Alice in Chains Black Gives Way To Blue Listening Report
By Vince Neilstein:
Last night's "listening party" in NYC for Alice in Chains' new record Black Gives Way to Blue was one of the most bizarre such events I've ever attended. In the metal world, "listening party" usually means the label or PR firm invites us out to a divey bar where we all drink heavily and chat while the new record plays on repeat. Sometimes the band plays a few songs… sometimes there's an open bar or drink tickets (aka a makeshift piece of paper that entitles the bearer to a free drink). But all in all, they're pretty laid back affairs.
Not this one. The event was at a theater in the brand new New York Times building in Times Square. Attendees had to check in with someone at the door, then hand in any and all mobile phones / ipods / computers that could possibly be used as recording devices. Serious! Everyone gathered in a cavernous, wood-paneled lobby area where there were no fewer than 10 waiters in fancy black shirts walking around with platters of hour d'oeuvres — mini kobe beef burgers, samosas, and some other mysterious but delicious cooked treat — and as much wine or beer as our little hearts desired. A certain "Metal Insider" who shall remain nameless took full advantage of the free wine, and I'd imagine was in quite the right frame of mind for the album listening. Also striking: the makeup of the audience was at least 75% stripey-shirt dudes. Us normal shorts-and-t-shirt dudes felt kind of awkward in comparison — this was a listening party for ALICE IN FUCKING CHAINS???
At 7:30 we were all let into a big movie-style theater with speakers set up on the stage and a small screen across the middle that would later display images presumably from the album artwork. Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney came out for a quick speech, the lights dimmed, and the music began… LOUD.
Interestingly, I was the only person I could see that was taking notes with pen and paper, the good old-fashioned way. Rather than give you guys some faux mumbo-jumbo about what the album sounds like and what it represents in the evolution blah blah blah FUCK, I'd like to give you my notes. Having only heard the album once I don't feel like I'm in a position to make any grand judgments, but what I wrote down was in the moment and what I was thinking at the time. My hope is that these notes give you some idea of what you're in for. But I will say this… the new Alice in Chains record is heavy, deep, and it's fucking GOOD.
My notes, track by track (sorta), minimally edited for clarity, after the jump.
1. Heavy as fuck. AIC is the band every modern hard rock band (Chevelle, Disturbed, etc) tries to be, but aren't nearly as good.
2. Awesome, heavy, deep groove. "Check My Brain"? Dense vocal harmonies, inflection just like Layne. Depth.
3. Power grooves, bass present throughout.
4. Acoustic. First time you can hear Duvall's voice upfront without all the layers of guitars and harmonies. Verse sounds like "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World." Multi-layer vocal harmony. very '90s guitar — "Your Decision"?
5. "A Looking in View." God damn this song is heavy. Track 1-3 were also as heavy as this. This album is slow, groovy. Slow heavy as opposed to fast heavy. Sometimes slow is heavier than fast. Fade out… no one really does fade-outs anymore.
6. Another acoustic song. Is this the Layne song? Kinney bongos. Electric solo great — shoulda been longer.
7. Slowest yet — heavy. Not going for poppy choruses on this record, just good songs and emotion. Part 2 — fastest section on the record yet. Back to part 1. This song is epic. Back to part 2!
8. mid-paced rocker — most like old AIC so far. Duvall's voice really low, haunting. Pretty sweet chorus. Possible single.
9. Big, slower, but arena-rocky. Major key chorus. Reminds me of "Sea of Sorrow." Short but fitting solo. Song still kinda slow and plodding (in a good way).
10. Really slow but still loud. Distorted guitars. AIC are the Crowbar of alt-metal/rock. Gigantic sounding guitars on this whole record. Another ace solo – Jerry not a guitar hero, just plays what's right.
11. Quiet. piano + guitar + vocals. Layne song? melancholy. "Black Gives Way to Blue"? "I Remember You."
So… things to take away from these scribblings: this album is fucking heavy. It is also slow… which seems to make it even heavier. The guitars are gigantic. The songs by and large have a really deep and intense groove to them, thanks to Kinney's tasteful drumming, Mike Inez's deep bass, and the overall tightness of the band. William Duvall sounds great, but his voice is often obfuscated by extremely dense vocal harmonies (natch). The bass is very present on the record. There are a couple of cool acoustic tracks. Cantrell takes some nice solos but nothing too flashy.
I can't wait to listen to this record again. On first listen, it's really, really fucking good.