Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Alice in Chains - Facelift (1990)

I won’t begin my discography review of Alice in Chains’ with their history and how they got to this point. The entire background of the Seattle grunge scene is so ripe with explanation and history you’d do better to look it up yourself. But I will begin this string of reviews by saying AiC stands as one of my absolute favourite bands to date, in all my time listening to music. So this discography review has a special place in my heart. But let’s get to Facelift. The full-length debut, Facelift serves as the foundation of the signature sound that guitarist Jerry Cantrell and company (Layne Staley, Mike Starr, and Sean Kinney on vocals, bass, and drums, respectively) and would develop to fruition on their second full-length, Dirt.

Things get rolling in prime fashion with one of the best opening salvos I’ve ever heard during my time listening to recorded music. “We Die Young” chugs along with an infectious groove, with Staley digging into the sinister side of things with a killer vocal. “Man in the Box” is up next with a simple but heavy riff, and a biting guitar solo takes center stage. Anybody who claims the 90’s brought about the death of great guitar-playing needs to be slapped in the face with this album, as both opening tracks show off Cantrell’s incredible chops when it comes to shredding. Tasteful, bluesy, but not afraid to dig into the metal bag of tricks, and pull out some tasty, high-speed riffs. Packed with emotion at every turn, Cantrell stands to date as one of my favourite axe-slingers, and for good reason.

“Sea of Sorrow”, “Bleed the Freak”, and “I Can’t Remember” take us further into the gloom afterwards. All good songs, but I don’t feel they compare as favourably to the first two. They still drive things along, with “Bleed the Freak” in particular cranking out some killer chugging riffs. A tasty appetizer on the way to what I consider to be the real main course of the album, “Love, Hate, Love”. A perfect example of the definitive AiC sound, the song is dark, brooding, filled with despair, and in no rush to reach the finish line. Staley festers in his own morose lyrics, bleeding pure malice and contempt into every word. Brace yourself for the climax around the 4:25, with the entire band bringing the song crashing down on top of your head, all after Cantrell’s brilliant solo of course.

The rest of the album passes by much the same way the third, fourth, and fifth songs do. Some bluesy playing opens up the somewhat mediocre “Sunshine”, and “Confusion” only serves to remind me of a much better song, “Rooster” from their second full-length (or would “Rooster” remind one of “Confusion”?). “Put You Down” feels like something Guns N’ Roses could write, with a swagger in the riff that has me picturing Axl Rose doing a snake-dance with Slash ripping it up. This song in particular demonstrates the band’s ability to break out of the slow, grunge sound they were a part of and break into a more mainstream hard rock aesthetic.

Overall, Facelift is a solid debut, one that I would recommend to anyone looking to get into the Seattle grunge scene. Cuts like “Love, Hate, Love”, “I Can’t Remember”, and “Sunshine” hint at the slower, more somber side of the band that would come to fruition in the future, and songs like “We Die Young” and “Put You Down” display a knack for cranking out hard-hitting rockers too. Promising as it is, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by some of the album, namely tracks like “Confusion” and the aforementioned “Sunshine”. But the high points are juggernauts, integral parts of the Seattle scene canon. A must-buy for fans of the band, or people looking into the grunge scene with any curiosity.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (I like to see, how you all would bleed for me)

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