Alice In Chains - Dirt
Heavy Metal, Grunge
13 songs (57:35)
Release year: 1992
Alice In Chains
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Although they’re generally lumped in with the other Seattle bands of the early nineties, Alice In Chains had something that made them stand out. Sure, there are similarities with the Grunge scene, but there’s also an obvious similarity with the late-eighties commercial Metal world. If you like, you could call Alice In Chains the bridge between the glam of the past and the angst of Grunge, although ‘Grunge’ is, like Nu-Metal, the name of a scene rather than a genre, made up on the spot to categorise a movement, to make it something palatable and marketable.

Of course, the g-word itself is enough to make many a true Metalhead vomit – something that I’ve never be able to understand, personally. Fine, it may not be as heavy as ‘proper’ Metal, and yes, it may well have helped to bring about the end of the commercial Metal world, but why is this a bad thing? Metal just before Grunge was a bloated, excessive beast that needed to be put down for its own good. I’ve never appreciated any of the Glam ‘Metal’ bands of the era, and as for the Metal underground, in my view the early 90s explosion of Death and Black Metal could never have happened without Grunge chasing them into the darkness of extremity.

What’s more, Grunge is a form of Metal. The influence from such greats as Black Sabbath is clear, mixed with Classic Rock and Punk, and a dose of teenage angst. And really, what’s wrong with angst? Having bands before and after sing about feelings (no-one complains when Devin Townsend does it, do they?) is apparently fine, but heavens forbid that commercial bands should sing about such things when it’s far more respectable to have lyrics about important, serious subjects like Satan and gore. Fine, Grunge mass-marketed teenage self-pity in a way that few did beforehand, but you can’t blame the bands involved for this. Members of Pearl Jam fought hard against their new rock star status, refusing to make music videos and taking Ticketmaster to court over high prices (that the band became as big as they did is a testament to the power of their music) and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana hated his new celebrity life so much that he eventually killed himself. These bands were catapulted into the spotlight by suits recognising the next big thing, and it ruined many of them for life.

Alice In Chains vocalist Layne Staley was discovered dead in his apartment in 2002 having taken an overdose of cocaine and heroin, and listening to Dirt with this knowledge makes it all the more intense. Layne’s voice is the main pull here – he sounds absolutely miserable as a result of the smack-driven lows that drive him to the suicidal thoughts made so profound in the lyrics. Even in an apparently up-beat track like Dam That River, there’s an audible acceptance of fate in Staley’s voice when he sings ‘oh, you couldn’t dam that river/and maybe I don’t give a damn anyway’. There must have been many people in his life telling him to give up the drugs (this was 1992 after all, famous people had been dying from drug abuse for a long time) but as is made clear throughout the course of the album, he knew what would eventually happen but gave into it.

However, this isn’t a university paper into the thought processes of smackheads (for such Staley was, however much anyone tries to dress it up) but a review of a Metal album, and on that note Jerry Cantrell deserves as much praise for his guitar playing. His riffs vary between pure Metal catchiness (the aforementioned Dam That River) more typical Rock melodies, solos and even some Doom sludge here and there. The album as a whole is pretty downtuned, but Mike Starr’s bass is still audible, providing a clear foundation for the other instrumentation in places such as the intro section to Rain When I Die – one of the standout songs in a great album, with Staley and Cantrell’s vocal harmonising at its best. What’s rarely mentioned in reviews of Dirt is the depressing atmosphere – this is definitely not the positive advert for drugs that some musicians end up producing.

A fair few of the other songs present are pretty heavy for a band that received so much airplay – would you hear Sick Man’s riffing and yells on the radio nowadays? Ballad Rooster (about Cantrell’s father’s experience in Vietnam) packs a mighty punch, and the paranoid, twitchy God Smack (yes, the inspiration for you-know-who, but don’t let that put you off) is a great song. Whether you find the likes of Junk Head (overlong and with weaker lyrics than the rest in my opinion) profound, or merely the work of an Alt. Rock band trying to copy Black Sabbath depends on you, but when listened to as an album the songs do fit together remarkably well. The one rubbish track is Iron Gland, featuring guest vocals from Slayer’s Tom Araya, and being little more than a parody of the start of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. Still, it’s less than a minute long and easily skippable.

Alice In Chains had none of Nirvana’s garage band shtick – along with Soundgarden, they were the most Metal of the Seattle crop, and whilst other bands from the era (Pearl Jam and Mudhoney to name two) were as good musically, for a Metalhead Dirt is an ideal entry point to a world often unfairly ignored. Even if you were there at the time, Alice In Chains are still worth a revisit – this album is a classic, and deserves to be a part of any music fan’s collection.

Killing Songs :
Them Bones, Dam That River, Rain When I Die, Sick Man, Rooster, Dirt, Down In A Hole, Would?
Goat quoted 87 / 100
Adam quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Alice In Chains that we have reviewed:
Alice In Chains - Rainier Fog reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here reviewed by Khelek and quoted 87 / 100
Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue reviewed by Adam and quoted 90 / 100
Alice In Chains - Alice in Chains reviewed by Adam and quoted 89 / 100
Alice In Chains - Facelift reviewed by Goat and quoted 73 / 100
To see all 7 reviews click here
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