If there’s one band who’s shown how to bounce back from tragedy more masterfully than almost any other, it’s Alice In Chains. Some may disagree, particularly when it comes to Layne Staley’s presence that made albums like Facelift as boundary-pushing as it was, or Dirt the classic it would come to be heralded as, but in holding on to the quintessential ethos of what makes an Alice In Chains album, William DuVall has done a fantastic job. As an introduction, Black Gives Way To Blue was pretty much as good as it gets, and though The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here fell a fair bit shorter than that, it still wasn’t terrible by any means. Considering that Alice In Chains have not only been around for over thirty years at this point, but also arguably pioneered and captained grunge’s voyage into the mainstream, it’s a great sight to see them remaining as resolute as they are.
With that being said though, there doesn’t seem to have been a great deal of excitement around Rainer Fog leading up to its release. It can’t possibly be delayed or retroactive backlash to The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here; it’s been five years since that album came out, and even if it doesn’t meet the same levels of praise today as it was given back then, it’s still not awful by any means. Going into Rainier Fog though, that attitude doesn’t seem that unfair, as this is definitely more of a filler album than what would’ve been liked.
That’s not to say that it’s bad either, and for any Alice In Chains fan (particularly of this modern incarnation), Rainier Fog simply delivers more of the same to an expectedly solid degree. DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s drawling, tar-thick harmonies sound as fantastic as always, totally in line with both the grunge and metal elements that make up Alice In Chains’ sound, both of which are put to good use once again here. The creep-and-stomp of the title track and Red Giant once again harken back to Sabbath-style knells, and Drone’s solo feels especially distinct in its shades of classic rock, but the hazy acoustic melodies of Fly and Maybe remain even more intoxicating still. Coated with sunburnt echoes of blues- and stoner-rock, and Rainier Fog works under the same rock-solid conditions that have made Alice In Chains albums so great in the past.
That was in the past though, when this sort of thing had plenty of mileage left and operated as such. With Rainier Fog, it’s not to say that Alice In Chains are drained to any degree, but for a sound like theirs where it’s so easy to cycle back to previously-used themes and instrumentals, it feels as though that’s happening more than it should here. Even if it’s done well, something like the seven-plus-minute closer All I Am, for all intentions of it being an epic, climactic moment, feels so laborious as the tenth track in a row to essentially run through the same checklist of features. And while it’s been brought up plenty of other times that Rainier Fog doesn’t have even the customary big singles, it’s not a wrong assertion. The title track definitely comes the closest in a Check My Brain sort of vein, but otherwise it’s a shockingly nondescript listen, frequently blurring together and failing to rise above technical proficiency into some actual decent songs.
What’s even more frustrating is that everyone knows that Alice In Chains can do better. With the number of great and even classic albums they’ve had, it wouldn’t be out of the question for a bit more work to be put into this, if only to kick it out of that lower tier. Even so, the fact that this is still relatively decent despite its shortcomings is a testament to Alice In Chains as a band, and those who’ve been onboard since the beginning and warmed to DuVall’s presence should find plenty to get into here. For everyone else, it’s worth a try to glean a few moments of quality, but otherwise, you won’t be missing too much if you just skim over it.
For fans of: Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Temple Of The Dog
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Rainier Fog’ by Alice In Chains is out now on BMG Rights Management.