Is this the best album of the William DuVall era?


When Layne Staley passed away in 2002, many thought that it was the end of Alice in Chains. The haunting dual vocal harmonies of Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell were the band’s hallmark; could it truly be replicated by anyone else?

Three albums into the William DuVall era, and the answer is a resounding yes. Rainier Fog sounds like a return to vintage Alice in Chains, specifically 1992’s Dirt. The twisted riffs, haunting melodies and bluesy undertones are back in full force. Two of the singles, “The One You Know” and “So Far Under,” sound as if they can immediately fit in as lost B-sides to their earlier material.

While The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was not a bad record by any means, it was short on true Alice in Chains highlights and sounded almost like a doom metal album. Many of the tracks were too bloated or unremarkable. Black Gives Way to Blue, while a phenomenal comeback album, always seemed as if it had something missing. It didn’t feel like an Alice in Chains record. With Rainier Fog, the band finally seems to be comfortable with their own style.

With the lead single “The One You Know,” Cantrell said that he wrote the song around the time David Bowie died, and was inspired by Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame.” The title track “Rainier Fog” is a tribute to the Seattle grunge scene that launched not just the band themselves but also their contemporaries such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.

Cantrell took the title from Mount Rainier, which overlooks the Seattle area and is the highest mountain in the Pacific Northwest. The emotional lyric, “With you here we shared a space that’s always half-empty,” is about Staley and deceased former bassist Mike Starr.

“So Far Under” was written by DuVall, who said in an interview, “It’s about feeling completely up against it – outnumbered, surrounded, facing seemingly unbeatable odds and being really [ticked] off about it. It was inspired by personal circumstances, as well as events in the wider world.”

“Never Fade” is DuVall’s major composition in Rainier Fog. He wrote the lyrics and said they were inspired by the deaths of his grandmother, Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell and Staley.

“Drone” is a fun Zeppelin-esque jam song, with Cantrell’s blues influenced riffs ringing throughout the song. “Red Giant” has a particularly monstrous guitar riff that will appease any doom sludge lovers who prefer the band’s heavier material

“Maybe” has stunning vocal harmonies, particularly during the isolated vocal tracks, with DuVall channeling his inner Staley. “Fly” has a very catchy chorus, and while it is a typical Cantrell ballad, it is possibly the smoothest track on the album with exceptional guitar arpeggio work.

The album closes with the beautifully somber seven-minute track “All I Am,” peppered with Cantrell’s trademark eerie, hypnotic droning riffs.

Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and Mike Inez’s bass isn’t buried under sound. The production is great, and it accentuates Cantrell’s thick guitar tone and incredible songwriting. This is a dark album that will certainly hold up to their legacy, and is a must-have for any Alice in Chains fan or hard rock fan in general.

Parker’s Picks: “Red Giant,” “Drone,” “Rainier Fog,” “Maybe”