Alice In Chains’ Facelift was unlike any album I’d heard when I first put it in my ears of December 1990. They were a Seattle band, but they were not like Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Screaming Trees, or Mudhoney. They were darker and much more metal than their Pacific Northwest peers. With Jerry Cantrell’s guitar there was an element of blues in his playing. He didn’t shy away from guitar solos, and he did them tastefully. The songs that made up their debut were melodic, but also dreary like a house filled with sadness and heavy hearts. Though not thrash, thematically the songs were as black as anything on Slayer’s South of Heaven. Within a year of Facelift coming out in August of 1990, Alice In Chains would be opening for Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth on the Clash of the Titans tour(a tour I saw.)
I was intrigued with “We Die Young”. It had all these different elements to it; alternative, metal, touches of 70s doom, and other things I couldn’t put my finger on. Their sound was dense, their guitarist could play pretty damn well, and they had a singer that grabbed you from the get-go. Layne Staley had such a unique voice. It was melodic and commanding. He could be subtle but scream like a banshee. It wasn’t the howl of Chris Cornell, but it had a weight to it. Nobody sounded like Layne Staley then, and nobody sounds like him now(though current singer William DuVall comes close.)
I remember getting Facelift for Christmas, 1990. When it came to Christmas presents, I always had a couple cassettes on the list and my mom always came thru with the music. She knew it was my lifeline. I wasn’t a sporty kid or videogame kid. I played guitar and I listened to music. That was my thing, and my parents always supported it. Listening to Facelift in my bedroom after Christmas dinner was eye-opening. It lived up to the potential “We Die Young” showed, and then some. Munching on a bag of Reese’s Pieces in my bedroom with headphones on I deep dived into the dark world of Alice In Chains and never looked back. At least until their self-titled, anyways.
I know the popular thing to say is that Dirt is the best AIC album hands down, and it is a classic. But after all these years there’s still something that grabs me about Facelift. It’s the disheveled, older brother to the more darkly poetic Dirt. Where Dirt has a sense of maturity to it, Facelift feels more dangerous and haphazard. Songs like “We Die Young”, “Sea of Sorrow”, Bleed The Freak”, and “Sunshine” were still happily showing their influences on their sleeves. At their core, they’re a heavy metal band influenced by metal bands of the 70s; Kiss, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and those songs reflect that.
My favorite song on Facelift, and one of my favorite Alice In Chains’ songs period is “Love, Hate, Love”. It stands out on its own, like the Goth kid at an Anthrax show. I could hear The Cure or Bauhaus cover this track. Layne Staley sounds absolutely stunning, and the band as a whole just connects on a very visceral level. Jerry Cantrell even says this was the masterpiece off of Facelift, with Staley sounding “amazing” and Cantrell recording one of his favorite guitar solos ever on the track.
Alice In Chains were a band I followed intently for six years. They were a pivotal band in the latter part of my high school career, and more so when Dirt was released in the fall of 1992. I was lucky enough to see them twice, opening for the Clash Of The Titans tour in the summer of 1991, and again at Lollapalooza ’93. Both times they were amazing. And despite some meathead metalheads booing and acting like drunk idiots, AIC belonged on that stage opening for those speed metal giants.
After the self-titled came out in late 1995 I’d begun to lose interest. That album just didn’t grab me like previous releases, and with Jerry Cantrell taking more and more vocal duties it just felt like more like a Jerry Cantrell solo album to me. Cantrell sang a lot on all the AIC albums and he and Staley sounded great together. Their voices blended well. But in the end I wanted to hear Staley’s voice, not Cantrell, singing lead. By 1995 Staley was fading fast, which meant the end for AIC as I knew it.
I can remember in April of 2002 my wife and I driving home from seeing Wilco in Columbus, Ohio. It was a tour to promote Yankee Hotel Foxtrot which was coming out the following week. On some county road in rural Ohio the radio DJ came on and said that Layne Staley had been found dead in his apartment, and had possibly been there for a couple weeks before anyone had found him. It was sad, but something that was inevitable in Staley’s case. The Alice In Chains of my high school years was no more. RIP Layne Staley.
A couple months ago it was announced that Facelift was getting a remastered treatment and being released on vinyl. This sparked something in me. Maybe it was nostalgia kicking me in the gut, or maybe it was just a reminder of how much that album meant to me, but I knew I had to have that record. On Black Friday, in celebration of RSD, I picked up a copy of Facelift. Dropping the needle on that was magnificent. That album still rocks extremely hard. I find it to have more depth sonically than Dirt. The songs themselves may not be as mature, but they just rock a hell of a lot harder. And “Love, Hate, Love” still blows my damn mind.
I tried to love you I thought I could
I tried to own you I thought I would
I want to peel the skin from your face
Before the real you lays to waste