One of the last holdovers from the early 90s grunge scene, Seattle rockers Alice In Chains have been on a fixed career trajectory for more than three decades now. Even after the tragic loss of tortured frontman Layne Staley, whose distinct strained howl became the key ingredient in the band’s signature sound, the group picked up the pieces and moved forward with the addition of William DuVall on the mic (sharing vocal duties with lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell), bringing the general aesthetic closer and closer to sludge metal with each new record. On their third album since the lineup shift – following 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue and 2013’s unfortunately titled The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – Alice In Chains still show glimmers of their high-tension heyday, but they have mainly been reduced to drab and dull mood music.
Rainier Fog’s most glaring sin is that the album seems utterly oblivious as to when it’s time to trim the fat. Each monotonous track overstays its welcome, with even the shortest songs clocking in at over four and a half minutes and the exhausting, melodramatic album closer “All I Am” dragging on for more than seven. The aimless, repetitive sprawling gets its point across in half the time it’s allotted, with each track seemingly having an extra verse tacked onto its ending. As such, the more time we spend in this world, the more tiresome it becomes, and any chance of true potency quickly gets watered down by the endless meandering.
It’s distressing to witness a band this established experience an identity crisis. In trying to satisfy both old and new fans, they’ve failed to bridge the gap between the two, alienating both groups in the process. Splitting the difference between nostalgic returns to form (“The One You Know,” “Deaf Ears Blind Eyes”) and sleepy, lighter tracks (“Fly,” “Maybe”), the album feels too disjointed for its own good. What’s left in the crossfire (“Rainier Fog,” “Red Giant,” “Drone”) devolves into motorcycle dad rock that should come packaged with its own leather jacket. While it’s nice to get a break in the dreary sea of crunchy, sustained power chords, it would work more to the album’s benefit if the deviations served a singular integrity, rather than seemingly tossed in ambivalently.
Worst of all, Rainier Fog doesn’t at all appear to come from a place of passion or necessity. There’s a perpetual numbness to the album that could easily be interpreted as boredom on the part of the band. While the album has a handful of engaging stoner metal licks and textured harmonies layered throughout, it ultimately leaves virtually no impact. Even the most obsessive Alice In Chains fans won’t be shouting out requests for these tracks at future live shows. The hour-long record amounts to little more than mopey, detached background noise.