As one of the “Big Four” bands of Seattle grunge, Alice in Chains’ distinctive specialties (such as sludgy instrumentation and vocal harmonies) set them apart. In fact, they created some of the most meaningful and enduring rock music of the last 30-plus years, so it’s no wonder why they remain so revered.
Fascinatingly, the group formed after the disbandment of Alice N’ Chains, a glam metal band fronted by vocalist Layne Staley whose moniker was a mischievous mixture of Alice in Wonderland and female bondage. Luckily, Staley didn’t have to wait long before fate would put him, guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney, and bassist Mike Starr together. Although they initially played around with other names (including Diamond Lie and F**k), they soon settled on the marginally altered “Alice in Chains.”
From there, they came out swinging with two of the most celebrated grunge LPs of all time — 1990’s Facelift and 1992’s Dirt — alongside a few notable EPs. Along the way, Starr was replaced by Mike Inez, and the band earned its first No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 with 1995’s Alice in Chains. Despite the success, with Staley’s personal struggles becoming truly detrimental, Alice in Chains went on hiatus (with each member pursuing other ventures). Tragically, Staley succumbed to his drug addiction on April 5th, 2002, but a few years later the band’s surviving members would regroup with a revamped lineup.
With Cantrell, Kinney, and Inez bringing in the talented singer-guitarist William DuVall, Alice in Chains have had one hell of a second chapter. Together, they’ve put out three acclaimed studio records — 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, and 2018’s Rainer Fog.
Perhaps even more than the other three “Big 4” Seattle grunge bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden), Alice in Chains’ influence was largely felt on the next generation of rock and metal acts who followed them. Bands like Mastodon, Godsmack, Stone Sour, and more owe a great debt to Alice in Chains, with Corey Taylor recently calling them his favorite of the aforementioned Seattle acts.
“Alice in Chains, to me, is one of the greatest rock bands that ever was,” Taylor declared in 2021. “And I don’t just mean that from a grunge standpoint or metal or anything like that. They revolutionized so much musically and they inspired me to change the way I write music.”
Alice in Chains definitely have a one-of-a-kind legacy, and in honor the 20th anniversary of Staley’s passing and the 30th anniversary of Dirt — as well as the group’s expansive 2022 co-headlining summer tour with Breaking Benjamin (tickets available here) — we’ve dug up dirt on the band’s 10 best tunes.
— Jordan Blum,