Overview

Alice in Chains formed in Seattle, Washington in 1987 by vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. They are considered one of the original grunge bands, although their sound also incorporates heavy metal and acoustic elements. Since its formation, Alice in Chains has released three studio albums, three EPs, two live albums, four compilations, and two DVDs. The band is known for its distinct vocal style attributable to Layne Staley.

Alice in Chains was one of the most successful music acts of the 1990s and sold over 14 million albums in the United States alone. The band achieved two number-one Billboard 200 albums (Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains), 11 top ten singles on the Mainstream Rock Tracks charts, and six Grammy Award nominations.

Although never officially disbanding, Alice in Chains was plagued by extended inactivity due to Layne Staley’s problems with substance abuse, culminating in his death in 2002. Alice in Chains reunited in 2005 and as of 2008 are working on their first studio album in 14 years with new lead vocalist William DuVall (see related story).

Formation

Following the demise of his band Sleze in 1986, vocalist Layne Staley formed Alice ’N Chainz, a band which he said “dressed in drag and played speed metal”. The new band performed around the Seattle area playing Slayer and Armored Saint covers. Staley met guitarist Jerry Cantrell while working at Music Bank rehearsal studios, where the two struggling musicians became roommates, and lived in a rehearsal space they shared. Staley’s Alice ’N Chainz soon disbanded and he joined a funk band who at the time also required a guitarist. Staley asked Cantrell to join as a sideman. Cantrell agreed on condition that Staley join Cantrell's band Diamond Lie, which at the time included drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr. Eventually the funk project broke up and in 1987 Staley joined Cantrell on a full time basis. Diamond Lie played in clubs around the Pacific Northwest, often stretching 15 minutes of material into a 45-minute set. The band eventually took the name of Alice in Chains.

Local promoter Randy Hauser became aware of the band at a concert, and offered to pay for demo recordings. However, one day before the band was due to record at the Music Bank studio in Washington, police shut down the studio during the biggest marijuana raid in the history of the state. The final demo was named The Treehouse Tapes, and found its way to the music managers Kelly Curtis and Susan Silver, who also managed the Seattle-based band Soundgarden. Curtis and Silver passed on the demo to Columbia Records’ A&R representative Nick Terzo, who set up an appointment with label president Don Lenner. Based on The Treehouse Tapes, Lenner signed Alice in Chains to Columbia in 1989.

Facelift and Sap (1990–1992)

Alice in Chains soon became a top priority of the label, who released the band’s first official recording in July 1990, a promotional EP We Die Young. The EP’s lead single, “We Die Young”, became a hit at metal radio. After its success, the label rushed Alice in Chains' debut album into production with producer Dave Jerden. Cantrell stated the album was intended to have a “moody aura” that was a "direct result of the brooding atmosphere and feel of Seattle."

The resulting album, Facelift, was released on August 21, 1990, peaking at number 42 in the summer of 1991 on the Billboard 200 chart. Facelift was not an instant success, selling under 40,000 copies in the first six months of release, until MTV added “Man in the Box” to regular daytime rotation. The single hit number 18 on the Mainstream rock charts, with the album's follow up single, “Sea of Sorrow”, reaching number 27, and in six weeks Facelift sold 400,000 copies in the US. The album was a critical success, with Steve Huey of Allmusic citing Facelift as “one of the most important records in establishing an audience for grunge and alternative rock.”

Facelift was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America by the end of 1990, while the band continued to hone its audience, opening for such artists as Iggy Pop, Van Halen, Poison, and Extreme. In early 1991, Alice in Chains landed the opening slot for the Clash of the Titans with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer, exposing the band to a wide metal audience. Alice in Chains was nominated for a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy Award in 1992 for “Man in the Box”, but lost to Van Halen for their 1991 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

Following the tour, Alice in Chains entered the studio to record demos for its next album, but ended up recording five acoustic songs instead. While in the studio, drummer Sean Kinney had a dream about “making an EP called Sap.” The band decided “not to mess with fate,” and on March 21, 1992, Alice in Chains released their second EP, Sap. The EP was released while Nirvana's Nevermind was at the top of the Billboard 200 charts, resulting in a rising popularity of Seattle-based bands, and the term grunge music. Sap was soon certified gold. The EP features guest vocals by Ann Wilson from the band Heart, who joined Staley and Cantrell for the choruses of “Brother”, “Am I Inside” and “Love Song”. The EP also features Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who appeared together on the song “Right Turn”, credited to “Alice Mudgarden” in the liner notes. In 1992, Alice in Chains appeared in the Cameron Crowe film Singles, performing as a “bar band”. The band also contributed the song “Would?” to the film's soundtrack, whose video received an award for Best Video from a Film at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards.

Dirt (1992–1993)

In February 1992, the band returned to the studio, again with producer Dave Jerden, to record its follow-up album. With new songs written primarily on the road, the material has an overall darker feel than Facelift, with six of the album's twelve songs dealing with addiction. “We did a lot of soul searching on this album. There's a lot of intense feelings.” Cantrell said, “We deal with our daily demons through music. All of the poison that builds up during the day we cleanse when we play.”

On September 29, 1992, Alice in Chains released its second album, Dirt. The album peaked at number six on the Billboard 200, and since its release has been certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA, making Dirt the band's highest selling album to date. The album was a critical success, with Steve Huey of Allmusic praising the album as a “major artistic statement, and the closest they ever came to recording a flat-out masterpiece.” Chris Gill of Guitar World called Dirt “huge and foreboding, yet eerie and intimate,” and “sublimely dark and brutally honest.” Dirt spawned five top 30 singles, including “Rooster”, “Them Bones”, and “Down in a Hole”, and remained on the charts for nearly a year. Alice in Chains was added as openers to Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears tour, but just days before the tour began, Layne Staley broke his foot in an ATV accident, forcing him to use crutches on stage. While on tour, bassist Mike Starr left the band to spend more time with his family, and was replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez. In 1993, the band recorded two songs with Inez, “What the Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter”, for the Last Action Hero soundtrack. During the summer of 1993, Alice in Chains joined Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and Babes in Toyland for the alternative music festival Lollapalooza, which was the last major tour Alice in Chains played with Staley.

Jar of Flies (1993–1994)

Following Alice in Chains’ extensive 1993 world tour, Staley said the band “just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened. We never really planned on the music we made at that time to be released. But the record label heard it and they really liked it. For us, it was just the experience of four guys getting together in the studio and making some music.”

While never originally intended for a public release, Columbia Records released Alice in Chains’ second acoustic-based EP, Jar of Flies, on January 25, 1994. Written and recorded in one week, Jar of Flies debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming the first ever EP—and first Alice in Chains release—to top the charts. Paul Evans of Rolling Stone called the EP “darkly gorgeous”, and Steve Huey stated “Jar of Flies is a low-key stunner, achingly gorgeous and harrowingly sorrowful all at once.” Jar of Flies features Alice in Chains’ only number one single on the Mainstream Rock charts, “No Excuses”. The second single, “I Stay Away”, reached number ten on the Mainstream rock charts, while the final single “Don't Follow”, reached number 25. After the release of Jar of Flies, Layne Staley entered rehab for heroin addiction. The band was scheduled to tour during the summer of 1994 with Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies, but while in rehearsal for the tour, Staley began using heroin again. Staley’s condition prompted the other band members to cancel all scheduled dates one day before the start of the tour, putting the band on hiatus.

Alice in Chains (1995–1996)

While Alice in Chains was inactive during 1995, Staley joined the “grunge supergroup” Mad Season, which also featured Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, John Baker Saunders from The Walkabouts and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. Mad Season released one album, Above, for which Staley provided lead vocals and the album artwork. The album spawned a number-two single, “River of Deceit”, as well as a home video release of Live at the Moore. In April 1995, Alice in Chains entered Bad Animals Studio in Seattle with producer Toby Wright, who had previously worked with Corrosion of Conformity and Slayer. While in the studio, an inferior version of the song “Grind” was leaked to radio, and received major airplay. On October 6, 1995, the band released the studio version of the song to radio via satellite uplink.

On November 7, 1995, Columbia Records released the eponymous Alice in Chains, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and has since been certified double platinum. Of the album's four singles, “Grind”, “Again”, “Over Now”, and “Heaven Beside You”, three feature Cantrell on lead vocals. Jon Wiederhorn of Rolling Stone called the album “liberating and enlightening, the songs achieve a startling, staggering and palpable impact.” The song “Got Me Wrong” unexpectedly charted three years after its release on the Sap EP. The song was re-released as a single on the soundtrack for the independent film Clerks in 1995, reaching number seven on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The band opted not to tour in support of Alice in Chains, adding to the rumors of drug abuse.

Alice in Chains resurfaced on April 10, 1996 to perform their first concert in three years for MTV Unplugged, a program featuring all-acoustic set lists. The performance featured some of the band’s highest charting singles, including “Down in a Hole”, “Heaven Beside You”, and “Would?”, and introduced a new song, “Killer Is Me”. The show marked Alice in Chains’ only appearance as a five-piece band, adding second guitarist Scott Olson. A live album of the performance was released in July 1996, which debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, and was accompanied by a home video release, both of which received platinum certification by the RIAA. Alice in Chains performed four shows following the 1993 Lollapalooza tour, with the final live appearance of Layne Staley on July 3, 1996 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hiatus and the death of Layne Staley (1996–2002)

Although Alice in Chains never officially disbanded, Staley became a recluse, rarely leaving his Seattle condominium following the death of his fiancé in 1996, due to bacterial endocarditis. “Drugs worked for me for years”, Staley told Rolling Stone in 1996, “and now they're turning against me, now I'm walking through hell”. In 1998, Staley reunited with Alice in Chains to record two new songs, “Get Born Again” and “Died”. Originally written for Cantrell’s solo album, the songs were released in the fall of 1999 on box set, Music
Bank
. The set contains 48 songs, including rarities, demos, and previous album tracks. The band also released a 15-track compilation titled Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, serving as a sampler for Music Bank, as well as the band’s first greatest hits compilation. The band’s last official releases include a live album, simply titled Live, released on December 5, 2000, and a second greatest hits compilation, titled Greatest Hits in 2001.

After a decade battling drug addiction, Layne Staley was found dead in his condominium on April 19, 2002. An autopsy revealed Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine 14 days previously. In his last interview, which was given months before his death, Staley admitted, “I know I'm near death, I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way”. Cantrell, shaken by the death of his friend and bandmate, dedicated his 2002 solo album, Degradation Trip, to Staley.

Reunion (2005–present)

In 2005, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney reunited to perform a benefit concert in Seattle for victims of the tsunami disaster that struck south Asia. The band featured Damageplan vocalist Pat Lachman, with other special guests including Wes Scantlin of Puddle of Mudd, Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and Ann Wilson of Heart. On March 6, 2006, the surviving members performed at VH1’s Decades Rock Live concert, honoring fellow Seattle musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. They played “Would?” with Pantera and Down vocalist Phil Anselmo, and “Rooster” with William DuVall and Ann Wilson. The band followed the concert with a short United States club tour, several festival dates in Europe, and a brief tour in Japan. To coincide with the band’s reunion, Sony Music released the long delayed third Alice in Chains compilation, The Essential Alice in Chains, a double album that includes 28 songs.

Comes With the Fall vocalist William DuVall joined Alice in Chains as lead singer during the band’s reunion concerts. Velvet Revolver and ex-Guns ’N Roses bassist Duff McKagan also joined the band for the reunion tour, playing rhythm guitar on selected songs. Before the tour, Kinney mentioned in an interview that he would be interested in writing new material, but not as Alice in Chains. However, aliceinchains.com reported that the band has begun writing new material, with DuVall on lead vocals. Blabbermouth.net reported in September 2008 that Alice in Chains would enter the studio that October to begin recording a new album for a summer 2009 release. As of October 23, 2008, the band is recording it at the Foo Fighters' Studio 606 in L.A. with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Stone Sour, Trivium, Shadows Fall, Death Angel).

In September 2008, it was announced that Alice in Chains will headline Australia's Soundwave Festival in 2009, alongside Nine Inch Nails and Lamb of God.

Musical style

Although Alice in Chains has been labeled grunge, alternative rock, and hard rock, Jerry Cantrell identifies the band as primarily heavy metal. He told Guitar World in 1996, “We're a lot of different things I don't quite know what the mixture is, but there's definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk. The metal part will never leave, and I never want it to.”

Alice in Chains has cited musical influences such as Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and Metallica. Jerry Cantrell's guitar style combines what Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic called “pummeling riffs and expansive guitar textures” to create “slow, brooding minor-key grinds.” While down-tuned distorted guitars mixed with Staley’s distinctive “snarl-to-a-scream” vocals appealed to heavy metal fans, the band also had “a sense of melody that was undeniable,” which introduced Alice in Chains to a much wider pop audience outside of the heavy metal underground.

The band has been described by critics as “hard enough for metal fans, yet their dark subject matter and punky attack placed them among the front ranks of the Seattle-based grunge bands.” Three of the band's releases feature all acoustic music, and while the band initially kept these releases separate, Alice in Chains’ self-titled album combined the styles to form “a bleak, nihilistic sound that balanced grinding hard rock with subtly textured acoustic numbers.”

Alice in Chains is also noted for the unique vocal harmonies of Staley and Cantrell, which included overlapping passages, and dual lead vocals. Alyssa Burrows said the band’s distinctive sound “came from Staley's vocal style and his lyrics dealing with personal struggles and addiction.” Staley's songs were often considered “dark”, with themes such as drug abuse, depression, and suicide, while Cantrell's lyrics dealt more with personal relationships.

Legacy

Alice in Chains has sold more than 14 million albums in the United States, released two number-one albums and 19 top 40 singles, and has received six Grammy nominations. The band was ranked number 34 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Alice in Chains has had a large impact on many bands, such as Godsmack, who, according to Jon Wiederhorn of MTV, “have sonically followed Alice in Chains' lead while adding their own distinctive edge.” Godsmack singer and founder Sully Erna has also cited Layne Staley as his primary influence. Staind has covered Alice in Chains’ song “Nutshell” live, which appears on the compilation The Singles: 1996–2006, and also wrote a song entitled “Layne”, in Staley’s dedication, on the album 14 Shades of Grey. Other bands that have been inspired by Alice in Chains include Taproot, Puddle of Mudd, Kyuss, Godsmack, Dust for Life, Saliva, Nickelback, Our Lady Peace, Dropbox, Fuel, Theory of a Deadman, U.P.O., Second Coming, Days of the New, Creed, Isle of Q, Drain STH, Monster Magnet, Cold, and Tantric. Metallica, who originally influenced Alice in Chains, in turn said they've always wanted to tour with the band, citing Alice in Chains as a major influence on the vocal melodies for Metallica's eighth studio album St. Anger, and also used the band, and Staley, as inspiration for their 2008 release, Death Magnetic.

 

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Comments

juno: They shouldn't use the name Alice in Chains anymore. I think they should rename the band.

naturegirl: Mark Arm looks goofy in every picture ever taken. He's like Jerry Seinfeld, he can't NOT be goofy! Kewl!

Foz: I can't believe Foo Fighters are going on hiatus. Bummmer…

montana: Has anyone heard Jeff Ament's solo album? How is it?
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