Alice in Chains fell off the music radar after the sad death of frontman Layne Staley, but in 2009 they came back with their first album since 1995's self titled effort and the first with William DuVall as a member of the band. Personally I think they did the right thing to leave it that long before releasing an album, it has given both the band and the fans the time to get over the loss of Layne.
So is Black Gives Way to Blue worthy of the Alice in Chains name? You bet it is! In fact, with no disrespect to Layne, who's absence is felt in the album, I actually believe that this is the best thing the band have put their name to. Yeah that's right, I think its even better than Dirt, the album that is widely considered their best.
The album feels much heavier than anything AiC have ever done before. They were always more of a heavy metal band than a grunge band, but if there was ever any doubt before there can be done now, Black Gives Way to Blue is definitely a metal album, I'd go as far as to say it really lacks what grunge influences were in the band's music at the height of grunge. It's the sound of a band moving with the times and it works, while still overall sounding like an AiC album, even without the distinctive voice of Layne present. William is a worthy replacement and hey, a lot of vocals on this album seem to be performed by Jerry Cantrell as well, something I personally didn't realise until I saw the band on TV once.
A very balanced album as well, while it is mostly made of heavy tracks the band thrown in a couple of ballads for good measure, these namely being Your Decision, When the Sun Rose Again and the title track, which features a guest appearance by Elton John.
My personal highlights from the album though would be Last of My Kind, Acid Bubble, Lesson Learned, A Looking In View, Take Her Out and even perhaps surprisingly to some, the single Check My Brain, which is probably the most commercial of the album's songs, and I actually appreciate how it could grate on one's nerves after many listens, but I love it.
I always try to do those highlights sections in my reviews these days to try and give potential listeners a starting point(s), but really this is one of those albums where you can pick a track at random and its going to be awesome, hence the score I'm giving it. There is honestly not a duff track on here, the album is absolutely flawless. One of 2009's biggest surprises without a doubt.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)