21 Years Ago: Alice in Chains Release Their Self-Titled Album
The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and has sold more than 3 million copies, spawning the singles “Grind,” “Heaven Beside You,” “Over Now” and “Again.”
The effort expands on the signature sound Alice in Chains captured on their 1992 album Dirt, including down-tuned heavy guitars, chilling vocal harmonies and lyrics focusing on depression, isolation and death. It’s runs the gamut from super heavy songs like “Grind” and “Head Creeps” to epic compositions like “Frogs” and fan favorite “Sludge Factory,” to the hauntingly beautiful song “Over Now.” The album continues the band’s evolution with more melodic and moody acoustic sounds they tapped into on their Jar of Flies EP, which is mixed with a ton of dissonance with super heavy guitar riffs from Jerry Cantrell.
Alice in Chains were on a self-imposed hiatus in late 1994, as Layne Staley’s heroin use was wearing on the band. Staley used the downtime to team up with the supergroup Mad Season, with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, late-bassist John Baker Saunders and Screaming Tress drummer Barrett Martin. They released their lone effort, Above, in March of 1995.
The next month Alice in Chains began recording in Bad Animals Studio in Seattle with producer Toby Wright. Staley’s heroin use continued through the sessions. In Greg Prado’s book Grunge Is Dead, Jerry Cantrell said, “It was a really painful session because it took so long. It was horrifying to see Layne in that condition. Yet when he was cognizant, he was the sweetest, bright-eyed guy you’d ever want to meet. To be in a meeting with him and have him fall asleep in front of you was guy-wrenching.”
As a result, Jerry Cantrell took on large portion of the songwriting and vocals on the effort on tracks like “Heaven Beside You,” “Grind” — which features the chilling opening line, “In the darkest hole, you’d be well advised / Not to plan my funeral ‘fore the body dies, yeah” — and “Over Now.” “Heaven Beside You” addresses Cantrell’s break-up of his girlfriend of seven years. In the liners notes to the band’s 1999 box set Music Bank, Canrtell said the song is “another attempt to reconcile the fact that my life and paths are tearing me apart from the person I love.”
Alice in Chains never fully toured behind their self-titled album. They performed on MTV Unplugged in April of 1996 and opened for Kiss for four shows that summer before Staley overdosed on heroin. He recovered but the band was once again forced to take a break. Unfortunately, Staley privately battled his heroin addition for the rest of his life until he passed away in 2002.
The group received Grammy nominations in 1996 and 1997 for “Grind” and “Again,” but lost both times to Pearl Jam’s “Spin the Black Circle” and Smashing Pumpkins “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” respectively. The band was also nominated for the MTV Video Music Award for Best Hard Rock Video for “Again” in 1996, losing to Metallica’s clip for “Until It Sleeps.”
Alice in Chains’ self-titled album is somber and brooding work that captures their mid-90s grunge sound and went on to influence a generation of fans and musicians. The effort marks an end to an era and is the last time album to feature Layne Staley’s unique and powerful voice.
It would be 14 years before fans would get a new Alice in Chains album. The band released Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009 with new singer William DuVall.
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