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ALICE IN CHAINS | Apr 21

Although Alice in Chains has been labeled grunge, alternative rock, and hard rock, Jerry Cantrell identifies the band as primarily heavy metal. He told Guitar World in 1996; “We’re a lot of different things… I don’t quite know what the mixture is, but there’s definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk. The metal part will never leave, and I never want it to”.

Jerry Cantrell’s guitar style combines what Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic called “pummeling riffs and expansive guitar textures” to create “slow, brooding minor-key grinds”. While down-tuned distorted guitars mixed with Staley’s distinctive “snarl-to-a-scream” vocals appealed to heavy metal fans, the band also had “a sense of melody that was undeniable,” which introduced Alice in Chains to a much wider pop audience outside of the heavy metal underground.

The band has been described by critics as “hard enough for metal fans, yet their dark subject matter and punky attack placed them among the front ranks of the Seattle-based grunge bands”. Three of the band’s releases feature all acoustic music, and while the band initially kept these releases separate, Alice in Chains’ self-titled album combined the styles to form “a bleak, nihilistic sound that balanced grinding hard rock with subtly textured acoustic numbers”.

Alice in Chains is also noted for the unique vocal harmonies of Staley and Cantrell, which included overlapping passages, and dual lead vocals. Alyssa Burrows said the band’s distinctive sound “came from Staley’s vocal style and his lyrics dealing with personal struggles and addiction”. Staley’s songs were often considered “dark”, with themes such as drug abuse, depression, and suicide, while Cantrell’s lyrics dealt more with personal relationships.

William Duvall

Alice in Chains has sold more than 14 million albums in the United States, released two number-one albums and 21 top 40 singles, and has received seven Grammy nominations. The band was ranked number 34 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Alice in Chains was named 15th greatest live band by Hit Parader, with vocalist Layne Staley placing as 27th greatest vocalist of all time. The band’s second album, Dirt, was named 5th best album in the last two decades by Close-Up magazine. In August 2009, Alice in Chains won the Kerrang! Icon Award.

Alice in Chains has had a large impact on many bands, such as Godsmack, who, according to Jon Wiederhorn of MTV, “have sonically followed Alice in Chains’ lead while adding their own distinctive edge”. Godsmack singer and founder Sully Erna has also cited Layne Staley as his primary influence. The band’s name is actually inspired by an Alice in Chains song, “God Smack”. Staind has covered Alice in Chains’ song “Nutshell” live, which appears on the compilation The Singles: 1996-2006, and also wrote a song entitled “Layne”, in Staley’s dedication, on the album 14 Shades of Grey. Three Days Grace also performs a cover of “Rooster”, which can be seen on the DVD Live at the Palace. Other bands that have been inspired by Alice in Chains include Taproot, Puddle of Mudd, Smile Empty Soul, Cold, and Tantric. Metallica said they’ve always wanted to tour with the band, citing Alice in Chains as a major influence on the vocal melodies for Metallica’s eighth studio album St. Anger, and also used the band, and Staley, as inspiration for their 2008 release, Death Magnetic. Metallica also recorded “Shine” as a tribute to Layne Staley, but the song was left off Death Magnetic due to manufacturing restrictions.

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