27 years ago: Alice in Chains releases self-titled album

Alice in Chains released their third full-length album on Nov. 7, 1995. The self-titled effort marks the band’s last album with a vocalist Layne Staleywho died in 2002.

The LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and has sold more than 3 million copies, spawning the singles “Grind”, “Heaven Beside You”, “Over Now” and “Again”.

The effort expands on the signature sound Alice in Chains captured on their 1992 album Dirt, including down-tuned heavy guitars, chilling vocal harmonies and lyrics focusing on depression, isolation and death. It ranges from super heavy songs like “Grind” and “Head Creeps” to epic compositions like “Frogs” and the fan favorite “Sludge Factory” to the hauntingly beautiful song “Over Now”. The album continues the band’s development with more melodic and moody acoustic sounds that they have tapped into Jar with flies EP which is mixed with a ton of dissonance with super heavy guitar riffs from Jerry Cantrell.

Alice in Chains, “Grind” music video

Alice in Chains was on a self-imposed hiatus in late 1994 as Layne Staley’s heroin use wore on the band. Staley used the downtime to team up with the supergroup Crazy seasonwith Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, late bassist John Baker Saunders and Screaming Tress drummer Barrett Martin. They released their solitary efforts, Overin March 1995.

The next month, Alice in Chains began recording Bad Animals Studio in Seattle with producer Toby Wright. Staley’s heroin use continued throughout the sessions. In Greg Prado’s book Grunge is deadJerry Cantrell said, “It was a really painful session because it took so long. It was horrible to see Layne in that state. But knowing him, he was the sweetest, bright-eyed guy you could ever want to meet. To be in a meeting with him and have him fall asleep in front of you was exhilarating.”

As a result, Jerry Cantrell took on much of the songwriting and vocal effort on tracks like “Heaven Beside You,” “Grind”—which features the terrifying opening line, “In the darkest hole, you’d be wise / Not to plan my funeral ’til the body dies, yeah” — and “Over now.” “Heaven Beside You” is about Cantrell’s breakup with his girlfriend of seven years. In liner notes for the band’s 1999 box set Music BankCanrtell said the song is “another attempt to reconcile the fact that my life and my paths are tearing me apart from the person I love.”

Alice in Chains, “Heaven Beside You” music video

Alice in Chains never fully toured behind their self-titled album. They performed at MTV Unplugged inApril 1996 and opened for Kiss for four shows that summer before Staley overdosed on heroin. He recovered, but the band was once again forced to take a break. Unfortunately, Staley privately struggled with his heroin addiction for the rest of his life until his death in 2002.

The group received Grammy nominations in 1996 and 1997 for “Grind” and “Again,” but lost both times to Pearl Jam’s “Spin the Black Circle” and Splitting pumpkins “Ball with butterfly wings” or The band was also nominated for MTV Video Music Awards for Best Hard Rock Video for “Again” in 1996, losing to Metallicas cut to “Until It Sleeps.”

Alice in Chains’ self-titled album is a somber and brooding work that captures their mid-’90s grunge sound and went on to influence a generation of fans and musicians. The effort marks the end of an era and is the last time the album features Layne Staley’s unique and powerful voice.

It would be 14 years before fans would get a new Alice in Chains album. Band released Black gives way to blue in 2009 with new singer William DuVall.

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