The greatest Alice In Chains songs ever, picked by members of Slayer, Soulfly, Halestorm, Incubus, Napalm Death and more

Alice in Chains
(Image credit: Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns)

When Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley died on April 5, 2002, it seemingly marked the end of the road for one of the greatest and most influential bands of the previous decade.

Alice In Chains rose from the ashes of a bunch of local big-haired hard rock outfits to become grunge’s first true breakout band. Their 1990 debut album, Facelift, sold half a million copies in the US, cracking open the door for the likes of Soundgarden and Nirvana to step through into the mainstream, while 1992’s monumental if harrowing Dirt remains not just AIC’s finest hour, but one of the decade’s landmark albums.

But the demons that haunted the band, and Layne in particular, were their undoing. They managed just a handful of further releases – the acclaimed, largely acoustic Sap and Jar Of Flies EPs, 1995’s claustrophobic self-titled third album, and the following year’s darkly powerful MTV Unplugged live album – before the singer retreated into his addictions. By the time of his death from an overdose of heroin and cocaine, he hadn’t been seen publicly in five years.

But the story didn’t end with Layne’s death. Unexpectedly, guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez reunited in 2006 with new singer William DuVall, subsequently releasing three albums that underlined their legacy without attempting to replicate the past.

Today, the band’s influence can be heard across the rock and metal spectrum. To mark the 30th anniversary of Dirt, we asked some of music’s biggest names to choose the Alice In Chains song that influenced them the most. This is what they had to say.

Metal Hammer line break

Them Bones

Chosen by ex-Slayer guitarist Kerry King

Kerry: Them Bones is such a great song – super-short, heavy, great video and these really haunting vocal melodies. Those dudes were untouchable on their first two records, they were really vibing as a band and Layne was just a superstar. They played on the [US 1990 package tour] Clash Of The Titans, and on the first couple of dates we’d be backstage going, ‘Who is that with that fucking voice?’ And we started going out to watch the entire set every night. It was just one of those moments.”

Rain When I Die  

Chosen by Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale

Lzzy: “Layne Staley was a legend; his voice was otherworldly. My bandmates and I have gotten to listen to some Atmos mixes, it’s almost like if you’re listening to a song in 3D. I got to listen to Rain When I Die and hear Layne’s vocals solo. You can hear the tinkling of his jewellery, and in between every line he’s like [takes a deep breath]. It’s just such power – it gave me goosebumps then and it gives me goosebumps thinking about it now. That’s a song that I would love to cover one day.” 

Down In A Hole

Chosen by Zakk Wylde

Zakk: “I remember being on the road with Alice In Chains, and Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley came into my dressing room to jam on my electric guitar. So I was getting them to blast those songs out, playing the whole Dirt album, basically! They get to Down In A Hole and I’m just floored – it’s so epic, and obviously when you hear the production on that track, you really feel it. The melody is amazing.”


Chosen by Max Cavalera

Max: “I first heard it on a movie soundtrack [1992 grunge rom-com Singles] and I really dug that melody, it was beautifully sung by Layne. We did some gigs with Alice In Chains and Ozzy Osbourne back in the day and Layne would come hang out on the bus with us – he was real cool. In fact, Ozzy used Would? almost every day for soundcheck – I don’t know if the sound guy was obsessed with them or whatever, but he would play it five or six times in a row some days. That stuck with me, but luckily I love that song so I didn’t care.”

Check My Brain

Chosen by Skindred’s Benji Webbe

Benji: “I play Check My Brain at every DJ set I do. I love it, it’s such a big song. I first heard it in a car going along the PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] on my way into California, it came on rock radio and I was just like, ‘What is this, it’s badass?’. The view going along that road from Malibu to Venice is so epic and that song always takes me back to that moment.”

Dam That River

Chosen by Incubus’ Brandon Boyd

Brandon: “With a band like Alice In Chains its almost impossible just picking one song, especially because so often I’ll sit there listening to their whole albums. But I’ll go for Dam That River. I absolutely love how Dirt smashes from Them Bones right into Dam That River. I performed Man In The Box with Jerry Cantrell at a private show where I sang the vocal and his dick popped out his leather pants right at the first chorus – it was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was an event!”

Heaven Beside You

Chosen by Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach

Jesse: “I was in my final year of school when I first heard Heaven Beside You. I loved Alice In Chains and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is different, slower and less heavy.’ It’s dark poetry set to music – the vibe is bluesy, but with that AIC feel that only they can pull off. I also love that Jerry takes lead vocals on this one, which really reveals his importance to the sound and soul of the band. A lot of people lean hard on Layne’s legacy, and I get that, but without Jerry there is no Alice In Chains. To this day, they’re still putting out great music, and I’ll be a fan for as long as they continue doing what they do.”

Rotten Apple

Chosen by Napalm Death’s Shane Embury

Shane: “I loved Alice In Chains from FaceliftMan In The Box was always on at [Birmingham rock club] Edwards. And Dirt was immense, every track on that was just a winner. But the Jar Of Flies EP was so different from Dirt. It was mellow; it had its own vibe. It was sad music, and I think I was probably sad myself at times when I listened to it. I saw them with Screaming Trees and Gruntruck at the Palladium in LA. I saw them backstage at a distance, and they had a massive buzz about them. Did I say hello? Nah, I was too shy. I wish I had done.”

Don’t Follow

Chosen by Shinedown’s Brent Smith

Brent: “The Jar of Flies EP is brilliant. For a band that was fuelled by dark imagery and tone, there was a light-hearted approach to this album, and a sincerity of overwhelming emotion. The song Don’t Follow will always be special to me, as it reminds me of my early teenage years. It’s acoustic, beautiful and reminds me of simpler times. I love this song, and all the nostalgia that comes along with it.”

Love, Hate, Love

Chosen by A.A. Williams

A.A. Williams: “When I listen through Facelift I adore the way that Love, Hate, Love presents a real shift in pace to slower, groovier territory. A fairly sparse arrangement, simple textural changes make big differences – the slower tempo and less regimented percussion give a different sense of weight to that found on the rest of the album. The jangly guitars and minimal rhythm section create a hypnotic bed for Layne’s impassioned and effortless vocal delivery, creating a song that could almost be an ominous, sultry, grungy Bond theme.”


Chosen by Cane Hill’s Elijah Witt

Elijah: “I think Jar Of Flies is Alice In Chains’ best release, because it shows their versatility as a band – it keeps that pain and heaviness in an acoustic form. Nutshell makes you understand what it’s like to feel alone inside the prison you’ve built around yourself with your own vices. The first time I heard Alice In Chains was the first time I heard an artist’s true pain. There was audible anguish in everything Layne sang. If you want to hear the pain of a man dying, Alice In Chains is the mood.”

A Looking In View

Chosen by Tetrarch’s Diamond Rowe

Diamond: “Alice In Chains are a band that genuinely only come around once in a lifetime. There’s something so uniquely different about them. A Looking In View feels like a drug trip or a high that you can’t come down from. I love songs that sound ominous and unsettling and this is just that. The entire song feels like something bad is about to happen and their ability to consistently produce songs with that vibe intrigues me. There’s a soul to the vocal harmonies and melodies that is just so creepy, and the dynamics of the song work perfectly. Jerry’s guitar work in that song and how it drones is amazing as well. He’s one of the best guitar players, and at catching a vibe of a song and running with it.”


Chosen by Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti

Mark: “Alice In Chains will always be one of my favourite bands. When the Facelift record came out, it blew me away. I listened to it endlessly for about six months straight. I always loved the chorus on Sunshine. It just did the thing that great songs do – it made me feel and gave me the chills. It made me want to pick up the guitar and write a song of my own. I’ve said this before, but I think Jerry Cantrell is one of the greatest modern rock songwriters. Pair that with Layne Staley and the magic is undeniable.” 


Chosen by Alien Weaponry’s Henry de Jong

Henry: “Alice In Chains were a household favourite when I was growing up – my dad loves them, so me and [brother/AW frontman] Lewis grew up listening to them. I worked as a mechanic for about seven months after I left school, and a radio station we have called The Rock would play this every day without fail. Me and my co-worker would just belt it out. What’s brilliant about it is that they’ve managed to make something so beautiful out of something so sad and harrowing. It’s an amazing artistic expression.”


Chosen by Gojira’s Christian Andreu

Christian: “Me and my best friend spent our evenings listening to music, and he called me one night to listen to the new ‘Dog Album’ [Alice In Chains’ self-titled third album, with a three-legged dog on the cover]. It struck me as true masterpiece. Grind is the first song, and it’s so mesmerising. When I listen to it, I feel like I’m suspended in air from the beginning to the end. There’s only one main beat, but so many amazing melodies and great guitar solos. For AIC, anything and everything was possible. I always liked that feeling of freedom when listening to their music.”

Black Gives Way To Blue

Chosen by Ocean Of Slumbers’ Cammie Beverly

Cammie: “I wasn’t really allowed to have a whole lot of CDs growing up, so a lot of what I listened to came from hearing it on the local alternative rock radio station. That’s how I heard Alice In Chains – they had this raw, passionate, unbridled way of making music. Black Gives Way To Blue is just a wonderful, impactful, moving song. The vocals are so poignant, you can really hear everything they’ve been through. That’s one of the great things about Alice In Chains - they’ve had so many tribulations, but their music has stood the test of time.”

Angry Chair

Chosen by Ithaca’s Sam Chetan-Welsh

Sam: “Alice In Chains were a real gateway band for me when I was younger, certainly on the sludgier side of things, and I used to listen to Angry Chair a lot. I actually found the whole Dirt album scary, and this was the scariest of all. Even now when I listen back on it, the way Layne Staley double-tracks his vocals in the verse melody, kind of like a Gregorian chant, makes me feel a little sick – in a good way. They were a supremely innovative band, and people don’t really give them credit for the range of influences they were bringing in, from funk to sludge metal. And they used harmonies better than anyone else – even in Angry Chair, the harmonies in the chorus are pleasant but then they get darker and weirder.”


Chosen by Pallbearer’s Brett Campbell

Brett: “Jerry Cantrell is a master of writing simple, memorable riffs that twist in some way as to make them unique. A perfect example of that, the big draw of Junkhead, is that lurching, staggering riff that sounds as fucked-up as the narrator of the song. The lyrics describe a junkie who has embraced, and enjoys, the lifestyle, but the musical atmosphere is degraded and sour. It’s a juxtaposition that works perfectly. The blissful guitar harmonies in the bridge suggest the drug-induced euphoria experienced by the narrator, but before long, that insistent riff smashes the listener back to the bleak reality.”


Chosen by Loathe’s Erik Bickerstaffe

Erik: “I hadn’t intently listened to a song by Alice In Chains before, aside from playing Them Bones on Guitar Hero when I was younger, but Stone [from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here] completely caught me off guard. The way they approach melody is so abstract, in the best way. Such a good bass tone instantly; amazing mix and amazing riff, too, because of the phrasing and the bends. They don’t stray away from including ‘uncomfortable’ or less traditional movements in their choruses or in their riffs - they’re so mean and so heavy too.”


Chosen by Tesseract’s James Monteith

James: “AIC’s haunting close harmonies are one of their most defining characteristics. The intro to the song Dirt is a wonderful example of how powerful it sounds, and still gives me shivers down my spine to this day. I remember first hearing it at a house party when I was 15. I was a few cans of terrible cider in, my mind was blown and I was instantly hooked. The combination of delicate beauty with dark overtones was a gamechanger for me. A massive eye-opener as to how you can mix emotions to a great effect.”

What The Hell Have I

Chosen by Irist’s Rodrigo Carvalho

Rodrigo: “As soon as you listen to the sitar sound of the initial riff, you know that something special is going to come. What The Hell Have I is so mesmerising that it makes you feel like you’re in a maze, only this time you don’t want to escape. Being lost in the song’s melody and layers of vocals and strings simply feels amazing to me. I never just listen to it once.”

All I Am

Chosen by Malevolence’s Konan Hall

Konan: “This is one of their newer songs, but to me it still embodies the miserable grunge from all those years ago. To me, this eerie, low-tempo ballad is atmospherically and lyrically a point of self-reflection of the band’s career and the audience’s lives and own experiences; the scars and hardships you face along the way; the triumphs and low points where you find yourself asking, ‘Is this all I am?’”

Metal Hammer

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