The year, 1990; the month, August; the place, Seattle, Washington. The band formed by Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell, Alice in Chains, releases its debut album “Facelift,” quickly becoming one of music history’s greatest turning points. From that year on, the first year of the last decade of the twentieth century, Alice in Chains would become one of the leading (and greatest) bands of the so-called grunge movement born in Seattle and to many, the band the world was waiting for.
The music world had not seen a band as dark and atmospheric in both its music and lyrics since the quick rise and dissolution of the Macclesfield post-punk band Joy Division. Alice in Chains, that little band of Seattle’s unknowns, were to be their definite heirs.
Most people see “Facelift” as more metal than grunge, but this album is neither. Personally the only thing I can perceive as metal here is perhaps the heaviness of the sound.
The songs don’t rely solely on guitar riffs and long dense guitar-solos. Jerry Cantrell comes up with melodic and atmospheric guitar, short and concise but more consistent and full than many epic three-hour solos any ?s metal band could have come up with.
The key to this album is that music, voice and lyrics are all at the same level of excellence and hard-laboring preparation, not coming across as mechanical and cold but as new, intense, and definitely dark. The lyrics are dark – there’s no way around it – but the songs are filled with a passionate, beautiful and disturbing mingling of Layne Staley’s vocals and Jerry Cantrell’s guitar and vocals throughout the many great songs on this record: “Man in the Box,” “Bleed the Freak,” “Sea of Sorrow,” and, to me, the best track off the album: “Love, Hate, Love.” This is one of Staley’s best moments as a vocalist and one of Cantrell’s best solos ever.
All in all, this is definitely a great album, and the keystone to Alice in Chains’ subsequent success with “Dirt,” which introduced them into rock history as one of the greatest bands of the decade. And let us admit that this debut album leaves Nirvana’s “Bleach” (1989) and Soundgarden’s “Ultramega OK” (1988) lying on the dirty pavement screaming for their mommies. Yeah, I said it. What you gonna do?
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