grinning and shaking his head, especially when the chorus hits and Cantrell moans, "Stepping in and out of madness/Such a dedicated drone", with DuVall taking the higher vocal road in the pairing.  Thick chords of sludge drip off the song from every place you care to look, from the mournful solo to the rumble of the bass line to the production of the drums.

"Fly" backs off the distortion just a tad, giving way to a more melodic approach that is not wholly different from the style that AiC utilized on the stunningly good Jar Of Flies.  Again, just an amazing song that finds Cantrell and DuVall harmonizing perfectly, which is something that they also do to an extremely effective level on the country-tinged vocal intro to "Maybe"...the harmonizing returns again to intro the second verse, as well.  Again, a largely acoustic-based rocker similar to the Sap and Jar Of Flies, this song is yet another example of a band that is creatively leaps and bounds ahead of so many other bands today, daring to explore a style that is under-employed and certainly underappreciated, where the vocals are utilized as much as an instrument as a messenger.  Haunting, aching, somber...stunning..."Maybe" creates such a nearly perfect melding of voices that, if I'm being honest, I have to question whether or not Cantrell could have pulled them off with Staley. 

"So Far Under", with its repetitive, whining riff, returns the band to a more self-titled release style and the way the vocals swirl down a hole, accompanied by equally swirling, plunging guitar lines, is a work of art in and of itself.  Again, the cleaner vocals used on the verses here recall "Grind", which is a damn fine tune, but the drain of the chorus here just pulls your attention away from anything said in the verses, sucking you in, pulling you along, and then cutting you off with a sudden stop at the end of the track.  Repeat, repeat, repeat...I can't stop hitting repeat.

"Never Fade" feels a bit like Alice In Chains covering a Soundgarden song, which is likely the point as the track is said to be at least partly inspired by the passing of Chris Cornell.  DuVall handles the lead vocals on the bridge leading into the chorus sections of this pure 90s track, and the Cantrell/DuVall guitar tandem works especially well here.  Kinney, as per usual, is the understated metronome with his crisp patterns and punctuating kicks, and Inez is once again a presence that is both heard and felt with each strike of a bass chord.  Good, good stuff. 

The album's closer, "All I Am", is an haunting, emotional epic of darkness that recalls so much of what was great about this band on Dirt, which found the band constantly introspective, dark, and seeking a way out, even if that way out only lead to more darkness.  That same sense of foreboding is felt on "All I Am", with Cantrell's moaning guitar parts somberly wading through an emotional mire, regardless of if it is plugged in or not.  

While I don't hate The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, to me it felt disjointed in places, especially when compared to the surprisingly good Black Gives Way To Blue.  But here, on Rainier Fog, the band finds themselves perfectly straddling who they were and who they are, not turning back, but instead pulling their past into their present and introducing the two, marrying them into a brilliant piece of heavy rock that should spawn multiple treks onto the modern rock charts for the now-retro rockers.

Look, I realize grunge wasn't everybody's thing, and I'm cool with that.  But Alice In Chains wasn't...and still isn't...your typical grunge band, as they were...and much doom metal as anything.  Add in a vocal style, in either version of the band, that carries so much more weight than all the Nirvanas and Screaming Trees and Tads and Mudhoneys and Sponges of the grunge scene.  As such, if you were a fan back in the day, Ranier Fog should be right up your alley.  If you were more into what the band was doing on the first two reunion efforts, there are still things to enjoy here, as the band both returns to their roots while also exploring new directions to travel in.  As for me, I'm loving pretty much everything about Ranier Fog, and hope that the band doesn't ever stray too far from what they have discovered here. 

If I'm perfectly honest with myself, I'd have to say Rainier Fog slips past Facelift and the self-titled record and lands in the top three studio album releases from this legendary least for right now...trailing only the near perfection of Dirt and the brilliant Jar Of Flies EP.  But, to be fair, the top five AiC records are all so great that rating them seems like a laughable pursuit.

Rating:  A sludgy, grungy, metallic cranker!  Twist it up to 8.5!

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