Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog
Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: August 24, 2018
I am sitting here speechless. I have so many emotions flooding through me right now, I am unsure where to even begin. Alice in Chains does it again, and without late frontman Layne Staley. it is amazing how they continue to rock me this hard emotionally. I will admit, I had my doubts, as I am sure most Alice in Chains fans did when the announcement of a new singer came out. My doubts are diminishing, album after album.
Alice in Chains dominated the Seattle, Washington area in the 90’s. They were in good company too, with bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. It was a golden age for grunge music, although personally I have always considered Alice in Chains more of a metal group. Members: Layne Staley (vocalist), Jerry Cantrell (guitarist), Sean Kinney (drummer) and Mike Starr (bassist), paved a path for something that was so real and emotionally driven, people were struck by the pure magnitude of everything they were. Mike Inez quickly took Starr’s place in 1993 as AIC’s new bassist. Staley’s voice was undeniably one of the most distinct and memorable voices, and it hit your gut in the most raw and beautiful way. They have been no stranger to tragedy, with Staley passing in 2002 and Starr passing in 2011. The future was grim for AIC after Staley’s passing, and fans believed it was the end for them. How could it not be? The “voice” had fallen and no one could fill Staley’s shoes. When AIC announced a new singer would be taking over and they were going to continue to make new music, many people had strong emotions over it.
William DuVall was the name. I didn’t care, he wasn’t Layne. When they started to tour, I begrudgingly went, because I wanted to see Jerry Cantrell. Cantrell was always another anomaly to me. His guitar sound, tone, and backup vocals were nothing I had ever heard. I was going to see Alice, with only half a heart. As soon as DuVall started playing and singing, I immediately ate my words. Was it okay to enjoy this new talent? Or was I betraying the other half of me that belonged to Staley’s voice and lyrics? It was almost as if I was admitting that I liked a step mother, while my real mother sat awkwardly behind me. I couldn’t put it into words, but I was sold, right from the start. It was not the same, but it didn’t have to be at that moment. I knew AIC was going to survive and continue their legacy.
Their first album, Black Gives Way to Blue, released in 2009, hit me like a ton of bricks. I still cry listening to that album. “Black Gives Way to Blue”, the song, is a masterpiece and an obvious soul-crushing lyrical piece about losing Layne. Their second album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, released in 2013, was another incredible record, but admittedly didn’t fill me full of the emotions AIC always did, so I felt they were losing their hold on me. Enter Rainier Fog.
Rainier Fog did not take long to recreate that old feeling. I heard the first song, “The One You Know”, on the radio one day and was struck by it. I knew it was Alice in Chains, you can always tell when it is them. I loved it. I rushed home and asked my Alexa to play it a few times over. The heavy riff had grabbed my attention from the beginning of the song, (if you have heard it, you will understand). The drums made it impossible for my feet to stay still. The lyrics, well they did what they do best and tears quickly crept into my eyes. They did it again. This song got me, and held me, and didn’t let go, even after the track was long over. I knew this was going to be on repeat for a while, and I was nervous that this was going to be the only song that would give me this strong of an emotion on this album.
I went in skeptically to hear the rest. The title track has a strong meaning for me. I think it is one of those songs that everyone will get something out of it, but no one will have the same perception or experience. Track five, “Drone”, has a groovy sound. The riff is catchy and almost bluesy. It has that haunting slow melody that AIC is known for, with an epic Cantrell solo. The drums shift in the middle of the song along with the bass and guitar to give a different beat, then moves back to the original later.
Track seven, “Maybe”, begins with harmonizing vocals and they dive in so effortlessly it just flows. I can see this song calming a depressed mind, or engulfing it, depending on the person’s frame of mind. Track nine, “Never Fade”, is my favorite on the album. A friend, Jon Wilson, drummer for band Heroes For Ghosts, stated he heard this song was written for Chris Cornell and Layne Staley. When I researched more, I learned it was DuVall who wrote these lyrics and stated it was indeed about Cornell and Staley as well as DuVall’s grandmother, who had recently passed. I have recently lost a good friend, and the lyrics fit grief so wonderfully; “Never far away, I always see you. When it all goes dark, you light my way through.” It is a highly emotional song that anyone who has suffered a loss will struggle to listen to, yet feel the familiar form of healing that only lyrics seem to offer. Hell, I am emotional even typing these words. It is tragically lovely. The album ends with “All I Am”, which is Cantrell’s lyrics that fit the same theme, in my mind, of the previous song. It is slow paced, melancholy, and a perfect way to end this flawless album.
I have rattled on like I have the appropriate words to describe Rainier Fog, but what I feel, is not something I can put into words. To me, this means this album has touched a part of my soul that rarely is touched by new music. It makes my heart hurt, but I can’t stop listening to it. I think comfort comes from those dark places. While we go through tragedies in our lives, I am thankful some artists are able to put music to these valleys in life. While I am reviewing this through my own valley, I don’t think my perception would change. It is and will continue to be a new favorite of mine that will get worn out for overuse. If you are an AIC fan at all, you will not want to miss this album.