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Album Review

Alice in Chains back in business

September 28, 2009

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Rock
Alice In Chains Black Gives Way to Blue
Virgin/EMI
ESSENTIAL “Your Decision’’

‘Hope, a new beginning/ Time, time to start living.’’ It’s no coincidence these are the first words you hear on the new Alice in Chains album. Six years after the death of frontman Layne Staley and nearly 14 since its last album, the Seattle quartet is ready to reopen the sludge factory for business. And business is good.

“Black Gives Way to Blue’’ is similar enough to the group’s classic, hard-but-contemplative sound without descending into creepy or desperate mimicry. New singer-guitarist William DuVall (above), who splits vocal duties with guitarist-songwriter Jerry Cantrell, acquits himself nicely in conjuring those specific, mesmerizingly drone-y Alice in Chains harmonies. The guitars swing from menacing electrics to swaying acoustics. And even though healing and hope are welcome recurring themes, there are plenty of dark corners, gloomy ruminations, and bleak pronouncements to please the catharsis-through-commiseration crowd.

Highlights include first single, “Check My Brain,’’ with its oozy guitars and off-kilter rhythms; the hooky acoustic sway of “Your Decision’’; and the serene harmonies of “When the Sun Rose Again.’’ Cantrell’s idol, Sir Elton John, swings by to offer his piano services on the title track, which is dedicated to Staley. It’s nothing fancy but appropriately elegiac.

While there are a few lulls (“Last of My Kind’’), none are glaringly offensive, and the band builds up so much good will with the stronger material that it’s easy to surrender again to these Chains. (Out tomorrow) SARAH RODMAN