For all of his musical abilities, the late Layne Staley had less of an influence on Alice In Chains’ overall aesthetic than many might realize. Sure, he was an incomparable vocalist with significant range—from his nasally enunciation and pop-metal roars on “Man In The Box” and his agonizing howls on 1992’s Dirt, to his subdued delivery on the acoustic-edged “No Excuses.” But guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell always wrote most of Alice In Chains’ music, and as the ’90s progressed, Staley’s stubborn drug addiction crippled the band significantly. It couldn’t tour past 1993 (save for a few 1996 dates with Kiss), and only managed a patchy self-titled album and an MTV Unplugged release before Staley’s 2002 death.
Cantrell’s creative oversight perhaps explains why Alice In Chains’ reboot with new vocalist William DuVall has been so seamless. The band’s comeback album, 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue, was a relentless collection produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Queens Of The Stone Age, Rush) that picked up where 1995’s grinding, sludgy, self-titled release left off. The new The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, meanwhile, is even heavier. Another Raskulinecz production, the mid-tempo record seethes with bleary-eyed stoner-rock grooves, serpentine metal licks, jagged solos, and DuVall and Cantrell’s vocal harmonies. Monstrous, hulking riffs lumber through “Hollow,” while “Stone” boasts a charcoal-seared Mike Inez bassline and the churning, sprawling title track harkens to the band’s 1993 non-album track “What The Hell Have I.” DuVall sounds even more comfortable switching off (and singing with) Cantrell; their voices have the perfect blend of paranoia, despair, and pathos.
Despite its dense, viscous music, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is very much a quintessential Alice In Chains record. The album’s best songs—the grungy, catchy “Voices” and album-closing “Choke”—are etched with resonant acoustic guitars, while the band’s ability to braid together hypnotic harmonies to form inventive chorus hooks (“Low Ceiling,” “Breath On A Window”) is unparalleled. Drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Inez remain a lockstep rhythm section, and Cantrell is still one of the most honest hard-rock songwriters around, able to craft bleak music that’s not consumed by darkness.
Still, with a running time of nearly 70 minutes for just 12 songs, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here can be overwhelming; the arrangements of several songs are amorphous, and tunes such as “Phantom Limb” and “Hung On A Hook” could benefit from an editor. Despite these small quibbles, the album is solid; in fact, there’s something very reassuring that Alice In Chains’ second act is nearly as vital as its first.