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The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

Capitol (2013)
Rating: 7/10

It never seems possible that Alice In Chains has lasted as long as they have. Their debut, 1990’s Facelift, was essentially a metal album with enough unique twists to be accepted by the growing throng of heavy alternative fans; a full-length opus full of sludge and anger. Dirt was one of the best albums of 1992, and remains the band’s top selling album.

Following a primarily acoustic EP (1994’s Jar Of Flies), Alice In Chains became an on again / off again proposition, occasionally releasing music as vocalist Layne Staley’s drug addictions allowed. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell meanwhile, released two outstanding solo outings in Boggy Depot (1998) and the incredible Degradation Trip (2002). Cantrell had established himself as a solo artist, and it seemed Alice In Chains need not rear its head again.

With the death of Staley in 2002 it appeared the band was done, but 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue re-introduced Alice In Chains to the world, including new guitarist / vocalist William DuVall. Personally, I found Black Gives Way To Blue less than satisfying. Facelift and Dirt were the soundtrack to my life for several years, and Black Gives Way To Blue sounded too hesitant to live up to Alice In Chains’ reputation and fans’ expectations.

From the seed that was Black Gives Way To Blue comes the bloom of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, a rounded, fully realised Alice In Chains album. The band has reclaimed the angst, sludge and fire that permeated their best work to give us songs that sound, more than anything else, like Alice In Chains.

‘Hollow’ starts the set off with a song that could easily have been included on the band’s 1995 self-titled release. The thick, dirty, neo-stoner metal groove is awash in Alice In Chains’ trademark dual vocal attack, and Cantrell’s lead guitar work is at the same time fluid and disjointed. The result is a mess of ugly pieces that come together into a powerful whole. ‘Pretty Done’ follows in a similar vein, using one of Cantrell’s sick guitar riffs, employing repetitive notes that are only quasi-melodic on their own, but create the musical backdrop which has become standard Alice In Chains fare.

The album’s title track employs a guitar riff that is reminiscent of Facelift’s ‘Love, Hate, Love’, with a chorus that fits the new album perfectly. These songs are Alice In Chains at their best, and represent both the band’s history while building toward the future.

Alice In Chains has always added mainstream rock songs to their gloomy metal albums, resulting in their continual success. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is no different. ‘Breath On A Window’ is an excellent modern rock song with great drive. ‘Low Ceiling’ is mid-tempo rock that’s perfectly suited for radio, while still fitting in with Alice In Chains’ quirky take on metal.

‘Scalpel’ opens with a fairly standard acoustic pop riff, building into a rock crescendo toward the end. This track is a logical extension of the band’s work on Jar Of Flies. Closing track ‘Choke’ offers another introspective song with an acoustic rhythm guitar. All of these come across as Alice In Chains reinterpreting modern rock into their own formula. It’s both familiar and fresh, and full of the maturity and confidence that Black Gives Way To Blue lacked.

As a fan, this is what I wanted since I heard Alice In Chains was reuniting. These songs adhere to the Alice In Chains formula, while showing forward momentum. Jerry Cantrell has proved himself to the be the mastermind behind the Alice In Chains sound over the years, and William DuVall fits seamlessly into the void created by Staley’s absence. Mike Inez (bass) and Sean Kinney (drums) are still a unique and powerful rhythm section.

My only concern is that these songs are ponderously long. All but two are above the five-minute mark, with some stretching beyond seven minutes. Still, the band puts a lot of quality into songs that could easily become tiresome. Alice In Chains have created an album that may not stand up beside their best works, but is a definite step in the right direction.

Jim McDonald

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