Revitalizing the darkest album that shaped an entire sound and generation
Easily the heaviest and most beloved band of the entire early ’90s Seattle grunge scene, Alice In Chains released three albums–Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992) and Alice and Chains (1995)–before the death of their original singer and frontman Layne Staley in 2002 as a result of a ongoing battle of depression and drug addiction. Dirt, in particular, has impacted and influenced countless metal and grunge bands and fans alike, with its decade-defining lead singles and dark, introspective themes. Dirt found itself energizing its audience, as there really wasn’t anybody else who sounded like it at the time, crossing seamlessly through several genres, just like the artist listing on the record’s 28th anniversary redux, in tribute to the almighty Alice In Chains.
Thou kicks things off with the opening track, “Them Bones,” known for its powerful, hard-hitting performance. It’s stylized in classic Thou tradition, fully embracing the low guitar tunings and guttural vocals, yet does not experiment too much in terms of song structure and sound by keeping their rendition fairly straightforward and faithful to the original.
In stark contrast to the opening track, Low Flying Hawks provide a far more ethereal approach to “Dam That River,” favoring a post-rock and atmospheric sound as opposed to the heavy and blunt LP version. The concept of tribute albums starts to really click with this Low Flying Hawks version, as one realizes that there is a whole plethora of new song renditions and bands for new audiences. On the other hand, High Priest deliver a more or less straightforward version of “Rain When I Die,” and they excel at encapsulating the production chops and sonic grace that made Dirt what it is.
One of the more epic and courageous Alice In Chains tracks is most notably “Down In A Hole,” and Khemmis prove themselves no slouches at honing in their best attempt at it, further exemplifying the incredible tone and sound of the album through a tribunal, chorus-drenched bass guitar and soaring vocals and harmonies.
These Beasts approach the classic “Sickman” with a disappointingly yet understandably less-frantic version. The tom-tom drumming and eerie anxiety the song is known for has a similar effect on Dirt (Redux), yet it doesn’t come off passionate or creative, despite the obvious high energy and passion put into the performance.
Howling Giant, adding to Dirt (Redux’s) fantastic list of artist names, brave the honor of covering the legendary single “Rooster,” and they do so in a refreshingly idiosyncratic way. By infusing elements of their own sound through keeping with solid dynamics, throwing in some organ and changing the drum patterns and riffs ever so slightly to their great benefit, Howling Giant become one of the standout bands to contribute.
When considering the extremely dark nature of Layne Staley’s struggles as an imploding rock icon with deep addiction issues, the track “Junkhead” by Forming the Void completely mellows out the energy of the album with darker passages of depressive lyrics, making it much harder for it to be considered just “another song.” As is the case with the These Beasts rendition, the passion and intensity that the original song had becomes lost when not done right. It’s especially tough to tackle when it’s about a topic as personal and introspective as a crippling illness and addiction that became, of course, fatal for the author of those original words, but Forming the Void succeeds here.
Yet again, there is not much of considerable interest to be offered from the title track, which is done by Somnuri, who cover the song well enough but don’t contribute any interesting or noteworthy features. This same issue actually becomes somewhat more obvious on the following track “God Smack,” done by Backwoods Payout, who actually do manage to deliver an overall impassioned and heavy version of an already passionate and heavy song without deviating too far from what the original included.
The interlude track “Iron Gland,” which was actually “Untitled” on the original release of Dirt in 1992, functions as a gateway into the concluding three tracks. An interesting footnote: it’s done by a completely different band, Black Electric, despite being a 42 second long noise/joke track. -(16)- alter “Hate to Feel” considerably, opting to add more distortion and dynamics to it, as well as dropping the original tempo down, in order to create a sludgier atmosphere.
“Angry Chair,” one of the more simple songs on the original track listing, is given a tremendous treatment, comparable to Thou’s opening cover. Vokonis actually change a fair deal, including vocal and guitar phrasing as well as the general tone, which is far more intense and audacious than the original was.
Arguably the most well-known track of Dirt is, of course, the single “Would?,” which is well done by The Otholith. The band captures the essential mood for of the song, but adds a whole new later of grit and darkness, bordering on funeral doom and goth, as well as being just about the perfect album closer.
Ostensibly, the concept of a redux album, whether a tribute to the artist or an album, has continued to be a beloved means of both exposing the fanbase of said artist to newer bands, as well as cherishing the original content. This is clearly present on Dirt (Redux), by dropping jaws with updated versions of classic songs, for the most part. This is a must-listen for any diehard fan of contemporary metal and Alice in Chains alike.