Reimagining someone else’s album is a razor-edged tightrope at the best of times. Too far one way, you plummet into a ‘sound-alike’ record that no-one will ever listen to over the original; too far in the other direction, you stamp your band’s sound all over a collection of already-known songs…which outside your fanbase, no-one will ever listen to over the original.
That’s best-case. Try to do it with an album as seminal as Alice In Chains’ 1992 sophomore opus ’Dirt’, which almost single-handedly melded metal onto the emerging grunge scene (yes, Soundgarden also, leave the comments section alone), and cemented the Layne Staley / Jerry Cantrell vocal partnership as one of the most unique in rock history…Magnetic Eye Records have set themselves a hell of a task.
So the decision to hand out songs to individual members of their doom / stoner metal roster seems a smart one. Aficionados of the genre will doubtless recognise some of the contributors – those coming at it as AiC fans might not. A cheap marketing exercise, maybe – use an already-established set of songs to expose listeners to your bands? Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it…
The highlights are varied and scattered – High Priest do a solid job of simultaneously modernising and dirtying-up ‘Rain When I Die’; These Beasts take ‘Sickman’ thoroughly ‘chest-voice’ where Layne went high and throw in a double-time scream-fest in place of the previously chilled-out middle section; Backwoods Payback go full-on for ‘God Smack’ and put enough of a unique spin on it to be worth a few re-listens. Likewise Khemmis’ ‘Down In A Hole’ – a classic done justice, just about.
The middle ground – Thou, opening the album covering metal club staple ‘Them Bones’ sound like a karaoke version with fuzz guitar and throaty vocals laid over the original (although kudos to whichever band member nailed Cantrell’s harmony parts); Howling Giant do a passable job of ’Rooster’ whilst robbing it of dynamics and groove. The Otolith take closer ‘Would?’, slow it down and maintain the emotion…not too shabby.
Lowlights – Low Flying Hawks thinking that one of the best riffs and melodies on the original album (‘Dam That River’) should be slowed down and de-tuned practically into whalesong; Somnuri doing the title track as a high school cover band and turning the beautifully-phrased bluesy solo into a guitar-store hack job. Oh, and Vekonis’ ‘Angry Chair’…not terrible by any stretch, but sufficiently different from the original that they should have just tweaked it and put it out as their own. The musical equivalent of the ‘World War Z’ movie.
When A/B-ed with the original, almost every version is ‘louder’, with more punch…but that’s 28 years of technological progress. For an Alice In Chains fan who genuinely wants to get more doom and weed in their life, this is a no-brainer – get it. For an AiC ‘purist’ …you’ll spend as much time irritated as enthralled. If this is the first time you’ve heard of ‘Dirt’…get the original and play it loud, now. And maybe come to this later.
- Review by Ian Savage
- Released on 18 September 2020 by Magnetic Eye Records
- Magnetic Eye Records website
- Them Bones (Thou)
- Dam That River (Low Flying Hawks)
- Rain When I Die (High Priest)
- Down In A Hole (Khemmis)
- Sickman (These Beasts)
- Rooster (Howling Giant)
- Junkhead (Forming The Void)
- Dirt (Somnuri)
- God Smack (Backwoods Payback)
- Iron Gland (Black Electric)
- Hate To Feel (16)
- Angry Chair (Vokonis)
- Would? (The Otolith)