The recent resurgence of Alice In Chains has swept me off my feet. William DuVall is a perfect fit for the band, his low and droning vocal style locking into the band’s music perfectly. 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue proved that the band hasn’t lost a step, containing some of the band’s best work in songs like “Private Hell” and “Acid Bubble”. The band’s follow-up has been anticipated for years, and now The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is finally upon us and gripping the musical world with crushing force.
I can safely say that it does not disappoint. Devil is BGWTB to the nth degree. Where BGWTB was heavy, this album is sludgy and unforgiving. It’s also one of the band’s most varied pieces of work, sounding like a mix of lost tracks from Dirt combined with Jar Of Flies-esque material. It’s also one of the band’s more psychedelic ventures, best exemplified in tracks like “Hollow” and “Lab Monkey”. William DuVall is really allowed to come into his own here, playing lead guitar on “Stone” and album highlight “Phantom Limb” as well as giving some of his absolute best vocal performances, especially on penultimate gem “Hung On A Hook”. His harmonies with Jerry Cantrell are immaculate. The chorus of “Hollow” will melt listener’s brains with its psychedelic vocal arrangements, and “Choke” features fantastic dual guitar and vocal work by both Cantrell and DuVall. His solo on “Stone” combines heaviness and melody in a fantastic way, and the way the riff locks in with the bass gives the whole song an even more solid groove than Sean Kinney was already providing. As for “Phantom Limb”, DuVall’s riff can be compared to a machine gun firing in slow motion, a slow, grinding and abusive musical idea. Despite being listed as tenth out of twelve tracks, it truly serves as the album’s centerpiece.
Jerry Cantrell once again proves that while Layne was the heart of AiC, he was the brain; he has always been the creative mastermind behind Alice In Chains. “Voices” is eerily reminiscent of “Over Now” but Cantrell’s vocals and double-tracked acoustic riff give it an extra twist that help transform it into its own entity. The title track features a new, even more aggressive type of songwriting by the band. While Layne’s devastating lyrics on Dirt always featured a sort of sympathetic factor, Devil‘s title track is characterized by unrelenting anger at just about everyone on Earth. Cantrell lays waste to politics and religion within a matter of one verse and chorus, and that’s just the beginning of the eye-opening tirade that the song provides to its listeners. Jerry’s guitar work gives the album most of its psychedelic qualities, with the opening riff of “Hollow” sounding like a trip gone horribly wrong. During the ambient outro of “Voices”, I visualize some of the most vivid things I’ve ever thought of while listening to music. This type of feeling is accomplished once again in “Choke” using a much heavier riff. Cantrell’s soloing is also spot-on, with the solos in “Pretty Done” and “Low Ceiling” being especially technical and impressive.
Mike Inez offers some of the heaviest bass playing in his entire career. His performance is all about texture, specifically when he gets the spotlight like on the opening riff of “Stone”. The production isn’t the only reason why Inez’s performance is so great, though. It’s just about how much the bass adds to the music, how solid of a backbone it provides, and how damn sludgy he can make his parts sound. Drummer Sean Kinney is equally impressive, somehow making the simplest things sound mind-melting. His grooves on “Pretty Done” and “Stone” are tight as can be, and he’s incredible with dynamics; listen to the drastic differences between “Phantom Limb” and “Voices” or the verses and choruses of the title track. He’s incredibly meticulous about tempo, never letting the band once speed up and keeping the music a slow trudge rather than a standard heavy metal riff-fest. The way the drums were mixed was also genius. Despite how well Kinney played on the band’s previous albums, the mix always made them sound rather thin. On Devil the drums have a perfect, beefy sound that really elevates the overall performance of the band.
If there’s one gripe I have with the album, it’s the length. Many songs on this record are simply too long, specifically songs that don’t really have a point B. The stretch of songs following the title track inspired this thought. “Lab Monkey” is the song I don’t have a huge problem with, although the last minute could be cut and I wouldn’t really mind. The following two tracks, “Low Ceiling” and “Breath On A Window” drag like there’s no tomorrow, and really bring the album down despite how well it recovers with “Phantom Limb”. “Scalpel” is also overlong but it is exempt from getting negative attention because of how different it is than the rest of the album.
Overall The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is not a perfect album, but it certainly is the album that Alice In Chains needed to make. Like Jerry Cantrell said, “this is simply the next chapter in the Alice In Chains book, and it’s a big one”. Combining the best elements of all their previous work, this album succeeds in nearly every which way. So far, this is my personal album of the year, an opinion bolstered by also having the best song of the year “Phantom Limb” (only contested by Justin Timberlake’s “Blue Ocean Floor”). A must listen if there ever was one.
2. Pretty Done
5. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
6. Lab Monkey
7. Low Ceiling
8. Breath On A Window
10. Phantom Limb
11. Hung On A Hook