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Album review: Alice in Chains creates treat for old listeners

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For many dedicated fans, the very fact that Alice in Chains chose to reform the band without founding member and lead singer Layne Staley was as close as it comes to musical blasphemy. Staley seemed to be the core behind the tortured antics of the group, and it only seemed logical that post Staley’s death in 2002, the group would disband. Alice in Chains had already been on an informal hiatus before Staley’s death because his drug addiction and health had made it nearly impossible to formally tour, so a true breakup was next on the bill. Right?

Maybe not.

“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” isn’t the kind of disappointing, washed-up album that some might have been expecting and is better than 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue,” the band’s first post-Staley release. “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” doesn’t sound like a re-hashed version of older music.

One listen to “Stone” and “Hollow,” and the classic Alice in Chains style is all there: the half-droning but harmonized vocals, crushing guitar riffs and continuing grunge groove. This album makes you question what the late Staley did or how much influence he had as time went on. There is no denying his talent, but his descent toward drug-filled recluse pushed Jerry Cantrell, guitarist and co-lead singer, into the creative hot seat.

“Phantom Limb” opens with a heavy, pulsing guitar riff as Cantrell and new singer William DuVall harmonize their vocals, just as Alice in Chains is always known to do. The song pushes the borders of the “acceptable song length,” r but promises a payoff for more patient listeners with Cantrell’s solo.

While nothing can truly reach the prime of Alice in Chains in its heyday, this semi-newly reformed group with DuVall in for Staley is a pretty close second best. The subtle differences are there, but only faintly. The group handled the change with grace (if such things are possible for Alice in Chains), and “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” has much more solid footing than “Black Gives Way to Blue.”

Grade: A-

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