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VINE VOICEon September 29, 2009
When Alice in Chains released their self-titled album in 1995, it showed the band moving in a different direction from the one they'd explored previously. Jerry Cantrell was singing lead on more tracks than ever before, Layne Staley's vocals were heavily layered (double-tracked), and the grunge sound they'd had turned into a more sludge-metal type sound. Staley died 7 years after the release of that album and it appeared for a while that Alice in Chains had died with him. I worship Layne Staley, but I realize he was not solely responsible for creating the Alice in Chains sound; but, he did leave a large void when he passed away. Since Alice in Chains announced they were recording a new album with new vocalist/guitarist William DuVall, the question running through people's minds has been "Can they do it without Layne?" Well, after steadily listening to this album since it leaked, I can tell you, in all honesty, that they can.

"Black Gives Way to Blue" picks up pretty much where that last album left off. This is not "Dirt Pt. II," but Alice in Chains for 2009 and even with Staley gone, the album still retains the recognizable Alice in Chains sound. There are moments where you can not only feel Staley's presence, you can almost hear his voice. While William DuVall is technically Layne Staley's replacement, Jerry Cantrell handles a large majority of lead vocal duties...But make no mistake, this is not a Jerry Cantrell solo album. This is very much an Alice in Chains album. When DuVall and Cantrell harmonize together in the way Staley and Cantrell did so many years ago, it's pretty clear that Alice in Chains is back.

Here is a track-by-track review;

1. All Secrets Known-Begins with a terrific guitar riff and instead of launching into a brutal, blistering metal song becomes simply a subtle track about moving on. "There's no going back to the place we started from," sort of perfectly sums up their desire to record this album despite the cries of "It won't be the same" from many fans. (4/5)

2. Check My Brain-Another great riff; also the 2nd single from the album. DuVall lurks in the background, only really handling harmony duties with Cantrell, but this song rocks and is just as good as old Alice in Chains. (5/5)

3. Last of My Kind-On the third track, DuVall handles the lead vocals and his voice, by itself, works very well in AIC. DuVall also penned this track...This is a catchy, hard-rocking song; one of my favorites on the album. (5/5)

4. Your Decision-Instantly reminiscent of "Nutshell." It's a great/beautiful track with a fantastic guitar solo by Cantrell (who also handles a good
majority of the lead vocals). (5/5)

5. A Looking in View-The first single Alice in Chains released from this album. A little over 7 minutes, this track instantly got me excited for the new album. This doesn't just sound like classic Alice in Chains, it IS classic Alice in Chains. Great vocal harmonies, great music, and a terrific chorus. There's parts of this song that literally sound like Layne Staley has been brought back to life (5/5)

6. When the Sun Rose Again-A beautiful song that I intitally wasn't too fond of. Sounds like an extension of the "Jar of Flies" sound. (5/5)

7. Acid Bubble-Almost 7 minutes long; One of the best on the album, but also took a bit to grow on me...The song is character by slow verses sung simultaneously by Cantrell and DuVall, with DuVall singing the chilling bridge of the song before launching into a brilliantly harmonized chorus, and finally there's the heavy interlude. This song is a masterpiece. (5/5)

8. Lesson Learned-Has been one of my favorite tracks on the album since I first heard it. It's a great song and when Cantrell & DuVall sing "In your darkest hour, you strike gold," I get goosebumps. It's really a fantastic song. (5/5)

9. Take Her Out-This is the weakest song on the album, in my opinion. It's not a bad song by any means, it's just weaker than the other tracks...However, it does have a good chorus. (4/5)

10. Private Hell-I really didn't like this song at first, but now I find it one of the most powerful. The vocals here are very Layne Staley-esque and it's a very powerful, personal song. This, more than almost all the others, reminded me of classic AIC. In the vein of "Down in a Hole," give this song some time if you don't like it immediately. It's a great track (5/5)

11. Black Gives Way to Blue-The final track has some haunting guitar courtesy of Cantrell and piano by Elton John; dedicated to the memory of Staley, it's a beautiful, haunting, and touching song. A great track and a great way to close the album.

Jerry Cantrell has been outspoken about his goal not to destroy the Alice in Chains legacy with this album and I'm beyond proud to report that he did no such thing. This is a more-than-worthy entry in a great band's career, but more importantly...It's a great album, by itself. This is not a retread of Alice in Chains or an attempt to capture the same magic as before...This is just a fantastic album by a hard-working, musically gifted band that would be a great album no matter what moniker the band carried with them. Listen with an open-mind and be happy that AIC is moving on from the memory of Layne Staley to still give us fans great music. I guarantee that Layne Staley is smiling right now and would be pleased with the great work these four guys have done.

GRADE: A
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on September 29, 2009
Not much I can say that hasn't been said, but the moment I heard "All Secrets Known" and the sludgy guitar kicked in, I was hooked. Great lyrics, great way to slowly bring in the new singer, and the chemistry between everyone is still there. It only took one full listen and I can already say that "Private Hell" is one of my favorite AIC songs. And the more I listen to it, the more I'm beginning to think "Your Decision" is going rank right up there, too.
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on September 29, 2009
Very excited about this album. AIC has been my favorite band since I became aware of them circa 1994. I really didn't know what to expect with the 13 year hiatus and new lead vocalist, but this album has truly exceeded my expectations.

1. All Secrets Known 8/10 - Great opener. Slow, heavy track. Seemed kinda bland on first listen, but it's grown on me. There's more here than I first thought.

2. A Looking In View 9/10 - The first track to be released from the album back in July. Awesome song all around.

3. Check My Brain 7/10 - This is the radio-friendly rock song of the album. Catchy tune but not all that impressive for AIC. Sort of an advertisement that they have a new album out.

4. Last of My Kind 9/10 - Great heavy rock song. Very cool, Cantrell-ish opening riff. DuVall really shows off his vocals on this one.

5. Your Decision 10/10 - Amazing track. Definite radio single. Likely the "hit" of the album". Great harmonized vocals by Cantrell and Duvall, and very cool lead guitar parts by Cantrell throughout the song.

6. When the Sun Rose Again 9/10 - Very nice acoustic track with harmonized vocals by Cantrell and DuVall. Reminiscent of something off of Sap.

7. Acid Bubble 10/10 - Cantrell at his best. This is the masterpiece of this album. The most impressive arrangement Cantrell has done to date in my opinion.

8. Lesson Learned 8/10 - Catchy medium-pace rock song. Possible radio single.

9. Take Her Out 7/10 - Another medium-pace rock song. I get the feeling DuVall had a hand in this one.

10. Private Hell 9/10 - I really like this track. Another potential radio single. I've heard people say it reminds them of Down in a Hole, but DuVall's layered vocals sound more like Staley's vocals did on "I Stay Away", though the song "flows" much more like "DIAH".

11. Black Gives Way to Blue 10/10 - Again, Cantrell at his best. Song is about LS. Also, Elton John plays a little bit of piano on this one.

Overall, I give the album 5 stars.
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on December 10, 2009
For those of you who were wondering if Alice in Chains (AIC) could do it after such a long hiatus, rest assured this album is nothing short of incredible. The album starts off with a track called "All Secrets Known," which will remind AIC fans of the song "Died." Right after that, turn the volume way up because it goes into one of the catchiest songs on the album called "Check My Brain." The guitar riff on this is just ridiculous, and the combination of Jerry and (new guitarist and singer) William Duvall singing makes this song spectacular. This song makes me want to drive fast! The song "Your Decision" will remind AIC fans of "Nutshell" from Jar of Flies. The song "Acid Bubble" is a very intense song and changes rhythm drastically a few times throughout. Turn the volume up on this one too! The highlight of the album, however, is the last two songs. "Private Hell" gave me chills the first time I heard it. Looking at the lyrics, it seems as if Jerry explains the private hell people create for themselves when they don't embrace the people they truly love. Jerry and William sing in perfect unison on this song and the harmony literally touches the soul. One of their best songs ever!!! Finally, the album closes with "Black Gives Way to Blue," which is a tribute song to the late Layne Staley. For those of us who have been fans of AIC for a long time, this song will put lumps in your throat. The length is short (kind of like Layne's life) and Elton John plays piano on it. Jerry shows his voice off like crazy on this song. This album is incredible, and I am happy to say that AIC is back. A warm welcome to William Duvall as well. You fit the band quite well.
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on October 18, 2009
I guess we all have to present our bona fides in doing these reviews. I have listened to AIC since around the time Man in the Box was released as a single, and by 1993 they were far and away my favorite band. As a reviewer on another site mentioned, Alice was always a bit like "metal's answer to The Band." AIC always covered a lot of territory sonically - the same band did Would?, I Stay Away, The Nothing Song, Am I Inside, Heaven Inside, Queen of the Rodeo, etc. That was the key to their greatness. Every album was an adventure, and it always took several plays to peel back the layers and wrap your head around what was going on. I still find little moments on their self titled album that I hadn't noticed after 14 years.

So what is different today? Obviously, Layne is no longer with us. As one of THE voices of 90s rock, filling that void presented one of music's Everests. I won't belabor the point as it has been pretty well ground in to dirt at this point. Layne Staley was a huge part of this band, and his loss left behind a great chasm. A less talked about point I think is that the band always was constantly evolving. One stroll through The Music Bank box set reveals a band that never rested in one place for too long. There has always been an archetypal AIC sound, but it has always been more of a common thread from album to album than a complete tapestry. There is simply no telling what this band may have sounded like, even if Layne had not died, after a 14 year gap in their body of work. Jerry Cantrell's own solo efforts, Bogey Depot and Degradation Trip, leave the best clues. One must keep in mind that these were solo albums because AIC couldn't get in a room for years. Cantrell simply had little choice but to go it alone if he wished to put out material in these years. While Black Gives Way to Blue preserves the thread, you can hear a bit of Jerry's solo albums on BGWTB as well. It isn't surprising, nor do I think it should be a negative. Had AIC done material during this period, it might have sounded very similar.

My favorite thing about Black Gives Way to Blue is how it nods to the vocals of the past without lingering there. William DuVall is very much his own person, and I like that the band has left him room to be that person. While Jerry's vocals are maybe a bit more prominent, William plays an invaluable role. His final, protracted high vocal on "Private Hell" is one of my favorite moments on the album, and his snarl on "Last of My Kind" fits perfectly. Throughout, his harmonies play an excellent counterpoint to Jerry's vocals, which should be noted are stronger than they have ever been. Most importantly, the interplay between their voices sounds natural and soulful. DuVall is not Layne Staley, but who could have been? I like that the band went for a different kind of voice from a little known musician than hiring a name to mimic Layne. I am excited to see what future material may sound like with DuVall handling more of the lead vocals. The fact he plays guitar is a nice asset to add as well.

Without running through every song, "Private Hell", "Black Gives Way to Blue", "Check My Head", and "Your Decision" are worth the price of admission alone. "Private Hell" would be at home on the last Alice and Chains album and probably has the most Staley-esque vocals on the album. However, I don't think this was simply trying to fake Layne. Sooner or later while listening to this album, one comes to the conclusion that this is just how AIC sounds. Cantrell's solo stuff never came this close to sounding like Alice, at least to me. "Black Gives Way to Blue" is a lovely goodbye to Layne, and the way the song ends leaves a catch in my throat after many listens. The whole album, from the opener "All Secrets Known" to the eerie "When the Sun Rose Again", is great. I still can't quite believe I just bought a new AIC album!

So Alice in Chains has found themselves in the position of AC/DC when it comes to singers. It's one thing to lose such distinct voices over personal disputes or break-ups. It's quite another when they unfortunately pass before their time. And like post-Bon Scott AC/DC, there will be some fans who, I believe a bit selfishly, will never accept an AIC without Layne Staley. That is as unfortunate as it is inevitable. However, for the rest of us who understand why Mike, Sean, and Jerry might have wanted to give it another go, I think they have done the very best any of us could have hoped for. Black Gives Way to Blue is great cover to cover and pays respect to the past without wallowing in it. In fact, I hear a good bit of future on this album, and I hope AIC does too.
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on March 5, 2016
I have no doubt this album could have been great but unfortunately the sound quality and mastering on this album is absolutely abysmal.
Everything sounds incredibly washed out and there's noise all over the place. There's no space between any of the instruments, and as a result, NOTHING stands out. The vocals, the guitars, the drums....everything sounds washed out and staticky.

Who ever engineered this album is a complete amateur and didn't know what they were doing. I have a harder time believing that the older members of the band approved the finished album (unless they're going deaf). I've listened to live versions of these songs that sound fine. So why does the album have to sound like crap? Everything washed out, no dynamic range, it sounds awful and hurts my ears after just a few minutes of listening.

This album is the perfect example of why I rarely by albums anymore.
The mastering and audio ("loudness wars") on albums nowadays is total garbage. And the public at large is also responding to the crappy state of music by not purchasing albums and songs. CD and digital music sales are on the decline because our music today sounds like crap.

Music should be pleasant to listen to, not cause you to go deaf.
Musicians and sound engineers need to stop mastering music so damn loud, they're washing out everything, killing the dynamics, and ruining what potentially could be good music.
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on October 21, 2009
So I had the opportunity to see Alice in Chains open for Tool this summer in Pomona.Two reasons why i didnt, first I hated the line up with Hollywood Undead & some others that didnt interested me,second I wasnt that thrilled that AIC had a new lead singer.I was a huge fan of AIC all through out the 90's & got to see them in 93.The show was immaculate,flawless in my eyes, still to this day I believe WOULD has the best bass intro of that genre.Yet still somewhat skeptical, I decided to pick up this new release,guess what? Its frickin awesome!,it completely sounds like AIC.Still has the heavy riffs the lyrics of isolation & resuscitation.I still think it isnt necesarily better then the original line up,But its a continuation of a band that is truly prolific.The songs are heavy but not cocky,they dont seem to care what you think,a band enjoying what they do best.they work together as a whole ,a unit -theres no mega front man superstar!So sit back ,relax ,enjoy a cold one, and listen without prejudice.
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on May 9, 2012
BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE got some great AIC songs like LAST OF MY KIND, YOUR DECISION, LESSON LEARNED and CHECK MY BRAIN....the new singer is very good, and tries really hard to sing like Layne....Cantrell is a great singer, guitarrist and songwriter....but it[s really not the same ALICE from DIRT, FACELIFT and JAR OF FLIES....it[s more in a Jerry Cantrell solo feeling....ALICE IN CHAINS is one of the greatest METAL bands ever, and this new version of them without Layne is very good....but it[s not really AIC without Staley.........
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on September 29, 2009
I write this after just seeing them live in Seattle. I had a leaked copy of the album and was hoping to hear some of the new songs: they played 4 (Check, Looking, Acid, Black) and they just blew the house down. Jerry played Black... by himself in the encore and I find myself listening to this over and over, it is that beautiful.

This album not only retains AIC's "sound" but moves onwards & upwards from the turmoil of those last years of no music, tours, etc. If you think the album is heavy, try seeing them live--there's no word to describe how talented these guys are. Duvall is a supreme singer who can hit the highs but also lurks in the lower territories Layne lived in when needed. Plus, he plays guitar on a few songs which helps the texture of the songs as well. I love Cantrell's voice, he is a great singer in his own right and there is nothing wrong with the many dual harmonies he sings with Duvall--in fact, you know it is AIC just by hearing his voice on most songs, which, I'm sure, pleases some of the diehards who are undecided about Duvall.

This is my album of the year--you won't be checking your brain for buying it!
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on December 17, 2015
i like this album allot. it's like some one coming out of a bad depression and finally seeing the brighter more positive side of life. leaving behind the 'woe is me' and 'life sucks then you die' attitude and realizing you do have a choice to move on and grow up into something better. that's what i got out of this album any way.
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