(I know this is a very long review, mostly because I want to describe each song and how it sounds. So please bear with me.)
So yesterday I picked up this album at Best Buy on the day of release, it wasn't even on the shelves yet when I got it, it was still on the carts. But anyway, this is AiC's first album in 14 years, and there first album without Layne Staley, who died of a drug overdose in 2002.
I must say, his replacement, William Duvall, does a pretty good job of singing, he doesn't sound like Layne Staley but he doesn't sound out of place at all. The only problem is that he doesn't get enough upfront singing time, in there old material Layne Staley was clearly the undisputed lead singer, although much of there sound relied on vocal harmonies with guitarist Jerry Cantrell, he was always upfront and Cantrell was in the background more so. Now it's the opposite, while William Duvall actually manages to harmonize well, he doesn't sing upfront much, except on 1 song.
It actually seems that they've traded some harmonizing for switching singing lines, which is kinda cool I suppose. But anyway, this album is definitely Alice in Chains, although they aren't trying to rehash past material, it starts out with "All Secrets Known", its, I'm not sure how to really describe it, airy? AiC records, there 3 previous (they've been around since like 1987 and have only released 4 albums including this one and 2 EP's, although one of them is long enough to be considered a short album, its got 7 songs, it's like half an hour.) albums have always started off with a heavy, rocking song that kicked the crap out of you. This one doesn't, but it's a good song. One thing that stands out is the lyrics are about a new beginning and healing and such, which seems appropriate. The next song is the radio single "Check my Brain", its easy to see why it was on the radio, its melodic, it's a rocking, non-acoustic song and its kinda catchy. Some people whine about how it talks about California, and it is a little cliche, but its about Jerry Cantrell moving to L.A, so it makes sense, seriously. Although I will say that the music video for this song sucks. Its one of the cheapest things I have ever seen. I think they blew there whole budget and we got that cheap piece of crap for a video. It shows the band playing the song and all, which is good, it's what a music video should be, but it looks like it was made with windows movie maker and some stock stuff, I'm not kidding, for example, when they sing "So I found myself in the sun...", guess what they do, they put a picture of the sun in the background! That's real creative. Not. Cheap indeed. But it is a good song. "Last Of My Kind" is the one song where Duvall sings upfront for pretty much the whole song, and he sings great, I don't know why he doesn't sing upfront more often. This is one of the standout songs on this album I feel, it's also one of the heaviest, along with "A Looking in View". But this is the only song we get to hear him upfront. The next song "Your Decision" is an acoustic song. A really good one in fact. I think this is one of the best songs on the album. Then there's "A looking in View", This song is really good, though it has a small flaw in that it drags too long. It's over 7 minutes long. it's also pretty heavy, in the intro theres a little bit of, actually like a split second of double bass, which is unusual for an Alice in Chains song. and then it rips into this riff, it rocks, then the verse with the "Hear footsteps creak the floor..." part with all the harmonies, then it launches right back into that riff, then the verse picks up again with the harmonies, then that riff again, and William Duvall goes "Lay! Down!..." in the chorus. Brilliant, it kicks hiney as the kids say now. Then they have some of that line trading thing with the vocals, where one sings one line and another sings the next, that's cool. And it's got that hook-y "A looking in view too long on the outside..." post chorus thing too, and it's also repeated alot at the end. Great song. "When The Sun Rose Again" is another acoustic song, its cool, it seems to be speaking about how they are back with the "It seems you prophesied all of this would end, where you burned away when the sun rose again?" I think that might be a reference to there sun logo. And then, there's "Acid Bubble", what a song, i think it's the best song on here, it's brilliant. It took a bit to grow on me, but when you really listen to it, you realize the small things that make this song so great. it's slow, it's sludgy, it starts with this riff that just towers over you, its got these slow, harmonized verses, then they've got that line trading again, with Cantrell singing "and I always payed attention to all the lines you crossed" and then Duvall sings "Forgive this imperfection, it shows and know..." part, that's freakin cool, then they go into the chorus with all the harmonies, and then when Duvall sings "Alone inside your mind" the way it rings out, that's cool, and it has a vaguely Layne Staley quality to it,and he doesn't even sound like him at all. All the little things, and then I love that riff that they play in the middle of the song, during the "Intent obsolescence! Built into the system!" part, it's all like duh-duh-duh duh duh duh- duh duh duh duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, of course you can't really get it from my typing, but its so cool. That song is 6 minutes and 54 seconds of brilliance. "Lesson Learned" is one of those rocking songs, its fairly fast, its short, it's catchy, and its a definite candidate for a single. It's a good song. "Take her out" sounds like something from Jerry Cantrells solo career, but it's a really good song, I've seen some people say this is a weaker song or that it should have been a B-side for a single. I disagree, this is a good song, it's got that sludgy guitar that chugs along at a nice pace and fits well with the vocal melodies, and the chorus is kind of catchy, this is also a song I think could be a single. But its a good song. In fact, I'd say there are no bad songs on this album. But bottom line is this is a good song. "Private Hell" definitely has that "down in a hole" vibe, it's not quite as good though, it doesn't have the same high "Down in a Hole" did. I mean this song has that, but it's not nearly as good as "Down in a Hole". This song does have those "Uh huh, uh huh" responses though. It's not a bad song by any means though. Finally, the album closer, and title track "Black gives Way to Blue", is easily the best ballad they ever did. Ever. In fact, Elton John plays piano on this song, which makes it even better. The only problem with this song is that it's too short, although that's not really a problem. It's a beautiful song really. And I like that they take a stab at all those rip off bands with the "Imitations are pale" line. Great song, perfect closer.
This album does not tarnish Alice in Chains in any way, in fact, it's a great album that in my opinion has no bad songs. It's merely a new chapter in their history. It took some time for this album to grow on me though, I seriously considered giving this album a 7 at first, but I figured 8, but now, I think that this album is deserving of a 10, it's that good. Go out and buy this album now, seriously. 10 out of 10.