Black Gives Way to Blue is the fourth studio album by the American rock band Alice in Chains, released in September 29, 2009. It is their first record without singer Layne Staley, who died in 2002. It instead features new vocalist and rhythm guitarist William DuVall. It is the first Alice in Chains album released on Virgin Records and their first venture away from Columbia, who handled all of their previous releases. The album debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, and was certified gold by the RIAA on May 26, 2010, with shipments exceeding 500,000 copies and has sold 1 million copies worldwide. The singles "Check My Brain" and "Your Decision" reached No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks, while "Lesson Learned" reached No. 4. "Check My Brain" was also the band's first #1 song on the Alternative Songs chart, and on the Hot Rock Songs chart, and it also reached No. 92 on Billboard's Hot 100, becoming the band's first single to appear on the chart.
The span of nearly fourteen years between the self-titled album and Black Gives Way to Blue, marks the longest gap between studio albums in Alice in Chains' career. The band reunited in early 2006, with DuVall as their new singer. By April 2007, Alice in Chains had been writing and demoing songs for the album, but the band did not show further signs of progress until October 2008, when they announced that they had begun recording with producer Nick Raskulinecz in the studio. The album was funded by guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney – the band didn't have a record label at the time. The writing and recording process was completed on March 18, 2009, Jerry Cantrell's 43rd birthday.
Musically, the album sees the band return to the heavy metal/hard rock style of Dirt and Facelift instead of the murky dark mood that their third album showcased with more grunge-fuzz pedal elements; some songs also have acoustic elements reminiscent of the band's two acoustic EPs also from their third album; it also includes songs which guitarist Jerry Cantrell described as "the heaviest he's ever written".
In 2005, Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney reunited to perform a benefit concert in Seattle for victims of the tsunami disaster that struck South Asia. On March 10, 2006, the surviving members performed at VH1's Decades Rock Live concert, honoring fellow Seattle musicians Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. The band followed the concert with a short United States club tour, several festival dates in Europe, and a brief tour in Japan. Comes with the Fall vocalist DuVall joined Alice in Chains as lead singer during the band's reunion concerts. Cantrell stated, "We want to celebrate what we did and the memory of our friend. We have played with some [singers] who can actually bring it and add their own thing to it without being a Layne clone. We're not interested in stepping on [Staley's] rich legacy. It's a tough thing to go through. Do you take the Led Zeppelin approach and never play again, because the guy was that important? That's the approach we've taken for a lot of years. Or, do you give it a shot, try something? We're willing to take a chance on it. It's completely a reunion because the three of us who're left are back together. But it's not about separating and forgetting — it's about remembering and moving on."
Kinney mentioned in a February 2006 interview that he would be interested in writing new material, but not as Alice in Chains. He explained, "If we found some other dude, I'd love to move on, write some cool tunes and change the name and go on like that. I don't see continuing as Alice and replacing somebody. ... We're not trying to replace Layne. We want to play these songs one more time, and if it seems like the right thing to do, it'll happen. I don't know how long it will go or where it will take us. It's kind of a tribute to Layne and our fans, the people who love these songs. It's not some 'I'm broke and I need the money' situation. We love playing together."
In April 2007, the band's "official blogger", Baldy, posted an update on progress towards the writing of the album, saying that Alice in Chains had been in Los Angeles, California for five days, "sat through three rehearsals and one demo recording session, listened to several other demos" and the new material was "kicking his ass right out of his pants." In September 2008, it was reported that Alice in Chains would enter the studio that October to begin recording a new album for a summer 2009 release. Recording began on October 23, 2008 at the Foo Fighters' Studio 606 in Northridge, California with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Stone Sour, Trivium, Shadows Fall, Death Angel). The band didn't have a record label at the time and the album was funded by Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney. In mid-2009, Cantrell told Revolver Golden God Awards that Alice in Chains had finished recording the album on March 18 (his 43rd birthday) and were in the process of mixing it for a September 29 release.
In April 2009, a blog post from the band expressed the hope that "these songs will strike a chord and make a similar impact on all of you out there that were moved by this band in the first place." Kinney said that the music on the album doesn't deviate too far from the band's past music, adding, "It's nice to sound like yourself...It's not really that hard, actually. I know people are blown away that we really sound like ourselves, and I understand the apprehension, but it's not really that big a stretch to sound the way that you sound." There are hard rock as well as acoustic songs featured on the album. In addition, Elton John appears on the album's title track.
Kinney said that there are lyrics on the album that deal with original vocalist Layne Staley. He elaborated, "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of him. And there's a lot to address, with all of that stuff coming to the forefront. A lot has happened since 1995; a lot has happened in our lives and we've never talked about it or discussed it publicly. So some of that is what's addressed here. That's the way we operate, it's about what really happened in life. We're not really the fast cars and chicks songs. It's basically what's happened in life, but a lot has happened since the last record. And it's on this record." The title track, "Black Gives Way to Blue", was written as a tribute to Staley. Regarding the lyrics to other specific songs, Cantrell said the first single from the album, "A Looking in View", "basically speaks to any number of things that keep you balled up inside." The second single, "Check My Brain", features lyrics dealing with Cantrell's move from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2003. The third single, "Your Decision", contains lyrics about "surviving pain and choosing to live." Cantrell also denied a popular misconception that the song "Private Hell" is about Layne Staley. He stated that the song is in fact about himself breaking up with a girl that he loved a lot and he "wasn't man enough to go through it". But he also said that there's a lot of things in the song that aren't specifically about that and other people can relate to.
"Last of My Kind" is the only song in the album that features William DuVall singing lead vocals without harmonizing with Cantrell, who only sings back up vocals in the song. DuVall also wrote the lyrics and the melody of the song. DuVall wrote a song called "Tongue Tied" about his friend who died of suicide, but the song was cut from the album.
The album's cover art features the illustration of a heart surrounded by a black background. According to William DuVall, the cover was Sean Kinney's basic concept, but the other members also had a hand in it. Jerry Cantrell explained the cover in an interview with Billboard:
"The whole thing with the heart... there wasn't a real intention or a reason, it's just a collection of ideas that we put together. To me, we had our hearts broken by losing Layne and losing ourselves. And also it took a lot of that to get through this process and to even take the chance, and to stand-up and risk. It celebrates his life."
On April 25, 2009, it was reported that the new Alice in Chains album would be released on their new label Virgin/EMI, making it the band's first label change in their 20-plus year career. Alice in Chains revealed parts of their new album at a listening party on July 14, 2009 at the Ricardo Montalbán Theater in Los Angeles. They played the entire album over the PA system and performed an acoustic set including versions of songs "Your Decision" and "Black Gives Way to Blue". Keyboardist Derek Sherinian guested with the band on this event. Another listening event took place on July 21, 2009 in New York. The UK magazine Classic Rock awarded the album nine out of ten stars in its review section in September 2009. Metal Hammer magazine awarded the album 10/10 in September while Nigel Britto of The Times of India lauded the album as a "stunner", later going on to describe it as a "huge, huge success".
On June 30, 2009, one of the album's songs, "A Looking in View", was released as the first single from the album. It was made available for a limited time as a free download through the official Alice in Chains website in early July. The music video for "A Looking in View" debuted via Alice in Chains' official website on July 7, 2009. The second single "Check My Brain" was released to radio stations on August 14, 2009, and was made available for purchase on August 17, 2009. The music video for "Check My Brain" premiered on September 14, 2009. As of late-September, "A Looking in View" has peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and at number 27 on the Billboard Rock Songs chart and "Check My Brain" has peaked at number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, at number 75 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart, at number one on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and Billboard Rock Songs charts, and at number one on the Billboard Hot Alternative Rock Tracks chart.
To coincide with the band's European tour, Alice in Chains released its next single, "Your Decision", on November 16 in the UK and in the US on December 1. The album's third single debuted on the US Rock Songs chart at number 32, and has since charted at number 1 in the US Rock Songs, at number 1 the US Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and at number 4 in the US Alternative Songs charts.
The fourth single, "Lesson Learned", went to radio on June 22, 2010 and reached number 1 in the US Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks.
Black Gives Way to Blue received Gold certification by the Canadian Recording Industry Association in February 2010, signifying sales of over 40,000 units. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA, in May 2010, selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S.
Black Gives Way to Blue was voted number 2 in Kerrang!'s top twenty albums of 2009 and in Metal Hammer's Top 50 albums of the year. The album won the 2010 Revolver Golden Gods Award in the category Album of the Year, beating out Slayer, Mastodon, Megadeth and Heaven and Hell.
More music videos have been released in support of Black Gives Way to Blue than for any previous Alice in Chains release. Videos were released for "A Looking in View", "Check My Brain", "Your Decision", "Acid Bubble" (which is available as an interactive video on AliceinChains.com), "Last of My Kind" and "Lesson Learned". Three of the videos ("A Looking in View", "Acid Bubble", and "Lesson Learned") do not feature the band in any way, which is a first. (The music video for "Get Born Again" featured glimpses of the band.)
Popdose.com reviewed the album as the newest victim of the heavy distortion and digital clipping practices known as the loudness war that are present in many popular releases. "This CD probably has hit new loudness thresholds in the volume wars. It is beyond jarring, and I found myself turning the car stereo down to half the usual volume level just to listen at all." The site noted that the band released Black Gives Way to Blue in vinyl format as well.
All tracks written by Jerry Cantrell, except where noted.
|1.||"All Secrets Known"||4:42|
|2.||"Check My Brain"||3:57|
|3.||"Last of My Kind"||Cantrell, William DuVall||5:52|
|5.||"A Looking in View"||Cantrell, DuVall, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez||7:06|
|6.||"When the Sun Rose Again"||4:00|
|9.||"Take Her Out"||4:00|
|11.||"Black Gives Way to Blue"||3:03|
|iTunes bonus tracks|
|12.||"Black Gives Way to Blue" (Piano Mix)||3:01|
|13.||"Your Decision" (Live)||4:48|
|12.||"Down in a Hole" (Live at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, 7 July, 2009)||6:46|
|U.S. Billboard 200||5||434,000 Gold|
|Finnish Albums Chart||11|
|Polish Albums Chart||16|
|UK Albums Chart||19|
|Canadian Albums Chart||4||40,000 Gold|
|Swiss Albums Chart||21|
|Austrian Albums Chart||14|
|French Albums Chart||46|
|Dutch Albums Chart||34|
|Swedish Albums Chart||20|
|Norwegian Albums Chart||9|
|Danish Albums Chart||13|
|Spanish Albums Chart||54|
|Australian Albums Chart||12|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||7|
|Mexican Albums Chart||88|
|Croatian Albums Chart||17|
|Belgium (Vl) Albums Chart||26|
|Belgium (Wa) Albums Chart||31|
|Japanese Albums Chart||61|
|US Billboard 200||174|
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions|
|2009||"A Looking in View"||—||38||12||27||—|
|"Check My Brain"||92||1||1||1||62|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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