Fueled by the energy and rebellion of heavy metal, and tempered by the demons that hastened the reactionary blowback of grunge, Alice In Chains has forever been the source of myth and legend since first emerging from Seattle onto the national scene in 1990, on Columbia Records.

Ten years after their last concerts, the band decided to reclaim their heritage and embarked on a surprise U.S. club tour as a warm up for their 5-month tour of the UK and Europe. They returned for a several U.S. festival dates and will pick up again in the fall (dates to be announced soon). The band looks forward to its 20th anniversary next year with the release of "The Essential Alice In Chains," which will arrive in stores July 25th on Columbia/Legacy, a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

The first comprehensive two-CD collection ever issued on Alice In Chains is a chronological ascent from 1990 (four cuts from their debut album, Facelift, including "We Die Young," title track of the three-song Columbia debut EP released earlier that year) up through 1999, ("Get Born Again" and "Died," the two newly recorded tracks on their three-CD box set retrospective, Music Bank).

"The Essential Alice In Chains" gathers its 28 selections from all four original albums they recorded, Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), the self-titled Alice In Chains (1995), and the live 'acoustic' MTV Unplugged (1996), as well as from their two EPs, SAP (1992) and Jar Of Flies (1994). Also included are remixes of their two songs from the Last Action Hero original motion picture soundtrack album (1993, the only band with two cuts on the album).

Adding to the collection is a comprehensive liner notes essay by Steffan Chirazi, who wrote the liner notes for Music Bank. Chirazi is author of Faith No More: The Real Story (Viking Penguin, 1994), and editor of the Metallica fansite chronicle So What!: The Good, the Mad, and the Ugly (Broadway Books, 2004).

Affection for Alice In Chains by their fans and fellow musicians alike knows no boundaries. They kicked off their recent tour with a special free open rehearsal for their hometown fans in Seattle. The 75-minute set at the Moore Theatre - which included such signature tracks as "Man In The Box" and "Would?" - featured guest appearances from Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Chris DeGarmo (Queensrÿche), Ann Wilson (Heart) and Duff McKagan (Velvet Revolver). This was followed by a Los Angeles show featuring guest appearances by Mark Lanegan, Billy Corgan, and McKagan.

At the dawn of the grunge movement centered in Seattle in the mid- to late-'80s, Alice In Chains came together in 1987, when singer and songwriter Layne Staley (who was fronting a different band called 'Alice 'N Chains') met up with guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell at the infamous Music Bank, a Seattle warehouse-cum-practice facility. Cantrell brought in a recent bandmate, bassist Mike Starr, who in turn brought in his friend Sean Kinney on drums.

The newly-christened Alice In Chains earned their wings on the tough Northwest club scene over the next two years. When Columbia Records signed them in 1989, they became the first of the post-Soundgarden bands to break out of Seattle's Sub Pop Records monopoly and earn a major label contract. Alice In Chains was introduced in June 1990 on the hard-to-find three-song EP We Die Young (the five-song promo version is an impossibly rare collectible) - more than a year before Nirvana's major label debut, Nevermind.

Facelift, produced by Dave Jerden at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, arrived two months later in August - and that's where compilation producers Peter Fletcher (who was AIC's marketing exec at Columbia for many years) and Jeff Magid begin the story. Among the first four tracks are "We Die Young" (reprised from the EP) and "Man In the Box," which established the band on MTV. Memorable metal tours with Poison and Iggy Pop brought Alice In Chains to national attention, even netting a Grammy nomination for "Man In the Box."

By the time Facelift actually hit the Billboard chart in early '91, AIC had been tapped to quickly record some new material at London Bridge for the all-Seattle music soundtrack of Singles, Cameron Crowe's first outing as producer-director-screenwriter. One of those demos, "Would?" was chosen, although the CD (on Epic) and film were not released until July and September 1992, respectively. (A couple of the other demos featured guest vocals by fellow Seattlean Ann Wilson of Heart, whose sister Nancy married Crowe in 1986).

Meanwhile, Facelift hit RIAA gold in September '91, as recording with Jerden for the second album carried on. Taking advantage of the band's momentum, Columbia issued the SAP EP in early '92, comprised of five songs from the earlier film demo sessions, "one of their easiest recording experiences," as reported by Chirazi. Four of those songs are included on this package ("Am I Inside," "Brother," "Got Me Wrong" - later included on Columbia's Clerks movie soundtrack - the latter two with Ann Wilson on backing vocals, and "Right Turn," with Wilson joined by two fellow Seattleans on backing vocals, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Mudhoney's Mark Arm).

The long-awaited second album Dirt arrived in October '92 and marked Alice In Chains' breakthrough, hitting RIAA platinum in less than two months, reaching Top 10 - with no hit single - staying on the Billboard chart two years, and eventually selling four-times platinum. Eight of its 13 tracks are generously presented on this collection, including the two songs that hit Top 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, "Them Bones" and "Angry Chair," both of which broke inside the Top 40 in the U.K., where Alice In Chains had appeared on the BBC's "Top Of the Pops."

In late-January '93, Starr left and was replaced by Mike Inez, formerly with AIC tourmate Ozzy Osbourne, who graciously ceded him to the band. "When Inez asked Ozzy if he could join Alice," Chirazi notes, "Ozzy said, 'If you don't, you'll have to go to the doctor.' When Inez wondered why, Ozzy replied, 'Cause they are going to have to take my boot out of your ass.' Mike decided it was safer to join the AIC train."

June 1993 brought the Last Action Hero soundtrack with "What the Hell Have I" and "A Little Bitter"; engineer Toby Wright's remixes of both are featured here. That summer, Alice In Chains successfully headlined the fourth annual Lollapalooza Tour, and "Would?" won the MTV VMA for Best Video From A Film. Buoyed after touring, but with the reality of a six-week, four-continent tour beginning in October, they jumped back into London Bridge for their first self-produced sessions.

The seven-day lark resulted in the 7-song EP, Jar Of Flies, (including "No Excuses," a #3 Modern Rock track, and "I Stay Away"). It became the first EP in history to hit #1 on the Billboard album chart when it debuted at #1 in February '94, striking platinum within a month. At that point, "the band's statistical status became greater as their physical presence became sparser," Chirazi tactfully writes, as "each band member spent 1994 pursuing individual projects."

Therefore the new album, produced by the band with Toby Wright, was something of a reunion, so its was aptly self-titled Alice In Chains. Released November '95, it marked their second #1 debut on the Billboard album chart, and contained three solid Modern Rock chart entries: "Grind" (#18), "Heaven Beside You" (#6), and "Again" (#36). The album spent over ten months on the chart, was certified double-platinum, and was cause for celebration. AIC's first live show together in two and a half years took place at Brooklyn's BAM in April 1996, for the "MTV Unplugged" series. The resulting album, once again co-produced with Toby Wright, was a revelation, as heard on the unplugged versions of "Nutshell" and "Over Now."

"It also proved to be the last significant activity the band undertook as a unit," Chirazi observes, "until they reunited in 1999 to record 'Get Born Again' and 'Died' for the Music Bank box set… [they] embarked on various other projects and endeavors [cf. Cantrell's Boggy Depot, 1998], and talk of an Alice In Chains album or tour would quietly meander through the music world until April 19, 2002. That was when Layne Staley was found dead at his home, officially from a drug overdose… But theirs is a musical legacy which will not only outlive the remaining members, but you and I too…"

That musical legacy rises on "The Essential Alice In Chains," whose release finds the current lineup - Cantrell, Kinney, Inez, and vocalist William Duvall - returning from a series of club dates and festival appearances in Europe and Japan, and about to embark on a series of late-summer shows.


"Man in The Box":
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"Over Now (Unplugged)":
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Disc One
1. We Die Young (Facelift, 1990)
2. Man In The Box (Facelift, 1990)
3. Sea of Sorrow (Facelift, 1990)
4. Love, Hate, Love (Facelift, 1990)
5. Am I Inside (Sap, 1992)
6. Brother (Sap, 1992)
7. Got Me Wrong (Sap, 1992)
8. Right Turn (Sap, 1992)
9. Rain When I Die (Dirt, 1992)
10. Them Bones (Dirt, 1992)
11. Angry Chair (Dirt, 1992)
12. Dam That River (Dirt, 1992)
13. Dirt (Dirt, 1992)
14. God Smack (Dirt, 1992)
15. Hate To Feel (Dirt, 1992)
16. Rooster (Dirt, 1992)

Disc Two
1. No Excuses (Jar Of Flies, 1994)
2. I Stay Away (Jar Of Flies, 1994)
3. What The Hell Have I (Remix)(Last Action Hero Soundtrack, 1993)
4. A Little Bitter (Remix)(Last Action Hero Soundtrack, 1993)
5. Grind (Alice In Chains, 1995)
6. Heaven Beside You (Alice In Chains, 1995)
7. Again (Alice In Chains, 1995)
8. Over Now (Unplugged, 1996)
9. Nutshell (Unplugged, 1996)
10. Get Born Again (Music Bank, 1999)
11. Died (Music Bank, 1999)
12. Would? (Dirt, 1992)