Alice In Chains’ sixth album is a purposeful nod to their North West roots. Not only is it the first time that the band have created a full length record in their home town of Seattle since 1995’s self-titled release, it was recorded in the same studio – Formerly Bad Animals Studio, now Studio X. The title of the album was taken from Mt Rainier, a volcano located South East of Seattle which casts a shadow over the city where the bulk of the grunge movement took place. Whether geographical location has any bearing whatsoever on the style of music an artist feels inspired to create is open to interpretation – but going home has switched Alice In Chains in to gears that have them creating music that sends the listener down memory lane.
There’s a very familiar feel to Rainier Fog. Like a friend you haven’t seen in long time that looks a bit different, but in general is just how you remember them the last time you saw them. The entire vibe of the album is similar to that of Facelift and Dirt with many of the songs sounding like refined works from the sessions that became those albums. The only exceptions perhaps being the opening tracks “The One You Know” and the album title track that seem to carry over from where The Devil Put Dinosaurs left off. But that said these are still strong tracks. The nostalgia effect is most evident with tracks like “Red Giant”, “Drone” and the DuVall-composed “So Far Under” – the latter containing a very nice solo indeed proving his abilities not only as an accomplished singer but also a very talented guitarist. “Fly” captures the essence of 90s radio grunge with two verses of psychedelic chorus-driven guitar separated by one of the sweetest solos Jerry Cantrell has performed. The excellent down-tempo “Maybe” has a touch of Jar of Flies about it, beginning with some wonderful harmonies sung in acapella. The anthemic standout “Never Fade” plays as a tribute to the late Layne Staley and fellow Seattle native and long-time friend of the band Chris Cornell, who I’m sure would appreciate this album greatly.
Rainier Fog is a fantastic collection of songs – arguably the best album in the modern era of the band – but one thing this album doesn’t have is a marquee song. This and only this is what stops this album from being heralded amongst the bands best releases. This album doesn’t have a “Man in the Box”, or a “Rooster” or a “Nutshell”. Nothing particularly leaps out to the listener but rather there is a consistent level of craftmanship in each song with not one particular element prioritised over another. It is a matured incarnation of a sound created when these guys were basically kids. A controlled approach to a chaotic creation.
The musicianship on this album is something to behold though. Jerry Cantrell’s work stands out as some of his best song-writing and guitar work in over two decades, with a meticulous approach to each component evident. His vocals are also worth mentioning as he has clearly been honing his abilities as what is essentially the lead singer of the band. Accompanied by the incredibly impressive William DuVall, the vocal harmonies on this album are the finest levels since the days of Layne Staley, conveying pure emotion in every inch perfect tone. The structure of each track changes from song to song with the excellent Sean Kinney and Mike Inez performing a rhythm section that keeps the listener hooked and anxious to hear what’s next. Every one on this album brought their A-game and it shows throughout the 53 minute duration.
Being back in the location where it all began has ignited creativity in the band that hasn’t been heard in a while. Where Black Gives Way To Blue was a great reinvention, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here contained far too many misfires and neither album really encapsulated the signature Alice in Chains sound. Ranier Fog however will impress even those still skeptical of the post Layne Staley era. The fact remains though that the band have now recorded as many full-length records with William DuVall as they have with Layne Staley. While the spirit of Layne Staley lives on in the band’s music, they have very much stepped out of that shadow now and DuVall can no longer be considered the “new guy” but rather an integral part of the continuation of this band. The quartet are on great form with Rainier Fog and appear to be showing no signs of returning to anonymity that threatened to dissolve them in the aftermath of recording the last album they made in Seattle twenty-three years ago. If anything the album is a strong indication that this band is finding new wind in its sails and makes for a mouth-watering prospect as to what might be next on the horizon. One can only hope fans won’t have to wait long to hear the follow up to what is a contender for the best rock record in 2018.