With scuzzbucket, crunchy guitar lines and stabbing drums, Alice in Chains’ Rainier Fog stays the course the band has been following for the last three decades: unapologetic, gut-checking, introspective grunge metal. But something about it feels incomplete.
The record is the band’s third since the death of its iconic frontman, Layne Staley, whose high-tension vocals gave Alice In Chains enough drama to kick them into the same league as their Seattle brethren, and they’ve nevertheless proven they could carry on without him on 2009’s surprisingly tuneful Black Gives Way to Blue. New member William DuVall proved he could enmesh himself perfectly with singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s wallowing gloom, and they conjured more catchy songs on 2013’s awfully titled The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
Rainier Fog, though, feels as though it’s stuck between gears. As usual, there are Cantrell’s gargantuan, 10-ton metal riffs and lyrics like “I’ll stay here and feed my pet black hole,” on the especially dreary “Drone,” but they linger too long in that zone. The record’s lighter fare, the country-inflected “Fly” and vocal harmony showcase “Maybe,” are both heavier on mood than music, but when Cantrell and DuVall harmonize “Baby, you should know I’m lonely and I’m tired,” it’s a little too real. Part of the reason the LP is monotonous is because Cantrell and DuVall’s voices are lighter than Staley’s and the two of them can’t do for the band what Brian Johnson did for AC/DC. It’s mood music for mopes and it’s at its best when riffmeister Cantrell (a sadly unsung six-string hero) lets his guitar divine his disposition; somehow the riff on “So Far Under” is heavier than lyrics like “Nobody gets off of this ride alive” and the weepy guitar line on closer “All I Am” is gloomier than “You see I can’t feel anymore.” They managed this previously on Staley-era songs like “Grind” (which Cantrell sang) but somehow this time they sound a little too numb for their own good.