Apparently it was 25 years ago this week that my life changed for the better. Twenty five years ago Alice In Chains released their debut album “Facelift” and my musical perspective was forever changed.
At the time I was a hair metal guy who listened to some rap and classic rock. I was hardly adventurous, unless you count trying out rock bands sight unseen based upon cover art and song titles adventurous. Sure I listened to some bands my friend’s had not heard of, but that was only because I watched Headbangers Ball, the Hard 60 (30?) and picked up an occasional issue of RIP Magazine.
It was late at night, I had just dropped off my friend Pete Bedell at his house after hanging out with other friends, most likely at the movies, when I flipped over to KUPD, a Phoenix radio station that was static-y this weekend night.
The strains of something different, yet awesome were coming through the speakers. It sounded remotely like Guns N’ Roses, but…different. It was heavy, melodic and dark. It was awesome.
It took me a few days to finally hear the song again. It was Alice In Chains’ “Man In the Box” and I had to have it. I tracked down a copy a few days later and the rest is history.
I popped he tape in, yup I bought it on cassette as this was 1990, and was pummeled by the opening riffs of “We Die Young.” Granted, within a few years I would be listening to Megadeth and Pantera, which would render AIC as mid tempo. Heck, by the mid-90’s I would be listening to melodic death metal and hardcore, but at the time it was the heaviest thing I had heard.
The themes were dark. I was used to hair sprayed party anthems, songs about girls and cars. Maybe some songs about being an outlaw or running from the law. Guns N’ Roses touched on dark subjects, but not like this.
AiC dealt with the ugliness of addiction. “The Real Thing” and “I Know Somethin’” were ugly songs about ugly people. “Bleed The Freak” and “Sunshine” were vague lyrically, but seemed to almost have a medieval feel to them. These were not pleasant things happening in the songs.
Despite that, I could not put it down. It stayed in constant rotation for years. To this day I consider it one of my top-10 albums. It was heavy, melodic, scary and visceral. While most find their follow-up Dirt to be superior, Facelift remains my favorite.
What it did is it made me think. It made me curious. I wanted to discover more “unusual” music. In the scheme of things I did not venture do far away from the mainstream, I would still be buying major label records, but over the next few months I was buying albums by Faith No More, Primus, Soundgarden. The next year would see Lollapalooza lead the “alternative” explosion and “grunge” became a thing. I was starting to get heavily immersed in that music, but since Alice In Chains was at their heart building on the sound of Black Sabbath, I also headed down a rabbit hole of heavy metal that I have yet to escape. The next few years would see me loving thrash, industrial and “alt metal.” In many ways, excuse the metaphor, Alice In Chains was my gateway drug.
Two members are dead who recorded that album and the band is still going strong, but have yet to eclipse their early output, still some 25 years later, “Facelift” (as well as “Dirt”, “Sap” and “Jar of Flies”) are regular listens. More important, the doors they opened are still open.