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Alice In Chains feels like it's not a comeback anymore

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2013

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Four years ago, Alice In Chains did something many thought would be impossible. Or at least unlikely.

The veteran Seattle hard rock group, which is currently headlining this year's Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival tour, returned after a 14-year gap with a new album, "Black Gives Way to Blue," and a new singer. It was a successful comeback that made a Top 5 debut, was certified gold and launched the No. 1 rock hits "Check My Brain" and "Your Decision."

It also left the quartet wondering, "Well, what the (expletive) do we do now?," according to guitarist and co-founder Jerry Cantrell. And the answer was to do even better the next time out.

The group's fifth album, "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," came out in May and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, AiC's best showing since 1995. with "Hollow" and "Stone" jetting to the top of the rock charts and another single, "Voices," currently climbing. And while making the album was not necessarily easy, singer-guitarist William DuVall says AiC went into it feeling more confident thanks to its predecessor's success.

"That allowed us a little more leeway to concentrate on the task at hand, which was the music," explains DuVall, 45, who joined AiC during 2006 to replace Layne Staley, who died in 2002 from a drug overdose. "We did that on 'Black Gives Way To Blue,' too, but it took that much more effort to kind of shut out the noise of the outside world and only deal with what we were doing. That was very much 'the first one,' and there was a feeling of exerting our right to exist."

"This one had a little more of a comfortable, easy feeling."

Cantrell concurs, adding that this version of AiC has "been together doing shows since 2006, so we've been working together for awhile. There's always room for growth, but we've been pretty tight for years, before we made a record. So it's just that much better this time. It's a really big record and we're really proud of it. It's always great when you get the chance to make another one."

The key to making "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here," according to Cantrell, was for the band "to completely forget" what it did previously -- both on "Black Gives Way to Blue" and on AiC's multi-platinum releases during the 90s. "We started from zero, and that's pretty much what you want to do most every time," explains Cantrell, 47. "It's scary to do that, and it's challenging. But, y'know, we know we've done it before, so we know we can do it again."

The process began almost immediately after the "Black Gives Way to Blue" tour ends, when Cantrell "started listening to the (guitar) riffs we'd collected" while on the road, with "Hollow," "Stone" and "Voices" all coming in the first batch. Progress slowed a bit when the guitarist underwent shoulder surgery, while sessions with producer Nick Raskulinecz were straightforward, if arduous, at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles.

"I would say what we put ourselves through to make these records is a pretty intense thing, just because we all have really high standards," DuVall explains. "We all really push ourselves hard, and we're all our own harshest critics. I don't think there was every a point where we seriously thought, 'Oh, we'll never finish.' I think there's always this undercurrent of, 'No, we're gonna finish. It's just gonna be a haul and it's gonna take as long as it's gonna take.'

"And luckily we have the luxury of being able to say that and live that reality, 'cause there's not many groups these days that can ever say that."

The album wrapped up in December, with "Hollow" out that month as well. AiC was also on the road well before "The Devil's..." release, and the fan reception gave Cantrell and his bandmates -- including drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez -- a welcome indication that they had another winner on their hands.

"I'm not going to say this record is better than the last," Cantrell notes. "I think this record's great. I think the last one's kick-ass, too. That's what you're hoping to do is try to move forward. Since we decided to start playing again, the whole intention for everything we've done was to move forward and move on and see where we can continue to live and make music.

"Hopefully that's the way it will keep going in the future, too."

The Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival, with Alice in Jane's, Jane's Addiction, Coheed and Cambria, Circa Survive, Walking Papers, Dead Daisies and more, takes place Saturday, Aug. 24, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Doors open at 2 p.m. Tickets are $49.50 and $29.50 pavilion, $19 lawn with a $60 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

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