Alice In Chains - Biography



           Viewed by many as the darkest of the Seattle grunge bands, Alice in Chains emerged from the crumbling tower of tired, goofy hair bands to give fans of metal something to take seriously. Inspired by the likes of Ratt and AC/DC, the four-piece were met with a monsoon of success in the early nineties that proved to be more than what their frontman could handle. Plagued by rumors of internal fighting and drug use throughout much of their career, things were slowly dragged out to their gruesome end for the band after they'd released only three proper studio albums. One more, and they might have had their masterwork, or at least something that could have competed with the mediocre hard rock of Nickelback and Godsmack, which would reign supreme in the following millennium. 


            Alice in Chains began as the brainchild of singer Layne Staley, but that beginning saw the band under a slightly different moniker, Alice N Chains. He met Cantrell in 1987 at now-famous Seattle rehearsal space Music Bank, where they eventually became roommates and began writing songs together. Changing their name to Alice in Chains, and bringing in a couple of Cantrell's friends, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr, the band started gigging frequently around the Seattle club scene. As Seattle was a hotbed for blossoming music careers at the time, the band experienced little trouble in getting signed to Columbia Records. Much like Soundgarden in their early days, Alice in Chains were marketed by their label as a metal band, and Columbia enthusiastically promoted them as such.


            The We Die Young EP was quickly released in early 1990 to gain attention for Columbia's new act. Metal radio stations gave the release plenty of airplay, and a debut album from the group was heavily anticipated. They wasted no time, releasing Facelift (Columbia) later that year. Reviews of the LP were strong, and the band eventually gained success with monster-hit “Man in the Box,” the video for which received heavy rotation on MTV. In support of the album, they toured with Van Halen, Iggy Pop, and Poison. The Seattle music scene would not explode for another year, but Alice in Chains were already providing the platform for it to do so. Before recording a new album, the band released Sap, a mostly acoustic effort, to good reviews.


            Nirvana released Nevermind in 1991, and that album's massive success changed the way Alice in Chains would be marketed from here on out. No longer touted as a heavy metal act, the band, along with all the other Seattle groups, were now an alternative outfit. A new song, “Would?” appeared on the soundtrack to the Cameron Crowe film, Singles, and the band appeared in the film, playing the song in a club. The song was released as a single, and its popularity sent expectations for their second album to a fever pitch.


            Dirt was released in the fall of 1992 on Columbia. Riding strong reviews as well as the power of singles “Would?,” “Down in a Hole,” and “Rooster,” the group was now classified as a grunge band along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. The album's overt bleakness and, at times, blatant references to drug addiction, gave way to rumors that Staley was fighting a losing battle with heroin. The rumors didn't slow them down at first, nor did losing their bassist, as Starr was replaced by Mike Inez after the album's release. In the summer of 1993, they played on the third Lollapalooza tour. Dirt had already gone platinum and was well on its way to selling three million copies.


            Jar of Flies (1994 Columbia) can almost be seen as a proper follow-up to Dirt because of its sheer success. Upon its release, it became the first EP to ever debut at number one on the Billboard 200. Still, it was only an EP, and fans were hungrily awaiting the next Alice in Chains full-length. Even with the success of Jar of Flies, the band declined to tour, only adding more speculation over Staley's personal life as well as relationships within the band.


            Staley was, in fact, very prolific in 1995, appearing as the singer of a different project, the Gacy Bunch, which included Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees. After renaming themselves Mad Season, they released the album Above later that year. Also in 1995, Alice in Chains made their proper return, releasing their self-titled third LP on Columbia. It made its debut on the charts at number one, and still the band showed no sign of scheduling a tour. It seemed a certainty among fans and the press that the end was near for the group.


            In 1996, Alice in Chains gave their first live performance in three years in an episode of MTV Unplugged. The recorded performance was issued as an album in the spring of that year. By now, it had become frustratingly difficult for Cantrell to get Staley to be musically active, and so he recorded a solo album, perhaps tellingly, with Kinney and Inez as his backing players. Entitled Boggy Depot, it was released in 1998. Staley laid low, declining even to make a second album with Mad Season, his spot instead going to Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan.


            By 2000, the band were officially on hiatus, and their Columbia label, deciding their was still money to be made, issued a boxed set, Music Bank (1999), a companion disc to the boxed set, Nothing Safe (1999), a live album, Live (2000), and a greatest hits disc, Greatest Hits (2001). Meanwhile, bands like Godsmack and Puddle of Mudd were quickly heating up the charts and snaking their way onto the throne which Alice in Chains once held. Diehard fans clung to the belief that the band would soon return with a new album, but the reality of the situation became tragically apparent in 2002, when Staley was found dead of a drug overdose, reportedly two weeks after he'd passed.


            Cantrell, who's second solo album, Degradation Drip, was released just two months after Staley's death, has since reunited with Kinney and Inez and gone on tour as Alice in Chains. Fronting the band was vocalist William DuVall, formerly of Comes with the Fall. This new incarnation of the band seems to be concrete, and the group plan on releasing new material sometime in 2009.

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