“I’m gonna be here for a long f***in’ time… I’m scared of death, especially death by my own hand. I’m scared of where I would go. Not that I ever consider that, because I don’t.” Layne Staley, during an interview with Rolling Stone in 1996.
There were / are two distinctive components to Alice In Chains’ music. One of them still remains to this day. The other we lost in 2002, a little over six years after the above quoted interview. Of all the deaths during that time, Layne’s hit me the hardest. He was irreplaceable unique to his time. Yet, his voice continues to echo and leave its mark in extreme music.
My sudden bout of nostalgia Layne’s death has been spurred by this release from France’s Seeds of Mary. The vocalist, Jerem, has a voice that would lead me to believe that Layne’s death was faked. Listening to “The Blackbird and the Dying Sun” I feel as though I’ve been dropped through a time warp to my undergrad years, during the height of the grunge years. Yet, there is something missing from this album for it to completely fool me.
When I chose this release to review, I was only exposed to a quick clip of the song, “The Blackbird” which held promise due to prominent cellos and the minimalistic guitar arrangement which built tension. Standing alone, this track has an excellent melancholy in it’s use of musical tension and release. It didn’t hurt that Jerem’s voice called to me like Layne’s from beyond the grave. I was enticed. I had hopes.
Yet, the rest of the album was not able to deliver on this initial promise. The first track, “I Am Not Afraid” starts off good but then it has me longing for “Dirt.” “Here Comes The Night” is very driving but falls off the rails when the cowbell comes in. The next track, “Lord of the Flies” starts off as if it is going to get haunting then becomes Nirvana-ish. “What Have We Done” tries to be Soundgarden before going back to its Alice In Chains worship. “Like A Dog” sounds like a discarded track from Alice In Chains’ third release and not really in a good way.
By the time I got to “The Blackbird”, the track that caught my attention in the first place, I’m beginning to feel like how my father would review this music (“How can you tell the difference between all these songs? They all sound alike.”). If there was more variety, more changing up in the way Seeds of Mary interpreted Alice In Chains sound, then I would not feel so disconsolate about this release. I mean, I like the song “The Blackbird.” It captures the vibe and gives it a little spin of originality but after five other songs trying to capture that essence, my ears are numb to the creative nuances. I actually had to go re-listen to the previous songs to make certain my audio files weren’t messed up and I wasn’t just listening to the same song five times in a row.
The song that reflects the second half of the album title, “The Dying Sun,” starts off with gothic promise but when it strikes with its climactic moment, it sounds like if Nirvana and Soundgarden decided to perform together, at the same time. The song drops back to its cavernous anguish (which again, I say, if the other songs were a little different…). The next track, “Sovereign Mind” tries. It really does but it comes off as a buzzing version of a grunge song. That is, until the song is nearly over and there is an interesting moment but this moment is short lived.
“Sense of Sacrifice” sounds like if Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” was stripped of its industrial edge and co-written by Blind Melon. I don’t know if Seeds of Mary’s sense of sacrifice is the same as the one I feel after listening to this song. (okay, breathe, three more tracks to go…) “Oceanic Feeling” trips around sounding like if you tossed Tool, AIC, and Nirvana into an electric blender and ended up with a swinging mess. I’m guessing, again, that the oceanic feeling they are referencing is not the physical sensations I get from riding on choppy ocean waves here or got from this particular track. “Vice & Virtue” offers a slight respite from the rest of the album as there is some originality hiding in Seeds of Mary’s sound. This song actually gives me hope. It is the added percussion that does it. “Back to the Woods” starts off promising, with the cello, before getting sludgy and cavernous. Sadly, this track sounds like a runner up to what “Rooster” became and then was bought by Godsmack for re-purposing.
Sadly, Seeds of Mary come off sounding like a Seattle grunge cover band trying to write original material but only relying upon the Alice In Chains playbook. Seeds of Mary don’t have Jerry Cantrell’s affinity for odd and disquieting arrangements. What worked for Alice In Chains was also the chemistry between Jerry Cantrell’s songwriting and Layne’s vocal delivery and interpretation of the lyrics. Cantrell’s music matched the darkness and gloom and anguish found in Layne’s croon. Paying tribute to the grunge scene can be done, but it needs to be something we haven’t heard a thousand times before.
Now, let’s be clear (and to be fair to Seeds of Mary), in the middle of the grunge movement, Alice In Chains was my favorite. As such, I’m especially sensitive to bands that cop that style. If you do it well, then I’ll be a loyal fan (see Dax Riggs, Acid Bath, Abdullah, to name a few). If you don’t, well, then I may be without mercy.