Music Review: Alice In Chains – Dirt (1992)


The creation of a timeless masterpiece 

In my last review we talked about Alice In Chains’ debut album, Facelift and the early days of the Grunge genre. In this review we will take a look at the expertly crafted follow up, and gaze upon what is quite possibly one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

It is often said that a band’s first album is their most important work, as it lays the groundwork for fan favourite songs and allows the band to figure out which ways they can experiment safely with their sound. It is also said, however, that a follow up album is equally important when you are faced with success. It’s 1992 and the musical world has been taken by storm, with the Grunge genre dominating charts the world over.

The sudden and unexpected success of Nirvana’s second studio album, Nevermind  in 1991 gave many Grunge bands the opportunity to ride off Nirvana’s wave of intense radio and MTV airplay. Grunge was only getting bigger and bigger. It is a year of fierce competition since 1992 also saw the release of such well received albums as Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction and Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, among many others. After a mediocre tour with Slayer and Megadeth, in which they were booed off the stage on several occasions, Alice In Chains decides its high time for a new album. In 1992 Alice in Chains released the very experimental Dirt.

We are reminded very quickly with the intro track, ‘Them Bones,’ of the fact that Alice in Chains is not a typical Grunge band, only but a step away from being a full fledged Metal band. “Them Bones” offers an amazingly fast and heavy opening that transitions into an incredible chorus followed up by a truly unforgettable guitar solo. Learning from their mistakes the first time around, Alice in Chains opted to not include as many slow paced or drawn out songs. We soon realize this as the second track, ‘Damn that River’  immediately starts into another fast and heavy intro. Leading us into an extremely well rounded song that almost leaves you wishing it were longer, treating us to an addictive drum and guitar tune perfectly harmonising with the vocals.

Track three ‘Rain when I die’ leaves us wondering, “Is there going to be a mediocre song in this album at all?” It beings with some slow and calm drums, which slowly but surely, shows us that Alice In Chains is now really capable of doing slower songs that aren’t unreasonably drawn out. Considering its immense length of 6:08, it’s truly a testament to how talented they have become looking back to the blunders from the previous record. For the first time we see a case where they made one of their songs better by just getting it to slow down a little.

We get to track four, ‘Sickman’ and have gotten to our first extraordinarily bizarre sounds on this record; another case of the classic Indecisive speed style that they have become known for. Finding a song that has a lot of strange elements and an even stranger tempo. The only way I can think of explaining it, would be comparing it to an hourglass where the sand isn’t a uniform size, with parts of the song speeding up at unexpected times, (in a good way) finding the perfect balance of safe and dangerous sound. An experimental success in my opinion.

When we arrive at the fifth track, ‘Rooster,’ The fact that we are 20 minutes in to what is shaping up to be a once in a lifetime experience is setting in. This is finally cemented when we see the longest track on the album. A slow, dark and brooding song, with some of the most powerful and impactful vocals ever recorded with the equally touching instruments in the background. Without a doubt, “Rooster” is the best long track by Alice in Chains from any of their past or future records.

Things speed up by a little bit in ‘Junkhead,’ the sixth track. While it doesn’t really speed up much from ‘Rooster,’ it is nowhere close to the amazing sound, and overall, the song is fully shadowed by the stellar experience we had but a single track ago. Somewhat forgettable in general. “Junkhead” isn’t a bad song, in fact its far from it, but the biggest mistake with this album is putting it directly after ‘Rooster.’

When track seven ‘Dirt’ starts playing, we see the song that the album is named after. Part of me is so amazingly impressed when this song comes on just over halfway through the album, as it seems uncanny for an album to not have a single bad song on it this far in. With yet another broody and dark song, we see a truly emotional performance from all members with a well balanced mix of speed once more. They seem to have really nailed the tempo by this point in the album, which is very quickly shaping up to make up for the shortcomings of the first album (which they have more than made up for so far).

We start to get a somewhat sad feeling by the eighth song, ‘Godsmack,’ as we are now aware of the fact that not all good things last forever. Sadly, this album is getting much closer to the end. Having yet another set of bizarre noises and vocals, that amazingly make even the imitation of a dying cat in the vocals sound outstanding. It’s one fast ride the whole way through this track, and with very little breaks, it is a showcase of Layne Staley’s tremendous vocal talent. An unforgettably unique experience the first time you hear it.

Track nine, ‘Iron Gland,’ features Slayer vocalist Tom Araya. This unfortunately shapes up to be a terrible experience, included as a joke song, its 44 seconds of an annoyingly bad guitar tune which ultimately culminates into Tom just screaming “I am………… Iron………. Gland!” You can’t really judge this track too much however, as even the entire band has stated in the past that the song was just included as a joke, and it is not intended to be taken seriously.

The tenth track, ‘Hate to feel,’ does greatly help to wash away the bad taste that ‘Iron Gland’ left us with. With some of the finest guitar work and vocal efforts I have ever heard, it kind of makes me glad that ‘Iron Gland’ was so bad, as the relief that this gives us is amazing to say the very least. Track eleven, ‘Angry Chair,’ starts with an almost spaghetti western feel to it. The slow music contrasts very well with the fact paced lyrics, and when the chorus starts in, it is a wonderful experience. By the end of this track we are a grand total of 46 minutes into the album, and with only 1 bad song (albeit an intentionally bad one), we are shown what an amazingly made piece of work this album has been. Sadly, we are almost finished with the album, but with ‘Would?’ just a few tracks away I can’t help but to feel hyped.

‘Down in a hole,’ track twelve, shows the purest calm and slow track on the album. Featuring amazing guitars and unforgettable vocals; a standout song from the album, it is a track which should never be skipped or fast forwarded to get to the “good bits,” as the whole song is the good bits. The way the song is written, it sounds almost like a 2 part song, and with but a single song remaining we see why it is written that way.

The final track, ‘Would?,’ is in my opinion, the greatest song ever written. With an outstanding opening, transitioning very well from ‘Down in a hole,’ we are faced with conflicting feelings. Faced with immense sadness that this is the final track on the album, but I get an indescribable feeling that always gives me goosebumps when I hear this song. ‘Would?’ is so impactful that I can still recall the first time I heard it. I had to listen to it 5 more times to fully absorb what I had just heard, and overall, this song showcases Alice in Chains at their absolute biggest and best.

Within their vast catalogue, Dirt is an unbeatable masterpiece that cements this album at my personal number 1 spot. Even to this day, 25 years after it was released, they have yet to release a song that comes anywhere near as excellent as many of the songs this album has. As a testament to that, considering the hundreds of songs I listen to on a daily basis, I still listen to ‘Would?’ every day and it still remains the only song that I never skip. Overall, I would give Dirt a 10/10, which is likely the only album that I will ever give a “10,” as nothing really can compare to it. Take a listen.

Thoughts? Discuss down below!

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