ALICE IN CHAINS – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013 Capitol Records)
You know how in offices they have those phones with the little speaker in them, that plays the local radio station? That’s how I first heard “Hollow” by Alice in Chains. Not the greatest way to hear it. I couldn’t hear the harmonies or the bass guitar. The song came off as a dull drone and I didn’t like it. However Mandy Grant on 107.5 Dave FM said the album was lined up to be her album of the summer. Then Tricky Nick gave it 5/5 and praised its genius!
Now it’s my turn to throw my hat in the ring. I had no problem with Black Gives Way to Blue; yes it’s a sad album and we know why. If anything I found some of the songs to be not memorable. On the other hand, I found some of the softer material to be among Chains’ best. Here, William DuVall does a great job. I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to sound a certain way, but when he sings with Jerry it’s Alice in Chains.
Onto The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. Love the title, love the artwork, love the packaging, but we’ll get to that in a few moments. It’s an album that reveals more and more as you listen to it. It’s really well produced for one. Sonically, this is the best album Alice in Chains have ever made. But musically, it peels like an onion: brief guitar interludes, dual guitar harmonies, bass hooks, vocal flare, all of this stuff and more comes through when you spend some time with it.
I think I’d like to invent a new genre here and declare this record to be “Progressive Grunge Rock”. It has elements of both, which really isn’t too much of a leap as Chains have always comprised some great musicians. Mike Inez was one of my favourite bass players from his Ozzy days, and Sean Kinney is very creative with his symbol work and weird time signatures. Only 2 of the 12 songs are under 5 minutes; the album clocks in well over an hour. Unbelievably, it doesn’t drag. This is accomplished with a combination of well written memorable hooks, and a variety of song styles. Some moments recall mellow things like Jar of Flies, others the “Dog” album. There’s also a lot of riffing and soloing that is pure traditional heavy metal.
Many reviewers have mentioned that this album seems a lot brighter than Black Give Way to Blue and I’m in agreement with that. Keep in mind this is Alice in Chains and they’re not turning in a sunny-happy-joy-joy album at any time. There is however a certain jubilant quality to this album that is quite infectious.
I keep waffling between favourite songs. All of these are contenders:
- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
- “Breath On a Window”
- “Phantom Limb”
There aren’t any weak songs, but for me those 7 are all really exceptional. I really love “Phanton Limb”. It’s one of the most “metal” in some respects but it’s also one of the most unique. Its riff is just mechanically punishing. “Voices” is like Jar of Flies meets Cheap Trick or something.
The packaging is really cool but fragile. Mine arrived with a slight crack on it. It’s a coloured red jewel case, but with a function. Remember how G1 Transformers used to come with those “Tech Spec Decoders”? You had to use this red plastic “decoder” to read the stats on the robot’s packaging. You could still sorta read it without the decoder, but Alice in Chains took it a step further. You can only read the lyrics by inserting the appropriate page into the jewel case. There are big red XXXXX‘s over most of the words making them very difficult to read. When you put the page under the jewel case, it’s easy!
Having lived with the album for a week now, I concur with Mandy: I think the love will grow, and this will be one of my albums for the summer, too. The most important thing about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is that it sounds like Alice in Chains. There is nobody else out there that sounds like this.