Huge thanks to the illustrious Chris Latta for penning this guest review! If yer unfamiliar, Chris writes at Ghost Cult Magazine and makes music via epic doom outfit Lavaborne and acoustic project Christopher Steve.
Written by Chris Latta
I feel like Alice In Chains may be one of the more understated influences in the realm of doom, sludge, and stoner metal. The Seattle legends may have been grouped with the grunge movement, but their emphasis on crushing riffs and debilitating misery gave them more in common with the likes of Saint Vitus or Type O Negative than their contemporaries in Nirvana or Pearl Jam. With this in mind, it only makes sense for Magnetic Eye Records to release another one of their signature tribute albums covering what could be considered the band’s most impactful release.
What makes Dirt (Redux) particularly interesting compared to other tributes of this nature is how much liberty the bands have taken with their chosen songs. There are plenty of bands whose covers adhere to the originals as closely as possible, but a good majority of songs on here either exaggerate previously unexplored aspects or even sound like songs that the bands could’ve written themselves. This does make for a less cohesive listen and the overall effect is less viscerally personal than the original, but those are to be expected with any song-by-song recreation.
For what it’s worth, this approach results in some great renditions. Khemmis’ rendition of "Down in a Hole” is an early highlight, giving the introspective ballad a sweeping pastoral makeover that suits their epic doom style. Howling Giant’s take on “Rooster” is the biggest winner as the psychedelic atmosphere reinforces the feelings of isolation, even if it sounds more like the laments of a stranded cosmonaut than a Vietnam veteran. It’s also pretty cool to see the masters of grunge covers in Thou keep their momentum going with a particular snarling delivery of “Them Bones” while The Onolith makes a neat first impression with the methodical slow burn of “Would?”
On the flip side, this approach does result in a couple misfires. The quietly crawling drone that Low Flying Hawks brings with “Dam That River” is certainly an interesting contrast, but having that treatment be applied to such a driving song threatens to prematurely kill the release’s overall momentum. The heavier applications also prove to be risky as -(16)-’s “Hate to Feel” feels dumbed down compared to the original’s brutal nihilism, while Vokonis’s “Angry Chair” pairs harsher inflections and spaced out elements with somewhat disjointed results.
But in the midst of these reinterpretations, there are some artists who chose to remain as close to the original visions as possible. While High Priest’s “Rain When I Die” and Backwoods Payback’s “God Smack” don’t quite capture the distraught emotions, their executions are faithful and serve as reminders of Jerry Cantrell’s potent riff work. Somnuri’s take on the title track may come the closest to capturing the original spirit; the execution has a decidedly lethargic quality but arguably about as miserable.
As with most tribute albums, Dirt (Redux) is a somewhat mixed bag that evens out to be an interesting experience for the overlapping fans of Alice in Chains and stoner doom. The creative liberties play a key role in shaping the release’s best songs and even the misfires may have enough conviction behind them to appeal to more niche tastes. Preferences will inevitably come down to which bands a listener enjoys the most but with the massive amount of talent across the board, there are plenty of potential favorites to choose from. Think we could get some acoustic doom artists together to run through Jar of Flies?
Various Artists - Dirt [Redux] was released Sept. 18th, 2020 from Magnetic Eye Records
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!