Turning Tragedy Into Their Masterpiece- 28 Years of Alice In Chains’ ‘Dirt’

How the band’s most raw and disturbing album became one of the most successful releases of the 1990s.

On this day back in 1992, Grunge pioneers, Alice In Chains, sent tidal waves across the industry with what is now considered to be their greatest release. An album founded on the innermost torment of the frontman, Layne Staley, Dirt delivered one of the most personal, heart-rendering albums of all time- catapulting the band into the legendary status that they are now.

Their second studio release, following the triumphant debut album, Facelift, Dirt opted for a more personal, emotion-orientated angle. Channelling themes of addiction, war, death and personal anguish, the album paved the way for the sorrow and tragedy-stricken route that the Grunge genre was destined to follow. 

Written predominantly on the road whilst touring their debut album, Dirt became centred around the innermost issues that the members were dealing with. With the band already beginning to falter at the seams, during the time of writing, Layne Staley was going back and forth out of rehab for his heroin addiction whilst, simultaneously, Sean Kinney and Mike Starr both struggled with alcohol addiction.

Proclaimed as being semi-conceptual, the band aimed to explore both the appeal of drugs in times of despair, and the devastating consequences of addiction throughout the album. ‘Junkhead’, ‘Sickman’ and ‘God Smack’ explored this most overtly- with the members refusing to hide their blatant discussion of the taboo subject matter.

Surrounded by conflict and violence as the 1992 LA Riots formed as a result of police brutality, the recording and production of Dirt was halted and a motif of political violence began to seep into the album. 

This is seen as one the band’s biggest successes, ‘Rooster’ came to form, depicting guitarist, Jerry Cantrell’s capricious relationship with his father following the Vietnam War. With the nickname, ‘The Rooster’ being given to Cantrell’s father during his time in service, the song meant that the album didn’t merely discuss inner turmoil, but also the long-lasting impacts of war. 

What’s more, the band paid homage to the late Grunge pioneer, Andrew Wood, in the single, ‘Would?’- drawing attention to the underlying struggles with addiction that haunted the Grunge scene since its formation. Similarly, with ‘Them Bones’ discussing an invigorated passion for life following drug addiction, Dirt’s beauty came from both captivating a sense of devastation and generating a prevailing sense of hope simultaneously. 

This nuance and raw emotion running throughout the album didn’t go unrecognised. From its debut release, the album leapt up the charts to peak at number six on the Billboard 200… remaining on the charts for over a hundred weeks.

Further, the album was certified four-times platinum in the US, went platinum in Canada and was certified gold in the UK. Now, selling over five million albums globally, it remains Alice In Chains’ highest-selling album to date and a firm favourite amongst fans. 

Although an album centred around the personal torment and innermost anguish of the members, Dirt remains the album that solidified Alice In Chains as a force to be reckoned with. Helping to solidify Grunge as the indisputable sound of the 1990s, the band’s second studio release incorporated a new element of personality and emotion into the metal scene; paving the way for their heart-rendering releases that were soon to follow. 

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To find out more about Alice In Chains’ debut release, Facelift, click here!

Similarly, photographs from the band’s performance at Wembley Arena last year can be found here!

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