Let’s start with an honest admission: Alice In Chains will never be quite the same band after the tragic death of frontman Layne Staley in 2002. And it wouldn’t feel right if they tried to be. Staley wasn’t just the voice of Alice In Chains; in many ways he was the heart, as well.
But that doesn’t mean this metal-tinged grunge band (or grunge-tinged metal band, depending on how you hear them) can’t move into a new season, or that their music post-Staley can’t be just as impactful in other ways. 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, their “comeback” album (a loosely held term considering they never really broke up) didn’t convince all the critics, but new lead vocalist William DuVall held his own, giving a sense of hope to many that Alice In Chains could indeed move on. Their latest effort, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, should further alleviate the critics’ concerns, being a consistent, well-crafted album full of the chunky guitar work and tight harmonies we’ve come to love from this band.
One thing that hasn’t changed about Alice In Chains: they’ve still got one of the best damn rhythm sections to be found anywhere. This is one of those bands who have not suffered from a slew of personnel changes (the only non-original member besides DuVall is bassist Mike Inez, and he’s been with the band for two decades), which means these guys know each other well, and they know how to play together. Bass and drums are so tight together that it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, and Cantrell’s guitar work over the top has never been better. As to vocals, the band made a very wise choice in picking DuVall—someone with whom Cantrell can harmonize almost as well as Staley, and someone with a similar understated vocal approach who can carry the band’s collective sound without trying to copy.
What has changed is the content of the songs. Lyrically speaking, much of the band’s internalizing and dark brooding came from Staley’s songwriting, and with his passing, they have not attempted to mimic him. With Cantrell as the remaining primary writer, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is quite possibly the band’s most external album to date. Cantrell has always been prone to reflect upon relationships, and those moments are scattered throughout the album (for example, the closing track “Choke”: “Go then, if you don’t feel right living in our home / Choking, eat your pride alone”). But you’ll also find sprinkles of social and political commentary, none more apparent than in the title track, which brazenly tackles the current convergences of politics and religion: “The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer…No problem with faith, just fear.” The band also seem to take a subtle stab at the naysayers who have questioned their post-Staley existence with “Low Ceiling”: “Finding ceilings low / I’m too big or this room’s too small…Write me over, false reporter / Can’t you let me shine?”
Collectively, Alice In Chains have weathered a terrible storm, one that left them with a permanent scar. But The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here bears witness to their ability to heal and to move forward. It’s a solid, dynamic record that sends a clear message that this is a band that is far from over.