With the release of their debut album “Facelift” in 1990, Alice in Chains hit the music scene like a rush of blood to the head. For those of us who dug their sound, and there were many, we never knew what hit us.
“Man in the Box” was the first single off “Facelift,” and since MTV still played videos back in the 1990s, it was most people’s first exposure to the distinctive sounds of Layne Staley’s voice and Jerry Cantrell’s guitar.
Alice in Chains was usually lumped in with other Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. While they certainly benefited from the exposure related to their association with the grunge scene, I never really considered them to be a grunge band. Neither did Jerry Cantrell.
“We’re a lot of different things… I don’t quite know what the mixture is, but there’s definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk. The metal part will never leave, and I never want it to”
In the age of iPods and peer-to-peer sharing, it’s difficult to imagine that a band this dark and this heavy could ever sell 40 million albums worldwide and 16 million in the US, but Alice in Chains did. They also had two number-one Billboard 200 albums (Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains), 14 top ten songs on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and eight Grammy Award nominations. Unbelievable and totally deserved.
It’s ironic, and ultimately sad, that the EP which preceded “Facelift” was titled “We Die Young,” since both Layne Staley and Mike Starr did indeed die young. Layne Staley, Alice in Chains’ vocalist and co-lyricist, died in 2002 of a drug overdose at the age of of 34. Bassist Mike Starr died in 2011 at the age of 44.
It’s cliche to say it, but their music lives on.