Alice in Chains: Rocking through the grunge era and beyond

Alice in Chains are one of the definitive grunge rock bands. Here's why to check them out...
Alice In Chains File Photos
Alice In Chains File Photos / Steve Jennings/GettyImages

Alice in Chains is a renowned American rock band that emerged from the grunge scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The band is known for their distinctive blend of heavy metal, alternative rock, and introspective lyrics. They achieved significant commercial success during the height of the grunge era and have left a lasting impact on the rock music landscape. Also, in my view, a compelling argument could be made they are the definitive grunge band.

Who were (and, in some instances, still are) Alice in Chains?

Key members of the band have included: Layne Staley (vocals, occasional rhythm guitar): Layne Staley was the lead vocalist and one of the primary songwriters for Alice in Chains. His distinctive and haunting voice contributed to the band's unique sound. Staley struggled with drug addiction, which tragically led to his death in 2002 (he was eventually replaced by William DuVall on vocals and rhythm guitar).

Jerry Cantrell (guitar, vocals): Jerry Cantrell is the lead guitarist and also provides backing and co-lead vocals. Despite numerous interviews suggesting he was raised on country music, he is just as well known for heavy, often dirge-like guitar riffs as he is for gentler, melodic playing (though there is that, too). He collaborated closely with Staley in songwriting and often contributes to the band's vocal harmonies. After Staley's passing, Cantrell took on a larger role in the band's vocals. To indicate just how influential he is to some, Jerry Cantrell was named "Riff Lord" by hard rock/metal magazine Metal Hammer in 2006, while Guitar World Magazine ranked him as the 38th out of "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time" in 2004, and the 37th "Greatest Guitar Player of All Time" in 2012.

Mike Starr and later Mike Inez (bass): Mike Starr was the original bassist for Alice in Chains. After his death, he was replaced by Mike Inez, who became a permanent member of the band. The bass guitar has played a crucial role in the band's heavy and distinctive sound, often having just the right tone and note choice to add depth of feel to their emotion-laden tracks.

Sean Kinney (drums): Sean Kinney is the drummer and a founding member of the band. His drumming style is perfect for Alice in Chains and contributed to their signature sound. Despite this, it does appear Sean Kinney is perhaps the most overlooked member of the band (a great example of his skills can be heard in the tasty fills he adds to the classic AIC track "Would?").

It's all about the music!

Alice in Chains' music often has explored dark and introspective themes, touching on topics such as addiction, isolation, and inner struggles. Their albums are characterized by a mix of heavy, downtuned guitar riffs, melodic vocals, and intricate harmonies. Their well-known albums include Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), the Jar of Flies EP (1994), Alice in Chains (also known as the "Tripod" album, 1995), as well as their newer releases, Black Gives Way to Blue" (2009), The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013), and Rainier Fog (2018).

Hits like "Man in the Box," "Rooster," "Would?," "No Excuses," "Nutshell", "Them Bones", and "Grind" propelled them to fame and have remained iconic tracks in the rock genre, standing among the best-known songs from the grunge scene. Of course, this is not to say more recent tracks like "A Looking in View," "Hollow," and "The One You Know" are all chopped liver (whatever that expression actually means). Still, the old-timers who were around in grunge's heyday recognize those earlier tracks the most.

Musicians are still paying tribute to Alice in Chains songs, keeping them fresh. For example, here's Brass Against doing their version of "Would?" (original version linked below). Also, Post Malone has covered "Them Bones" with his own acoustic spin on Howard Stern's show. In other words, this band is still relevant. At the same time, one has to say...

No Grammys? WTF?!!

The band experienced periods of inactivity and lineup changes, particularly after Layne Staley's death, but they've managed to continue creating music and touring with Jerry Cantrell taking on most lead vocals. Basically, at least in my view, even the very worst Alice in Chains song is still listenable (and that song — again, in my view — is probably "Nothing Song").

Alice in Chains' impact on the music industry and their contribution to the grunge era's arsenal have solidified their status as one of the most influential and enduring bands of their time. Alice in Chains has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has received eleven Grammy Awards nominations. Will they ever win one? Well, real rock and rollers don't do it for the Grammys anyway, right?

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