by Mordechai Kleidermacher;
Circus Magazine '90
Watching Alice In Chains' "Man In The Box" video is an exercise in brutality. Filmed in gloriously dreary black and white, the Seattle metal band plays on a rundown farm, cooped up in a pen amidst cows, pigs and goats. In the final shot, a black-robed figure removes his hood and reveals his face. His eyes have been sewn shut. Pretty bleak stuff, right?
"This band," states axegrinder Jerry Cantrell, "deals with the brutal reality of life."
Produced by Dave Jerden (Jane's Addiction, Rolling Stones, Social Distortion), Alice In Chains' debut LP, Facelift, is rife with exotic melodies, hypnotic wall-of-sound riffs and bizarre lyrics. Its 12 tracks deal with themes like blind faith ("Bleed The Freak"), drug addiction ("Real Thing") and helplessness ("Man In The Box.")
Alice In Chains - Cantrell, singer Layne Staley, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr - linked up three years ago. Staley and Cantrell lived together in the Seattle rehearsal studio where they also worked. Staley, who was in a completely different incarnation of Alice In Chains at the time, introduced Cantrell to Kinney and Starr. The three started playing together.
Shortly after, Staley's Chains broke up. He moved on to a funk outfit, and asked Cantrell to play guitar. Jerry agreed, but only if Staley would sing with Cantrell's band. Although these were temporary arrangements, Staley was torn between the two groups. In time, Cantrell wanted Staley to sing only with him. "Jerry said, 'Either you stick with my band or we're going to audition singers," the bearded Staley remembers. "I really didn't think they'd do it, but they did and the other singers were a bunch of idiots. I was really jealous."
Staley quit his band and hooked with Cantrell, Kinney and Starr. The group was known as Diamond Lie before settling on its current moniker.
Alice In Chains penchant for severe themes is therapeutic for the band members., according to the 24-year-old Cantrell. "We deal with our daily demons through music. All of the poison that builds up during the day we cleanse at night when we play...and it rolls off like sweat."
"If you feel depressed or hurt," adds the 23-year-old Staley, "it's harder to express those feelings because you're going to bum other people out. You keep it inside and it gnaws at you 'til it drives you crazy. I get those feelings out in my writing, so they won't drive me nuts."
The songs are therapeutic for the fans as well. Staley remembers a show in Pittsburgh. "This fan came up to the tour bus and said, 'I was a crack addict and I listened to "The Real Thing" and it made me quit. You saved me.' 'I don't want to take credit for that, ' I said. 'Maybe I helped open your eyes, but you saved yourself.'"
Alice In Chains is currently opening the Clash of the Titans tour.