I know what you’re thinking. There are a few albums I could’ve easily picked to be my top pick for this year’s Album Of The Year pick. Hate Eternal and High On Fire both came out with new albums. Fuck, speaking of Matt Pike and High On Fire, his previous band, Sleep, released a comeback album that some of you are STILL fisting yourselves to! And that’s fine…but I can give two shits because Alice In Chains came back with an amazingly, dark, depressing, desolate new album. I’m talking better than 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by fucking far!
Oh sure, I was already excited since I’ve worshiped this band and especially Jerry Cantrell for half my life now; but then I heard the opening single:
Well holy shit. Just go straight to that chorus line and I can swear the music sounds like it could’ve fit beautifully on the band’s 1995 self titled album. In fact, a major portion of Rainier Fog sounds very much like it would’ve fit right in on the aforementioned self titled album. And as it turns out, the band decided to take trip back to the past to get the right aura for recording my Album Of The Year.
The band set up camp back in Seattle at Studio X, former Bad Animals Studios, which Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart owned between 1991 and 1997 and as actually named after their their 1987 album of the same name (this was when Heart were 80s sellouts playing shit arena rock). Bad Animals is where the band recorded their self titled album, sadly their last with the late Layne Staley on vocals. So needless to say, if you believe in ghosts, you just might here one of two on here.
The product of this return to their roots of sorts is such a fucking downer. It’s so depressing it’s beautiful. Gone are a lot of the Heavy Metal aspects of their previous album and especially their 2009 masterpiece of a comeback album, Black Gives Way To Blue; but there is still a shit ton of Doom all around, providing the proverbial atmosphere of a perennial rainy day. Make no mistake though, Rainier Fog is still heavy as balls, still an exercise in Sabbath worship.
Tracks such as “The One You Know”, “Rainier Fog”, Cantrell’s tribute to the Seattle scene, “Red Giant”, “Drone” and “Never Fade”, the second single from the album, prove Alice are still the very definition of a modern day Black Sabbath…and that Cantrell is still a GOD. These tracks in particular are the closest to being “grungy” as the band has sounded in 23 years, with slow, crushing riffs, drums that supply the groove yet still let the songs breath, and those vocal harmonies. It can’t be made anymore obvious that whether William DuVall is singing or Jerry himself, Jerry is truly the mastermind behind some of these virtually morbid vocal arrangements. Only Alice In Chains could ever make me want to kill myself through beautifully depressing harmonies! In fact, I feel like “The One You Know” can be like the sequel to “Grind”! And “Drone” is truly a Sabbath Worship song in just about every way. The chorus line is especially depression as Cantrell sings “I’ll stay here and feed my pet black hole…”.
Speaking of Sabbath Worship, “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes”, is as doomy as it gets. It’s main, single note guitar lines could’ve easily been used on Master Of Reality. But what will really grab your attention is Cantrell’s haunting vocal arrangement. Clearly a song about what happens when you let anxiety run your life, I had to do a double take and make sure I wasn’t listening to a 90’s recording with Layne on vocals because it sure sounded like it! It’s probably one of to more lyrically profound tracks on here as Cantrell sings “feel like a fake thing/where did the time go?/Memories worth making/pass by the window…”.
On the other end of the Sabbath Worship is “So Far Under”, the one song solely penned by DuVall…who clearly has spent way too much time with Cantrell. That bending note in the chorus is essentially the “seasick riff” Cantrell used on “Check My Brain”, hence why it can be easily to immediately think Cantrell wrote it. Oh sure, the lyrics may be some of the most positive on Rainier Fog, but his solo (his not Jerry’s!) screams Tony Iommi and the chorus just happens to bring you r right back down…and seasick.
As for the lighter tracks on here, “Fly” is essentially the sequel to “Over Now”. I don’t know how else to put it. Here…just listen for yourself:
And “Maybe” is literally a tour de force of what Jerry and William are capable of as a vocal duo. They’ve become so good at it in the last nine years that at times it can be hard to figure out who the fuck is singing what. It’s yet another song about loneliness but their singing will make you want to embrace it in such a romantic way. If you think I’m nuts after reading that line you’re not an Alice In Chains fan.
Oh, and speaking of loneliness, the most depressing, emotionally draining song on here clearly had to be saved for last. “All I Am” is sad as fuck from the first atmospheric pulse as it cuts through the ending to “Never Fade”. It’s hard to really say what the hell Jerry is talking about here. But I can only assume it’s about someone who’s so damaged from drug use that he can’t even recognize himself anymore. Would that be too much of a surprise? Let’s not forget that drugs nearly decimated this band with Layne’s tragic death sixteen years ago to heroin and cocaine. Everyone in this band were all guilty. AS I mentioned in my review of Dirt, Jerry was drinking heavily and taking Xanax during the sessions for it. I just know that when I heard it, I imagine someone on a raft, struggling to stay afloat as he’s being rushed through rapids, rain teaming down in him. The final result? Does he survive and rise above? Does he drown? It’s all up to you, the listener. I just know that if you want an album that makes you feel every negative, suicidal emotion you can, Rainier Fog is your go to album.