In my opinion, Alice In Chains is probably the best band to come out of the whole Seattle mess. Nirvana was great while they lasted. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden sucked after their first couple albums. Everyone afterwards mostly sucked. Alice In Chains by comparison has been pretty consistent with their approach, and time has proven them to be the best of the three (that lived). The thing which strikes me about Facelift is that it sounds exactly like Alice In Chains does today. For the 80's that sound was unparalleled in originality, considering the fact that Poison and Warrant were the MTV staples of the year. While everyone was having sex with groupies and driving limos in their videos, Man In The Box featured some guy walking around with his fucking eyes sewn shut. That was pretty daring for the time, and a sign of things to come.
If Nirvana was the voice of Seattle punk, then AIC was the voice of Seattle metal. Being a metal band in the 80's, some of the songs do of course suck. One of them sounds like Skid Row on heroin. But Facelift is not 80's metal, it is a breed all its own. I would have loved to have seen these guys back then in some dark nightclub in Seattle, playing this album live. The first 6 tracks are incredible. We Die Young, Man In The Box, and Sea Of Sorrow all set the standard for what AIC would put out in the future. Bleed The Freak (Name Your God) and I Can't Remember follow up with equal intensity and conviction, matching the weight of their predecessors with heavy riffing guitar and dark vocals. At this point in the album, things take a turn for the truly bleak with Love Hate Love. Even compared to the previous songs, this one is especially brutal and dark. Over a wave of distortion drenched feedback guitar, Layne Staley takes a sadistic and hopeless approach to love and rejection ("I want to peel the skin from your face"). This is a very powerful song, very ominous sounding, classic Alice In Chains.
The band does not get enough credit for its lyrics. Staley and Cantrell are both incredibly gifted writers, probably the best in any major label band today. The music has a notable metal influence, and also a blues influence that a lot of people don't pick up on right away. Cantrell is an amazing guitarist in acoustics and in raw power. Starr proves himself to be a damn good bassist, leaving me to wonder why they fired his ass. Staley is the centerpiece of AIC however with a unique dry lung vocal, half moaned and half screamed. The man sounds like he's pulling every syllable up from the bottom of guts and through his soul. He is an amazing vocalist.
After Love Hate Love, the album is not as solid. It varies in quality, with the band sometimes losing focus and direction. This does not take away from the strength of their approach however, and one must consider the time period as well when evaluating Facelift. I will say again, it is unbelievable that someone put out an album like this in the 80's. The fact that it was successful is even more unbelievable, and a reassuring statement about the music business. Sometimes originality and creativity do win out over the popular trend of the day. This album is a classic, one of the defining moments in the genre. This is heavy, brutal, bleak, and beautiful at the same time. This is where it all began for the rise of alternative music, and in retrospect maybe where it all ended as well.* * * * Reviewed: April, 1998