One word. Bass.
I’ve only recently got into Alice in Chains, only in the last couple of months. But I’ve now got three of their albums. They’re a good band. I was impressed by them at first with the great The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and now I love them. Maybe it’s just that I’ve listened to them more so I’ve grown to love them, but this album, Black Gives Way to Blue, surely helped me with that.
It is a bassy album. Very bassy. I remember I listened to The Ride Majestic, by Soilwork, and I’d never heard bass as high in the mix as it was in that; but then I listened to this album and I realised that Alice in Chains made an album just as bassy with this one. But I like it. In fact, I like it a lot. It gives the record a uniquely powerful sound, like, not the sort of powerful sound made by a band like Lamb of God, but a brilliant, rocking sound, which can’t be made without the prominence of the bass. It doesn’t rely on power chords – although still using them to add some more knee-thumping action, but it doesn’t rely on it and overuse it like some bands do; but just uses the loud, deep sound of the bass to give it it’s unique – and, you guessed it, powerful – sound of the album.
The album flitters between using that sound I described in the last paragraph, a quieter sound with acoustic guitar rather than electric, and, finally, a sound that is certainly unique to the band: which uses jeering guitar, a lot of walking up and down on the bass and an effect ridden voice. Every respective sound has its qualities, but I have to be honest and say that I much prefer both the bassy and the jeerey, or maybe grungy, sound to the quieter sound.
The quieter sound in question is used in three songs; Your Decision, When the Sun Rose Again and Black Gives Way to Blue. Your Decision comes in to disappoint you after the awesomeness of the songs before it with a comparatively feeble, but still good listening, song that just doesn’t quite satisfy. When the Sun Rose Again is yet more feeble, and comes at just the wrong time in the album, placed inconveniently in the middle of the album and between two awesome songs; it just isn’t a particularly good song and isn’t the sort of song I want when I listen to Alice in Chains. And then Black Gives Way to Blue is the atmospheric – although the whole album is atmospheric, but you know what I mean – track to end it all in an almost tearjerking manner. But, to be honest, instead of that, I’d rather have a heavy, awesome track to end it all. But, you know, the only song I inherently don’t like – much – out of these three is When the Sun Rose Again; the other two tracks are still good listens — especially Black Gives Way to Blue, which actually, come to think of it, a fitting ending for the album.
However, not all of the album is like those three songs: most of it is awesome.
As I have said before, a good start to an album is very important. Black Gives Way to Blue does that very well with the fantastic track that is All Secrets Known. Well, actually, it pretty much does it perfectly. All Secrets Known is a hauntingly heavy track, with it being filled with knee-thumpingly heavy power chords and the distant, but load bass. It’s a cool song, and a song that stays with you, with an especially fantastic vocal performance by William Duval. It kicked the band off to a new start in the best way possible. This track, along with Man in the Box and Stone, I would recommend listening to if you haven’t before; because they will make you love this band as they did me.
Check my Brain is a fantastic grunge track, which embraces the special feel that comes with this album; being both satisfyingly heavy and catchy. And Last of my Kind is even more catchy and makes you all the more disappointed when Your Decision comes around.
And then there is A Looking in View. At first listen I wasn’t convinced by it, but it is pretty much a grunge, rock, metal, whatever you want to call it, masterpiece. Being 7:06 minutes in length, it’s a song that turns around in different directions all the time and overall is awesome. Whether that’s down to it’s catchy hooks or its brilliant heavy, or maybe gritty, sound; I don’t know.
Fast forward a few tracks and there is the awesome thing that is Acid Bubble. I don’t know how to describe it, but it does sound a bit acidic – acid rock, maybe? But it is almost as long as A Looking in View and is almost just as good. It’s got a bit of that aforementioned jeerey sound to it, and it is a fantastic, slow, knee-thump-provoking grunge song. It’s a song that uses bass to its best potential, and I don’t think it has any power chords in it — so it is all down to the bass. It’s also got a fantastic chorus and William Duval does another fantastic job in this track.
Lesson Learned is a great song, with the jeering guitar prominent throughout; and then Take her Out and Private Hell are both fantastic, pure, grunge songs.
However, there is one little gripe I have with this record. It doesn’t have any proper riffs in it. I guess it does very well without them, but if there was even one particularly good riff in there, it would give it an important extra edge. And then there is one more little thing. I don’t know, but I think the drumming sounds a little bit too simple. The drummer doesn’t really vary how he’s doing it and he doesn’t seem to be very energetic. But both these things would just make it even better than it already is.
It’s a very good album, I don’t think I need to justify why any further. Jerry Cantrell is fantastic throughout – along with, of course, William Duval – and it is recorded very, very well on top of everything else; and that is an immensely important thing to get right.
Black Gives Way to Blue is powerful, it uses its prominent bass to fantastic effect, every song has its qualities and it is an album that I regard highly. Some songs are absolutely fantastic, with All Secrets Known being probably the second best Alice in Chains songs I’ve heard; but there are a few songs that don’t keep up that fantastic quality, and there is a distinct lack of riffs. But the awesome songs along with everything else that’s good about the record – from William Duval to its unique sound – makes it a great album. But maybe not quite as good as The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
So I give it: 82/100.