Like the old friend who drifted out of your life for a decade and then suddenly returned

Alice in Chains’ 1992 album Dirt is one of the most emotionally harrowing rock albums ever recorded, a volume of raw, dark feelings mired in despair but one so rife with melodies and hooks that it defied its own moroseness to be also one of the most eminently listenable  and enjoyable records of that decade.

Two of the men responsible for that masterpiece have since died in tragic and horrible circumstances, so it’s hardly surprising that the pallor of gloom still hangs over Alice in Chains and their fifth studio album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. William DuVall’s voice doesn’t have quite the menace nor the fragility of Layne Staley, but when he opens his mouth to sing “Turning in circles, slowing down”, the first line of opener ‘Hollow’, the resemblance sends shivers down the spine. Backing him up of course are the haunting melodic echoes of Jerry Cantrell, combining to create that evocative sound that is this band’s hallmark. The melancholic sludge riffs, plodding bass and poignant guitar lines are also familiar, like the old friend who drifted out of your life for a decade and then suddenly returned looking almost no different.

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here has a much more organic feel to it than the band’s 2009 comeback Black Gives Way to Blue. The songs are expansive with more room to breathe, and while gloominess still lives at the core of the band’s very existence, there isn’t the complete despondency that informed Dirt. What it does have are instantly memorable songs riddled with melodies and grooves that makes each one as catchy as the next, every one built around Cantrell’s seemingly limitless arsenal of hook-studded riffs and nailed down by the groove-drenched rhythm section of Mike Inez and Sean Kinney. Check out the intro of ‘Stone’ for just one moment of sheer brilliance as the band lock themselves around an enormous rolling groove then pepper it with harmonies and round it off with a gloriously succinct solo from one of modern rock’s most under-rated players. ‘Voices’ provides some contrast to the dark shades elsewhere, blackest of all being ‘Phantom Limb’, driven by an inescapable riff and the album’s heaviest track.

It’s truly remarkable that after so much tragedy and so much time, Alice in Chains can still be one of the best bands around. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is yet another excellent release from the Seattle quartet and in line to be album of the year.

1. Hollow
2. Pretty Done
3. Stone
4. Voices
5. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
6. Lab Monkey
7. Low Ceiling
8. Breath on a Window
9. Scalpel
10. Phantom Limb
11. Hung on a Hook
12. Choke