With the exception of Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, no other band helped shape the tenor of mainstream 1990s rock and metal in terms of influence than Alice In Chains. Twenty-five years ago today the landmark album, Dirt was born via Columbia Records. Not only was it the bands commercial breakthrough, but it was their creative zenith in many ways, establishing them as a leader in the genre. Ghost Cult Magazine takes a look back at the album on the anniversary of its release.
Few releases can be said to iconic in every way imaginable, but Dirt is one of them. From its haunting album artwork by Rocky Schenk, to the riff-heavy jams, memorable guitar solos you can sing by heart, the anguished lyrics, and the vocal performances of both Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell, the album is flawless. Written mostly on the road while the band toured tirelessly behind 1990s’ Facelift album, fans got a hint of what was to come when the song ‘Would?’ dropped on the SinglesOriginal Soundtrack earlier that year. ‘Would?’ became a staple of rock radio and MTV would feature the video in regular rotation, a first for the band. It is still the closing song live for the band today and has been covered by groups like Opeth, Incubus, and Post Malone to name a few. The track brought to the fore far eastern modes and drum patterns only lightly touched on before by the band, a staple of their future writing style spawning many other tracks, including the epic title track.
In addition to ‘Would’ the album spawned many hit singles like ‘Them Bones’, ‘Rooster’, ‘Angry Chair’, and ‘Down In a Hole’. The former track was so good that the album was re-released soon after and the song was moved to the front end of the album, at the end of the old cassette era. However, the rest of the track listing was pretty flawless with deep cuts like ‘Rain When I Die’, ‘Hate To Feel’, ‘Junkhead’, and ‘Damn That River’ all prominently played live over the years. Although the band drew upon their experiences with alcohol and substance abuse, the album articulates a lot more than a young band caught up in the ravages of “Sex Drugs and Rock And Roll”. Interpersonal relationships, depression, family turmoil, and war all are paid equal service in the themes of the tracks.
Of course, no mention of Dirt can be made without the performances of Cantrell and Staley. They elevated not just their singing styles, but they galvanized their writing; both together and individually. Staley grew as a guitarist and Cantrell as a lyricist by leaps here. If there were a Lennon and McCartney of this era of rock, it was definitely these two. Although inner turmoil was reportedly hurting the band chemistry at times, Mike Starr’s final recording with the band featured great bass lines while Sean Kinney’s drumming was powerful and inventive.
Even though Staley and Starr have both passed away, time has not diminished the staying power of this album, that not only solidified this band as legends but spawned many imitators. Their power is still felt deeply by scores of bands that started tapping into that dark realness that was second nature to these sons of Seattle.