What was the best era of rock and roll ever? To any modern fan of rock music, the grunge era stands out by far as the golden age of rock and really when you think about it, was there anything cooler than Nirvana or Soundgarden, at least for those few years? To the fan of grunge, Kurt Cobain is the world’s greatest rock and roll musician, not John Lennon. Unfortunately, these are times long gone now as most of the era’s great bands broke up, disintegrated or were decimated by death. And while we tend to think of Kurt as the greatest casualty of the times, lest we not forget the unfortunate passing of Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. For a while, Alice in Chains were among the biggest acts in the world only to see it all come undone and topped off by the sad demise of lead singer Layne Staley. Despite the sadness of it all, the story of Alice in Chains is one of survival, determination and resilience as the band is back with its first new album in fourteen years.
The grunge era days of Alice in Chains have been well documented over the years and really don’t require reiterating. The reunification of the group can be traced to a January, 2005 benefit concert to raise money for tsunami relief. It was the first time in nine years that drummer Sean Kinney, guitarist Jerry Cantrell and bassist Mike Inez had performed together and it helped start the healing process after Staley’s 2002 drug related death. After the benefit concert, the three of them started to throw around the idea of possibly doing another show and maybe more in the future. Cantrell, Kinney and Inez all were comfortable with the idea of moving forward with the band, the only roadblock being the absence of a lead singer. They had a few ideas for a vocalist but all along the one name that stood out was William DuVall of the band Comes with the Fall. DuVall had played with the group already in a few reunion concerts and he was also familiar to Cantrell after he had played in Cantrell’s touring band for his solo work. DuVall seemed like the perfect choice, not only because of Cantrell’s familiarity with him but also because of their tight chemistry together singing on stage.
Despite the fact that DuVall seemed to fit in to the group extremely well, they remained hesitant to enter the recording studio to write new material. Kinney had publicly expressed a desire to write new material, but not as Alice in Chains. At the suggestion of long time friend Dave Grohl, the new Alice in Chains met with producer Nick Raskulinecz to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a new album. Before the meeting, the band had already worked on some demos which they then played for Raskulinecz who was immediately impressed so much so that he almost immediately agreed to produce a new album for the band. By early fall of 2008, the band along with Raskulinecz began work on a new record at Grohl’s Studio 606 in Northridge, California.
Eventually things moved to Henson Studios in Hollywood where the band continued work on the new record. There was such a strong chemistry between the four of them that the album was written and recorded relatively quickly and by spring 2009, they had settled on the eleven songs that would compose the record. They decided to name the album Black Gives Way To Blue after the song of the same name, an emotional tribute to Staley sung by Cantrell and featuring guest piano work from none other than Elton John. Since its release at the end of September, Black Gives Way To Blue has been extremely well received by both fans and critics. To promote the record, the band played a number of festival dates over the summer and will be embarking on a European tour in November. The crowd reactions to DuVall and the new lineup have been remarkably positive, something that was anything but guaranteed considering the fact he was filling the role of one of the legends of modern rock and roll music. The story of Alice in Chains is one of survival and perseverance. The group has survived the ultimate hardships and somehow pulled through. To anyone facing personal hardship this is certainly a story that can provide the utmost inspiration and encouragement for it is a tale of amazing survival and resolve.