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Alice in Chains are a force unto themselves. A powerhouse rock band who encompass grunge, metal, hard rock and masterful acoustic balladry across their stunning, five-album — and two-EP — discography.
Of course, the band's triumphant career has also been littered with tragedy. Founding singer Layne Staley became one of the 1990s' premier rock stars before dying of a drug overdose in 2002, after a long battle with addiction. That was nearly a decade after co-founding bassist Mike Starr also died from a drug overdose in 1993.
Following a three-year hiatus, AIC returned with guitarist-songwriter Jerry Cantrell stepping up to share lead vocals with new guitarist-singer William DuVall, and the band have continued an impressive — and respected — career ever since.
Ranking all of the Alice In Chains records was no easy task, but we did the damn deed, anyway. Below, is our critical look back at the alt-metal band's imposing discography.
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: There are no bad Alice in Chains albums. There are only great and less great Alice in Chains albums. When Rainier Fog was released in 2018, it was one of the best rock albums of the year, with tracks like "The One You Know" and "Never Fade" further cementing Alice in Chains as a timeless act.
The big riffs kept coming on "Red Giant" and "So Far Under," while the mournful "All I Am" is neck-and-neck with "Black Gives Way to Blue" as the band's best closer of the post-Layne era. Even so, it remains just slightly weaker than the rest of Alice in Chains' monumental works.
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here might be Alice in Chains' heaviest album, at least in terms of riffs. "Hollow" boasts an absolute fucking beast of a main lick, especially when the 3/4 lead becomes palm-muted in the song's verse.
"Stone" and "Phantom Limb" add to the brutal, Sabbathian grooves, while "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" delivers the creepy-crawly feel that every Alice in Chains fan can't get enough of.
The front half of TDPDH is essentially perfect, and though the rest of the album is a tad bloated, it's still a blazing slab of alt-metal that maintained their relevancy in a big way.
Black Gives Way to Blue is one of the greatest comeback albums in rock history, a record that brought so many AIC fans to tears with its direct and heartfelt tributes to the late Layne Staley.
The album plays like the five stages of grief, as Jerry Cantrell questions his ability to move on without Staley on the mic. The addition of William DuVall to the lineup proved to be a fruitful one, allowing Alice in Chains to continue their tradition of gorgeously haunting dual-vocal deliveries.
Like reuniting with a good friend, Black Gives Way to Blue picked up right where Alice in Chains left off, proving with tracks like "Check My Brain," "Your Decision" and "Private Hell" that there was plenty of magic left in the tank.
After the historic success of Dirt and the Jar of Flies EP, Alice in Chains' music became even more wracked by the demons of addiction and mental illness. The result, 1995's self-titled LP, is a much darker, brooding and uncomfortable album that bears the image of a wounded, three-legged dog on its cover.
There are no fun or feel-good moments on Alice in Chains; it's the product of pure torment and personal uncertainty. Not everyone was able to initially appreciate the bleak nature of AIC's self-titled album, but it stands today as a triumph of creative honesty.
Often overshadowed by one of the greatest EPs in rock history (more on that later), Sap is a wildly underrated flex of Alice in Chains' softer side. Released with zero promotion behind it, Sap didn't quite receive its flowers until "Brother" and "Got Me Wrong" were included in Alice in Chains' untouchable MTV Unplugged set.
The stunning "Right Turn" is practically a grunge-posse cut, with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Mudhoney's Mark Arm switching off vocal lines with Cantrell and Staley. And don't even get us started on "Love Song," which sounds like one of those hallucinogenic parts from a classic Disney movie mixed with a Mike Patton side project.
Yes, it's that weird, and Sap is that special of a piece of the AIC catalog.
Alice in Chains never needed blaring guitars and pounding drums to unleash their full power. Jar of Flies is a work no other Seattle grunge act could've ever produced — an uncompromising blend of blues, jangle-pop, alt rock and acoustic rock with a sullen, blackened heart.
It's an EP that forces the listener into its sonic space, and somehow walks a fine tightrope line between hope and hopelessness — and with stunning precision. Jar of Flies houses one of the Nineties' best ballads, "Nutshell," and one of the decade's most unexpected hits, "I Stay Away."
Jar of Flies unveiled a flavor of Alice in Chains that most fans didn't know they had in them. It would've been a true tragedy if they were never able to showcase this side of themselves before Staley's passing, but fortunately that was not the case.
Grunge may not have truly broken until 1991 with Nirvana's Nevermind, but Alice in Chains' Facelift was a siren song for the changing times, even more so than Soundgarden's first two albums, or Nirvana's Bleach.
From the first few notes of "We Die Young" and the iconic "woah-oh's" of "Man in the Box," Facelift announced the arrival of the Nineties across its 12 killer tracks. Few artists present such fully formed sound on their debut album, but Alice in Chains succeeded on that very level, giving fans banger after banger with the brooding "Bleed the Freak," the proggy "Love, Hate, Love" and a bluesy and soulful side-B.
There really isn't a dull moment on Facelift, and it'd be Alice in Chains' greatest work if it wasn't for the leviathan they'd unleash two years later.
Dirt is a perfect album. A 10 out of 10 that rivals the forceful sonics and heart-gripping lyrics of any hard-rock, metal or punk album ever released.
Boasting all-time classics like "Them Bones," "Rooster," "Down in a Hole" and "Would?," Dirt plays like a greatest hits album rather than a sophomore effort. Plenty of bands have tapped Dirt as an influence on their music, and many have tried to replicate its singular fusion of tormented lyricism and titanic riffage — but no one's matched it.
What else is there to say, folks? Dirt is the one. It always will be.