Alice in Chains’ “Rainier Fog”: A powerful Seattle tribute

Grunge is not dead. At least, not as long as Alice in Chains is still around.

Being one of the last of the “Big Four” grunge bands left and one of the first to arrive on the scene back in the early 1990s, nothing seems to be stopping them. With their latest album in five years, released in late August and following 2013’s “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” Alice in Chains certainly haven’t forgotten their roots, either.

Named after Seattle’s landmark, Mt. Rainier, the album encapsulates the legacy that the grunge scene created – and the tragedies that it suffered. Similar to a select few of their previous albums but in no way repeating what they’ve already said, “Rainier Fog” takes you on a heavy ride from which you still feel the effects even after the final track has long since ended. For fans, it was definitely worth the wait.

For those not as familiar with the band, Alice in Chains is one of four popular Seattle grunge bands and first rose to prominence in the early 1990s with their hit single, “Man in the Box,” from their debut album, “Facelift.” However, they weren’t considered mainstream successes until late 1992 when they released their sophomore record, “Dirt,” an album delving into darker subjects, such as drug addiction and depression, compared to its predecessor.

Their impact echoed throughout the rest of the 1990s; in 1994, they released the seven-track, mostly acoustic EP “Jar of Flies,” which was the first EP to ever top the Billboard charts, a feat that would not be accomplished again until 10 years later. Their 1995 self-titled third album would also see similar success.

Sadly, the band’s worldwide fame would subsequently be put to a halt by 1996, as vocalist Layne Staley’s heroin addiction would worsen and result in his death in 2002. Despite Staley’s short-lived success and the band’s greatest loss, their legacy was never forgotten. When they reunited in 2005 with singer William DuVall, fans welcomed them back with open arms. Now, in 2018, their long-awaited new album has received similar enthusiasm.

The band announced their return to music in early May this year, releasing their first new single, “The One You Know,” shortly after kicking off their North American tour. As the first track on the album, it’s a powerful, unrelenting hard rock song, mixing their classic heavy bluesy sound with a sludge metal sound that they have become known for since their aforementioned breakout album, “Dirt.” And as someone who knows from personal experience, it sounds just as good live.

It’s the perfect start to an album that has even more tricks up its sleeve. The perhaps more underrated tracks follow on the single’s heels, with the lyrically haunting and equally heavy title track. Written by guitarist and primary songwriter, Jerry Cantrell, “Rainier Fog” serves as the epitome of the scene for which the band has become a household name. It pays tribute to the decade of their prime and the ones who are no longer with them through the line, “With you here we shared a space that’s always half empty.”

The following track, “Red Giant,” may not be as lyrically impactful, but it offers the same energy and hard-hitting riffs. Next, the band refers to their acoustic roots with “Fly” which is  reminiscent of similar acoustic songs from “Black Gives Way to Blue,” their first album with DuVall.

The album continues with heavy riffs and sludgy tone through “Drone” and “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes” before slowing back down with another acoustic ballad, “Maybe,” borrowing from their 1992 hit, “Down in a Hole.” While every single track is equally important in this album, it’s not until we get to the second single, “So Far Under,” that we get back to the meat of the matter.

This and the penultimate “Never Fade,” both written by vocalist DuVall, offer something new. These songs saw more of DuVall’s potential as a songwriter, which until now was not as present within the band, as that task usually belonged to guitarist Cantrell.

While “So Far Under” is just as gloomy and bleak lyrically as it is instrumentally it certainly captures your interest, “Never Fade” is not only equally captivating but also much more intimate and consequently a fan favorite. With each band member able to shine, specifically referencing that hard-to-miss bass line, the song is hard-hitting in both its instrumentation and its lyrics, as DuVall repeatedly croons, “You’re never far away, I always see you / And when it all goes dark, you light my way through.”

DuVall’s lyrics are similar to that of Cantrell’s “Rainier Fog,” once again remembering those that the band had lost, including friend of the band and another legendary grunge musician Chris Cornell, who died in May 2017, original lead singer Staley and DuVall’s late grandmother. As a result, the album starts the same way it ends: as a retrospective to what has haunted the band and is equally haunting to fans alike.

The final track, “All I Am,” contains acoustic elements as well and is yet another memorable song, not just for its melody but also for its chilling lyrics. As a much more personal song, we can only assume what the song is about, but that does not stop it from reaching deep within our core in such a way that very few bands can ever do.

Even if listeners are not a fan of grunge music and are unaware of the history, they may still find what they’re looking for in “Rainier Fog” as a hard rock album. The band has never failed to attract old and new listeners, and this album is no different.

This record serves as a somber yet powerful reflection of years that some of us have not experienced combined with a sliver of hope for the future and determination to keep going.

Whatever lies ahead for Alice in Chains, the fans will be waiting.