Review: Alice In Chains “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.” A solid (if slightly homogenous) effort from the veteran Seattle band, but it falls short from “Black Gives Way To Blue.”
When Alice In Chains reformed in 2005, it inspired skepticism. The loss of vocalist Layne Staley seemed insurmountable, and his shoes seemed impossible to fill. So it was an unexpected triumph when the band released 2009’s “Black Gives Way To Blue“, featuring new vocalist William Duvall.
It reminded fans that Jerry Cantrell was the band’s chief sonic architect, songwriter and a co-vocalist. The band’s sound remained intact.
So expectations for a follow-up were high. So how does new album “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” stack up to earlier material?
Lead track and first single “Hollow” feels somewhat, well hollow, lacking a bit in power. The next track “Pretty Done” is better, featuring seasick warped guitar lines, but is a tad derivative of “Check My Brain” it’s more rocking progenitor off the previous album.
Lyrically, the title track is one of the more unique songs in the band’s repertoire. Whereas other songs are insular and introspective, this provides social commentary, a harsh critique on the religious right’s intolerance and fear. The chorus says it all: “The devil put dinosaurs here / Jesus don’t like a queer / No problem with faith / Just fear.”
Too bad the track has such inertia. One wishes there was more righteous indignation in Cantrell and Duvall’s vocals to drive the point home more dramatically. It’s haunting guitar arpeggios recalls “Love Hate Love” off their début album “Facelift” but lacks that tracks dramatic impact.
Thankfully all is not lost. “Stone” is killer, with a slurred Black Sabbath-esque guitar stomp that rocks like all hell.
“Voices” is akin to the band’s acoustic output on “Sap” and “Jar Of Flies”, the bittersweet harmonies of Duvall and Cantrell intertwining perfectly with the haunting guitar work. A beautiful moment.
It’s fitting that “Low Ceiling” feels like a take off Alice In Wonderland given the band’s name, with Cantrell singing of disorientation; “Finding the ceiling’s low, I’m too big or the room’s too small.” And with a line like “Write me over, false reporter /Can’t you let me shine”, it sounds like he could be referring to all the naysayers who had written the band off when they began anew. It features a wonderful, lyrical solo from Cantrell.
Songs like “Breath On A Window” and “Scalpel” rock convincingly, yet again feel a bit restrained.
“Phantom Limb” is another standout. A propulsive riff augmented by ghostly droning notes, it conjures their patented dread-ridden groove. It also features lead guitar from Duvall, whose style fits the band perfectly.
The album ends with “Choke” a workmanlike finale, conjuring the acoustic reverie of “Nutshell” off “Jar of Flies.”
“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” feels akin to “King Animal“, the latest release from Seattle brethren Soundgarden. Both suffer from a scrubbed clean production that undermines the power of their material, and both sound like they’re pulling their punches. And a diversification in tempos could’ve helped the band’s material from sounding so uniform.
As a result, the album plods like a Dinosaur when it could have used a touch of the Devil’s mischief. It just can’t match the triumphs of predecessors like “Dirt.”
Want to own “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” on iTunes? You can purchase or preview below.