Vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell formed Alice in Chains in 1987. The band epitomized the heavy Seattle sound of the 90s. What made them stand out, however, was the fact that their roots were in heavy metal, not punk. Facelift, their debut album, was released before Nirvana took the underground to the mainstream.
Despite their metal connections, the band thrived in grunge’s glory days and it’s no coincidence. Staley’s tortured lyrics and Cantrell’s minor-key and gloomy riffs created a slick and versatile sound that’s radio ready. Alice in Chains delved into acoustic-based music with hits I Stay Away and No Excuses.
Despite their popularity and commercial success, the band was plagued with internal tension, most of it stemming from Staley’s drug use. Staley’s addiction significantly slowed down the band’s upward trajectory. The band’s descent culminated in Staley’s accidental death in 2002.
Four years later, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez, Jerry Cantrell, and William Duvall revived Alice in Chains. Columbia signed the band in 1989. Soon after, they released We Die Young, their promo-only EP. Man in the Box, the album’s second single, was released in 1991 and helped the album take off, entering the Billboard charts that year.
As Facelift took off, the band worked behind the scenes on Sap, their acoustic EP. Sap is one of the first all acoustic records from an alternative band. It was released in February 1992. The band also had a cameo in Cameron Crowe’s romantic comedy Singles.
Dirt, their second album, featured the song Would? The second single, Them Bones, made it to Billboard’s alternative rock chart. By December, Dirt earned a platinum certification. Its fourth and final certification was in 2000 thanks to hits Rooster, Down in a Hole and Angry Chair.
Jar of Flies marked the band’s transition to softer music. The shift was a commercial success and Jar of Flies debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. In 2009, the band released Black Gives Way to Blue. It earned them two Grammy nominations and re-established them as a force to be reckoned with in modern and mainstream rock.