“Black Gives Way to Blue” is the first release from Alice in Chains since the 2002 drug overdose of singer Layne Staley. AIC fans who relished Staley’s pained, groaning vocals will not be disappointed with that aspect of this new album, as singer William DuVall does his best Staley impression. But despite the band’s obvious attempt to still sound like the Alice of old, the opening track “All Secrets Known,” which is essentially just a slow, grungy introduction to the rest of the album, begins with the lyrics:
“Hope, a new beginning
Time, time to start living – Like just before we died.
There’s no going back to the place –
We’ve started from…”
It’s a good way to open the album, acknowledging the past but confirming the band’s vision toward the future. A nice rocker “Check My Brain” is the next cut, and you find that you have to remind yourself that it’s DuVall and guitarist Jerry Cantrell providing the vocals, not Staley. We get to hear DuVall’s true voice on “Last of My Kind,” and now we finally get some variance between his style and Staley’s, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – DuVall has some anger behind his voice, though not with the intensity that Staley blasted out. Cantrell’s chunky riffs are still the band’s defining musical sound, and even 18-some odd years removed from the group’s first hit “Man in the Box,” the riffs still sound great.
There are a few ballads on the album, including “Your Decision” and “When the Sun Rose Again.” These are the weaker moments on the album; while they show that the band is not compelled to play angrily and pound drums for 11 tracks, they are little more than brief interludes – filler, if you will – between the better songs.
A couple of those better songs are the dark, sludgy “Acid Bubble” and the rocker “Lesson Learned,” with the former being reminiscent of one of AIC’s masterpieces “Rooster,” from 1993’s “Dirt” release.
The album closes with an unfortunate dull thud, with the uninspired “Private Hell” and the title track as the short finale. There are moments on the album that show some great potential, but apart from a few enjoyable tracks, the work as a whole fails to impress and ends up feeling a little stale. It’s nice to hear a little of the old Alice in Chains sound again, but if the band is to rekindle their previous success, perhaps it’s time to change things up a bit.
Black Gives Way to Blue gets 2.5 out of 5 stars