The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s: #13, Alice in Chains

  • Axl Rosenberg

The ’90s: they were the bomb! That’s why MetalSucks will spend the month of March giving snaps to the decade that was all that and a bag of chips by counting down The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s. These aren’t bands that necessarily formed in the ’90s, nor are they bands that would turn out to be influential somewhere down the road; these are bands that a) were doing their best work in the ’90s, and b) amassed a devout following during the ’90s. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for extreme music. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for yo mama.

Was there any singer in all of 1990s rock music more imitated than Layne Staley? He may or may not be the inventor of the vocal style known as ‘yarling,’ but he was definitely one of its earliest, and most popular, adopters (remember, AiC’s first album, Facelift, came out in 1990, the same year Pearl Jam was only just forming). Sully Erna, Scott Stapp, Alex Band, Hugo Ferreira, and scores of other singers from the era basically owe their careers to aping Staley. In fact, Staley may be one of the most-emulated rock singers of all time, alongside dudes like Mick Jagger and Robert Plant.

That’s no small accomplishment, and might even be enough on its own to warrant Alice in Chains’ inclusion on this list. But as it turns out, the whole fucking band was great, and by the time the decade was over, they’d made three incredible full-lengths, two mind-blowing EPs, and one of the best live albums of all time. I could write a whole book about Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting abilities and guitar solos alone.

Alice in Chains were categorized as ‘grunge’ because they were from Seattle and often appeared to have just rolled out of bed after sleeping in their clothes, but they were metal through and through. You don’t have to be a musicologist to hear the Sabbath influence in their music (there’s even a brief “Iron Man” cover on 1992’s Dirt); when they needed to replace original bassist Mike Starr, they recruited Mike Inez, from Ozzy’s solo band; their lyrics were dark to the point of being incapacitating.

Bob Dole scapegoated Cannibal Corpse for having violent lyrics, but Alice in Chains’ lyrics are way more disturbing because they’re not rooted in fantasy: AiC sang about the drugs to which they were so badly addicted that two of their four original members died from overdosing. Bands like Cannibal Corpse ultimately provided escapist horror entertainment through which fans could burn aggression; Alice in Chains earnestly indulged fans’ depression. This is all the more noteworthy because depression wasn’t a topic readily discussed in metal at the time; it’s entirely possible we never get to Jonathan Davis or Corey Taylor without Alice in Chains.

For all intents and purposes, the Staley-led version of the band was done by the mid-’90s. How many other bands made such a great impact in such a short amount of time?

#25: Morbid Angel
#24: Melvins

#23: Meshuggah
#22: Emperor

#21: Cave In
#20: Botch
#19: Cradle of Filth
#18: Sepultura
#17: Napalm Death

#16: Rage Against the Machine
#15: Type O Negative

#14: Dream Theater

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