When listening to Rainier Fog, I kept flashing back to Jerry Cantrell’s first solo album Boggy Depot. That’s a redundant statement since he’s the main voice and writer for both projects, which has been made especially apparent during Alice in Chains’ comeback era. But both albums have a similarly grounded approach where their somber tones don’t trample on the more riff-oriented song structures. It gets to the point where certain songs even echo one another; “Never Fade” is an upbeat rocker like “Dickeye” while “Maybe” and “All I Am” recall ballads like “Breaks My Back” and “Between.”
Of course, Alice’s recent outings have managed to set themselves apart from Jerry’s solo stuff and even their classic 90s material thanks to a doomier style and workmanlike songwriting. Rainier Fog is certainly no exception, as songs like lead singles “The One You Know” and “So Far Under” strike the band’s patented balance of dissonant catchiness, while “Fly” and “All I Am” fill out the ballad quota. The album even throws out a couple wild cards such as the bluesy “Drone” despite a shorter runtime.
And with this lineup nearing a decade of time together, it goes without saying that their musicianship is as tight as ever. Cantrell may still hold the keys with his fluid solos and signature voice, but co-vocalist/guitarist William DuVall remains a solid player; his harmonies are as smooth as ever and he seems to have gotten more lead spots in this time around. I find myself wishing Mike Inez’s bass was louder, but it can always be felt within the layers of sludge.
Alice in Chains’ sixth full-length album is a pleasant listen and that feels weird as hell to say. Sure, it’s mopey by normal rock standards and their last album cemented this “riffs over extreme melancholy” attitude, but Rainier Fog’s more compact runtime and shorter track list really drive the point home. The songs are still well written and keep that unique Alice sound, even if they don’t make you want to crawl in a hole and die like Dirt and Tripod. I kinda hope the band releases material more frequently if they’ll all be this scaled back (like maybe another EP?) but they’ve earned the right to take their time. If they just want to poke their head in every now and then to let us know how they’re doing, I can’t bitch too much.
“So Far Under”
˝All I Am”