Listen: Is the new Alice In Chains Dino-mite?
What the PR says:
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Deftones), The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here follows 2009’s hugely successful release Black Gives Way To Blue. That album entered Billboard’s Top 200 at No.5, sold over one million copies in the US, spawned two No.1 hit singles (Check My Brain and Your Decision) and a third (Lesson Learned) that went top 10, earned two Grammy nominations and saw the band headlining a sold-out international tour that wrapped at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Who’s on it?
Vocalist/guitarist Jerry Cantrell, vocalist/guitarist William DuVall, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez.
What’s it like?
Despite its title, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is no relic. It has a big, contemporary sound about it and a new and different energy, but there are deep sonic echoes of some of Alice In Chains’ cornerstone songs. It is also, generically, a heavy rock record, and has lots of the timelessness that the genre confers. The band that comes most to mind as a comparison is Black Sabbath in the period from Vol 4 to Sabotage: epic, spacey, riff-led and with a vast mournfulness as its major theme.
The record’s offbeat title is more than just a very metal phrase. It refers to a somewhat strained piece of thinking from somewhere on America’s religious right, a counter-Darwinian theory that fossils were planted deep in the earth by Satan in order to undermine the literal truth of the Bible, a notion that Jerry Cantrell holds up to the cold light of day, his scorn evident in the chorus line: ‘The devil put dinosaurs here/Jesus don’t like a queer/No problem with faith/Just fear.’
By the time that lush and lucid title song arrives, the band have already laid out their case. The record opens with Hollow, typical of the huge and sludgy riffs in which they specialise, and already familiar to much of their fanbase, if 1.5 million YouTube views of the song’s video are anything to go by.
It’s a theme that’s echoed in the lengthy Stone, which opens with a rumbling, repeating bass line reminiscent of Black Sabbath, before bringing in the same sort of repeating chord structure. William DuVall and Cantrell gel perfectly over it: it’s often hard to tell one voice from the other when they come together to emphasise certain lines. Cantrell adds some fluid, clean lead breaks that move the song along, a trick he repeats throughout the record to tremendous effect. It’s hard to think he’s ever played better.
Set between those two monolithic rock songs is Pretty Done, which has some trippy sonics that would do credit to – whisper it – Hawkwind, and another of those downbeat, earworm hooks that have been a signature of Alice In Chains through the years.
There’s a density of sound to much of the album, but it’s textured rather than bludgeoning, and the heaviest moments retain a sullen power. Lab Monkey has more than a touch of Sabbath’s Electric Funeral about it, Hung On A Hook channels Down In A Hole, while Phantom Limb steps jauntily into more trad metal territory.
Cantrell has always used acoustic guitars exceptionally well, and here they bring the light to cast some long shadows. Voices cuts through in sweet and sharp relief in the early part of the album, and later, the brilliant close harmonies of Low Ceiling and the subtly textured Scalpel press on into new territory. The clincher is Choke, which has some of the yawning emptiness and grand scale of the Lane Staley era. Duvall is a low-key presence but his voice is a lovely fit.
It’s been an unlikely resurrection, but just as those who peddle the argument that “Satan put the fossils there” like to say, you can’t keep a good man down. (Jon Hotten)
Tags: Alice In Chains