Why Alice In Chains’ William DuVall Is Just As Great As Layne Staley


Nearly two months into 2018, the new (ish) year rolls forward, dangling in front of us, just out of reach, the lore of new, fresh rock music. One band that has recently announced the completion of the recording of their latest album are alternative rock and grunge legends, Alice in Chains. If you can believe it, five years have come and gone since the release of their sludgy, gloriously dark and haunting, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.

That album, the band’s second full-length release since reuniting and reforming with the addition of vocalist/guitarist William DuVall proved another strong outing for the band. The disc contained not one, but two U.S Mainstream Rock number one tracks in “Hollow” and “Stone” while “Voices” peaked at number three. The album continued the band’s ridiculously strong history of consistently strong material- all while further reinventing itself from the gloomy grunge days into the legends of rock arena.

With their upcoming release, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez- along with DuVall will give the world their third post-Layne Staley release. And while no one can ever replace Layne, William DuVall has gone a long way in presenting himself as a powerhouse vocalist himself; one capable of paying proper homage to the band’s fallen brother all the while forging a path of his own. Interestingly enough, as this will be DuVall’s third full length release with the band, during the band’s original run, they also released three albums with Staley.

Now, we’re speaking full-length albums. If you include the EPs- the vastly underrated Sap and the insanely successful release Jar of Flies (the first EP to ever debut atop the Billboard Top 200), the odds lie heavily in favor of the Staley-era being the dominant era. But why do we have to choose? Can’t both eras of the band- each fronted by a charismatic, powerful vocalist run parallel of one another and be equally awesome. I think they can. And here is why.

Facelift, Dirt and Alice in Chains (Tripod) are grunge’s greatest trilogy. But if you think of this trio of records like an Oreo cookie, well, the best part is in the middle. Dirt is not only in my opinion the greatest sophomore album of all time, the greatest grunge of all time and the best rock record of the 90’s, it’s a god damn all time classic. It’s so good in fact, it actually lessens the impact of each of its brother albums on either side of it. For anyone who is a fan of Alice in Chains, you’re probably at least a little familiar with the short, forgettable cup of coffee they had with glam metal.

And let’s face facts- Facelift  has a little hint of that at times; not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you’re talking “Man in the Box”, “We Die Young” and “It Ain’t Like That”, you probably don’t hear that big rock, arena ready glam influence. But how about on “Sunshine” or “Confusion”, you kind of hear something a little not so AIC. Still great but… a little different.

On the other end of the spectrum, their 1995 eponymous album is bizarre, beautiful and ultimately heart-breaking. The final studio release with Staley, what is most strange yet so AIC is that on two of the album’s singles, including one that is arguably one of the band’s best-know, biggest hits, it’s not even Layne Staley singing lead; it’s Jerry Cantrell. On “Heaven Beside You” and “Grind” Cantrell steps out in front and totally owns. Cantrell’s voice has always played a big role in the band- not to mention his flawless song-writing is the catalyst for the entire band- but it was here that you could see how Jerry Cantrell could probably- with minimal effort- be the lead singer of a band; a totally awesome band.

The eponymous album is like their White Album. It’s a little all over the place at times. “Frogs”, “Sludge Factory” and “So Close” kind of go on and on and while great songs, they aren’t “Junkhead”, “Godsmack” and “Hate to Feel”. What elevates Dirt in regard to this album is that any song on Dirt could be the cornerstone of a different album. But here, most of the tracks on the eponymous album really only work as a piece of a bigger puzzle that is the album. As a singular piece of work it is great- but it’s not Dirt.

I thought we wouldn’t but let’s at least touch upon Sap and Jar of Flies. Sap burst through the sonic walls of musical boundaries, leaving merely an outline akin to the Kool-Aid Guy by essentially eschewing crunching guitars and wailing vocals for a more refined, minimalist- dare I even say folk approach. More focused on harmony, melody this bare bones approach left us with “Got Me Wrong” and the argument can be made that it sits alone as their greatest song. Jar of Flies in a word is a masterpiece. See “Don’t Follow”. And I’ll leave it at that.

So. When you’re William DuVall and you’re now the lead singer of Alice in Chains. You’re looking up at some ground-breaking, heavy hitting anthems and classic albums of a better time gone by. How can you possibly face that challenge and attack it with the grace and respect it deserves all the while making it you own?

“Check My Brain”. That’s how! Holy Jeez. Where the hell did that one come from? The lead single from the band’s reunion album, 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue” will answer the long-standing question of what exactly it sounds like for one’s jaw to crash off the floor. Rather than attempt a mere Staley impression, DuVall erupts onto the Alice in Chains scene, in perfect harmony with Jerry Cantrell.

If you had blinked, you’d have probably missed lightning striking twice. With Cantrell’s song-writing and undeniable skill to craft the perfect rock song at full-speed, Alice in Chains with DuVall on board added to their insanely consistent and deep catalog in the best way possible. Mike Inez and Sean Kinney remain one of rock’s most underrated rhythm sections. The album is a ten. In the words of Billy Bob, “it’s a motherfucking ten.” Plus- Elton John makes an appearance on the title track so there’s that.

DuVall’s confidence, cool and talent never waivers in his role with Alice in Chains. Often forgotten when everyone gets into the whole “who is better? Layne or William” talk is that William DuVall is a fantastic guitar player. Not only is he a fantastic counterpart for Jerry Cantrell vocally- but in terms of guitar playing, he adds a nice level of depth to the band’s instrumentation. I can name five bands who replaced their lead singer and you never heard of them again. I won’t because I don’t want to insult anyone but think arena rock. Alice in Chains are almost like a Van Halen of sorts. Each era is different, unique and awesome for its own set of reasons. And now…what can we expect from this upcoming album.

Can the band continue their track record of consistent success? If I’m a betting man, I’m saying yes. Dinosaurs had a ton of hits. Black Gives Way had the hits. Jerry Cantrell isn’t going to all of a sudden forget how to write great songs. And for DuVall, he’s done having to prove himself. Honestly, he never even had to. Miraculously, they have avoided falling into the pits of self-parody and uninspired repetition. Alice in Chains have seamlessly carried on their legacy in a way that is rare for bands under similar circumstances. They enriched their catalog while also carrying the torch for rock music as a scene.

They haven’t watered it down as so many bands tend to. I am a full believer in Jerry Cantrell. He wouldn’t half ass it for the sake of it. If he felt himself and the band unable to present an album that is worthy of the insanely high bar they have set, he wouldn’t force feed it to us just for kicks. With this upcoming album, in terms of full length’s it will be Staley- 3 and DuVall- 3. And the real winner? The undisputed champion of all of this- is us. The fans. Because this great band found a way to keep it fresh, keep it true and keep it exciting not only for themselves but for all of us.

Every time you listen to a post-Staley Alice in Chains release, we should recognize DuVall for the savior he is. He’s doing two things perfectly; upholding the legacy and building his own. His addition to the band has provided a whole other part of their career that in 2002, probably did not seem possible to the band. Life is all about resiliency and one’s ability to move forward. I cant think of another band who has so successfully displayed this over their career.

So, when Alice in Chains release their sixth album later this year remember two things: it will be awesome. Because everything they have put out is. Alice in Chains’ music means a lot to a lot of people. It’s meant a ton to me throughout my life. I’ve listened to them possibly more than any other band. Even my father counts them as one of the band’s he has listened to the most in his life and that’s just from hearing them blaring out of my bedroom as a teenager. The second is that neither era is better. They are all one. And they all rock. And when this new album drops, the legacy will only grow, and further solidify the DuVall era as being just as great as the Staley era. The life and times of Alice in Chains have been a nonstop journey of groundbreaking music that has aged perfectly in the ever-changing world of musical tastes.

  • BradTheGeek

    Nice article. I was 14 when Facelift came out – and I was blown away by it. Dirt was even better. The new albums are great too. I see a lot of hate for DuVall in fan groups and such around the internet. it sucks because he is good, and the band still fucking rocks. But, as the stupid idiom goes, haters gonna hate. For me, I will buy the new album, and go see them live – again.

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    • Kooler Than Jesus

      Facelift was my first AIC album and I love every single song on it, I think it’s slightly underrated when many people compare it to the following (also great) releases by the band.

      Regarding DuVall, I think Cantrell should give him even more protagonism in the new albums, he is a great vocalist, and I love Cantrell’s voice too, but for example when I heard the song that he made for John Wick 2, I thought it would have been better if it had been an AIC song with DuVall adding his voice on vocals during the chorus, I think his voice blends really well with Cantrell’s, just like Layne’s did, but he’s also great when he is the main voice, I think he was a really good choice for AIC.

    • Jay Valente

      MBEAband is still good. But don’t fool yourself. Herniated no Layne.

  • disqus_XISr3wSzMw

    Yo I’m like….almost in tears reading this. AIC has always been a huge favorite (I fronted a grunge cover band back in the day for a short time) and I wasn’t always sure if I was alone in my excitement for W.DuVall. Part of it was seeing another amazing black rocker in the scene but most of it was like you said, the continuity but also the originality, the homage but not parody….it’s hard to lose someone like Layne and get something fantastic but not too identical. William, Jerry Mike Sean and the rest are still seriously underrated so I’m so glad to see a writer acknowledge what I consider to be one of the most consistent rock bands of all time. Much love much respect, can’t wait for the new album and tour…!! ?✨✌✊

    (If you would feel inclined to do point-by-point analysis of all AIC albums I would definitely read them lol)

  • Raj

    Solid article, you just can’t compare new Chains to old Chains. They are two different bands, this is a new chapter without Layne. Duvall does the old material justice but Jerry needs to ease off the reigns and let Duvall lead with the vocals on a whole album not just a few songs. One thing that’s really carried over is the dual harmonization, Cantrell and Duvall are doing it pretty well. I still need to see Duvall come out more.

    • PhoenixForce5

      I don’t really agree with that. Sap was the turning point in which Jerry did more lead vocals because Layne encouraged him. Layne used to say to him “they’re your songs, you sing them” and has always encouraged Jerry to sing because he thought Jerry sounded great (and he does). AIC is a dual vocals band and I’d like to see songs where Jerry sings lead and Duvall sings lead.

  • John Pusateri

    I can appreciate what you’ve written here, but couldn’t disagree with you more. I’m glad that AIC is still here and that they continue to move forward. There’s nothing wrong with DuVall, I just think he’s not the best choice, my opinion strictly of course.For you to say that both eras are equal is just a fallacy.
    It’s like comparing any band whose lead singer when they were at their peak of popularity and creativity has left and been replaced. You still care about the band and want them to succeed but you will always think of what could have been and while listening to the current output yearn for something more.

    • Eddie Yarler

      Completely agree. See my comment on this. Duvall is talented, and a really good person but this article gives misplaced credit. If anyone genuinely believes new Alice in Chains is as good as old Alice in Chains than that is entirely because of Jerry Cantrell, and not William Duvall.

      • MeowChef

        The best songs on the new albums feature Duvall prominently though…

        • Eddie Yarler

          Like what? Phantom Limb or Last of My Kind cause that’s basically it. Every other song is harmonized singing which you can’t even really pinpoint on Duvall since its so compressed and loud.

  • PhoenixForce5

    I like Duvall. People don’t realize that Jerry and Duvall have been working together since the Degradation Trip tour. I will always be a fan no matter what. Layne’s gone and I like the fact that they didn’t get Duvall as a sound-alike. The guy has serious pipes (seriously check out their Kashmir cover) and I’m really excited to see him bring his own thing to the band. Phantom Limb was one of my favorite songs from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here – a song written by Jerry and William (btw William does the solo on that song). AIC especially after Sap became a dual vocal group so I like that Jerry is stepping up more. He might not think it but Jerry has an amazing voice and both Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip were solid albums.

  • Eddie Yarler

    This article should be remade with emphasis on Jerry. Jerry Cantrell truly is as talented and gifted and Layne Staley and I wish more people talked about him.

    I don’t understand Alice in Chains honestly. Some say Duvall is good cause he sounds just like Layne and others say he’s good because he brings his own style to the band, and neither claim is true. William Duvall literally just sings Layne’s songs live. He harmonizes well with Jerry in studio, but he doesn’t have a creative role, he wasn’t attributed on the credits of any of the post Layne hits, and his side projects (Comes with the Fall & GTO) though creatively interesting pale significantly to something like Degradation Trip or Above.

    Duvall is a good singer in a great band. As a lyricist he is as skilled as Layne and Jerry (see Phantom Limb/White Hot) but aside from that, I really wish Jerry did what STP did and picked someone truly right for the band, as opposed to an immediate friend. Maybe if he did that we wouldn’t have to wait five years in between albums just so he can get inspired again.

  • American muscle

    William will never be half the vocalist layne was he is ok, but compared to layne its not even close.

  • Joe Costigan

    Good article. AIC has been my favorite band as far as I can remember. The way they handled the band post-Layne and the fact they have made two very good albums in my opinion really speaks to the integrity of the band as a whole. Jerry is obviously the main musical/creative driving force behind the band during both the Staley and now Duvall era. I wouldn’t mind if they let Duvall loose a little more on this next record as the lead singer with Jerry mostly contributing on the harmonies just to see what the end result would be. For all of the issues they have experienced as a band over the course of their existence I feel that their discography from Facelift to TDPDH is so damned good and consistent to what they are as a band. I appreciate that they have stayed loyal to their sound. If BGWTB and TDPDH were released in the 90s they both would of been platinum albums.

  • DanSwon


  • Jay Valente

    He’s nowhere near as “great” as layne . DUDE HOLDS THE MIC UP to his nostrils his nose and sings entirely through his nose lets hear a isolated track of his vocals errrr his nose

  • Ryan

    This article is complete blasphemy. Duvall is good he joined a winning team with a winning formula. Laynes voice is like no other. Can’t say the same about Duvall.

    • Eder

      Well said… and people seem to think that jerry wrote everything in the staley era – he didn’t. Jerry would sometimes just have a riff and staley would write the words and melody over it. Staley also had massive input on the songs jerry is credited for , like rooster, would ? etc… jerry may have had the initial idea but staley took the songs to a different level, changing melodies and writing harmonies.
      Staley wrote most of the lyrics and melodies on the tripod album as he did on jar of flies.
      I love jerry but staleys voice was what gave AIC their unique sound….

      • BEast Sauce

        He didn’t write everything in the Staley era, but to deny that he wrote most of it is just lying to yourself

  • IrregularJohn

    This “article’s” headline is textbook trolling. Duvall will never be even half as talented as Staley was.

    • Grady

      DuVall is an affirmative action hiree and nothing more.

  • suz

    duvall IS NOT JUST AS GREAT AS layne staley. layne staley was great — this dude not so much. that’s my opinion. the writer is forcing his opinion on you.

    disclaimer: didn’t read the piece — when a heading is that bad why bother.

    • Andy Young Kim

      Not a fan of the new AIC or Duvall. i like the song “stone” though.

  • dakotablue

    “Just as great as Layne Staley”? I think not, and here’s why. Listen to any short snippet of Layne singing and you know EXACTLY who it is, and if you’re a fan you’re immediately drawn in. I can’t say the same for DuVall or Jerry–both pretty good singers, good harmonists. but nothing in either voice that makes it one of a kind. Like Layne was and always will be.

  • lima85

    I like DuVall, good singer and he’s able to do the harmonies w Cantrell just right. Just wish there was an O.C. date on the new tour!

  • effjay4

    Best AIC article I have ever read. Sums up the band perfectly!

  • Eder

    Lol… duvall just as good as staley… Duvall sounds like an x factor contestant trying to sing the old AIC songs. He makes me cringe. Fuckin awful singer. Sure he can hit the notes but he sounds weak and out of his depth. Jerry and the boys still rock but the vocals are sadly lacking.

  • Alana

    Layne will always be the best in my book, nothing will ever change that. BUT DuVall is the next best for AiC. Just listen to Love Hate Love live with William – he is able to give Layne credit, effortlessly mind you, and keep the song as close to original as only possible, yet in no way it feels imitated. I admire the man for being such a class act who has an incredibly powerful voice, and I admire the entire band for moving forward despite such tremendous loss as Layne’s loss was. I completely agree with this article. We should stop comparing and appreciate the graceful continuation of our favorite band. I’m endlessly grateful and that’s coming from someone who denied listening to post Layne AiC for the longest time. Until a friend insisted I watch their recent live show.

  • Sinner17

    I still cry like a baby over Layne Staley. Layne was the best there ever was and nobody else even comes close to that.

  • kris1986

    So much hate in these comments. Even saw one guy make a racial reference toward DuVall. Seriously, why all the hate?