Alice in Chains aren't just one of grunge's Big 4; they're one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The Seattle group, founded and still helmed by guitarist-vocalist Jerry Cantrell, are touring and putting out music to this day, but the band reached iconic status in the early Nineties when late powerhouse frontman Layne Staley was the lead voice of the unit. When we asked our readers to narrow down the group's exceptional catalog to a mere top five, some big hits had to fall by the wayside. See what our AIC die-hards considered the cream of the crop, ranked accordingly below.
Alice in Chains excel at creating an atmosphere, and that skill is on full display during "Rain When I Die," an outstanding slow-burner from 1992's Dirt. The stormy waves of distortion during the intro give way to a massive, wah-wahed-to-fuck main riff that evokes the gloomy din of constant rainfall, and when Staley belts that hook — "I think it's gonna rain when I die" — you can feel it in your bones.
While contemporaries like Nirvana and Soundgarden succeeded at translating pain and sorrow with teeth-gnashing grit, Alice in Chains' music is so great at channeling the debilitating, sloggy side of anguish. "Down in a Hole" quite literally feels like being stuck under the covers in the throes of heartbreak, Jerry Cantrell's smeary guitar parts suffocating the mood while Staley manages to croak the obvious ("Down in a Hole/Feeling so small") in an act of poetic concision.
For a band as loud and sonically overpowering as Alice in Chains, it's amazing how great they sound in an acoustic setting. Their 1994 EP, Jar of Flies, is filled with stripped-back ballads, and "Nutshell" is the best of the bunch — a light, rustling beauty with candlelit harmonies and a delivery from Staley that's restrained but still emotionally devastating.
This was a cool pick. "Love, Hate, Love" is a well-regarded highlight from the band's debut, Facelift, but "Man in a Box" and "We Die Young" often overshadow the rest of the album, even though this masterful exploration of the dichotomies between affection and loathing is arguably just as good. At six-and-a-half minutes, it's long by AIC standards, but it earns every minute, with twisted riffs and triumphant Staley wails that never fall exactly where you expect them to.
Hard to disagree here — in fact, Revolver named "Would?" the best AIC song in our definitive ranking of their 15 greatest songs, so kudos to our readers for understanding the assignment. Like most of the band's cuts, "Would?" deals in dark subject matter, specifically, the death of the group's friend and Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood, who overdosed and died in 1990 — a tragedy that shook Cantrell to his core. What he managed to channel his grief into is one of the most tremendously powerful closing tracks of its kind, featuring a stunning Staley vocal performance, a crushing riff and some groovy-ass drum patterns.