Gig Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with Photography by Ian Dunn


If you were to do a ‘Rock Family Tree’ of the Seattle music scene and those associated with it, it would become a crazed scribble like a spider had gone mad on the page. And in Brum tonight (another ‘legendary home of metal’), some of that scrawl comes our way, with a rather unusual left-field ‘blip’ in the middle. Alice in Chains, with a Ghost and some Walking Papers.

First up and a very early start Walking Papers. From Seattle, this blues-rock band was initially a duo of Jeff Angell (Post Stardom Depression, The Missionary Position) and Barrett Martin (Skin Yard, Screaming Trees). Within a short time, Duff McKagan joined them on bass (you may have heard of a couple of bands he’s been in: Guns n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver…) as did Benjamin Anderson on keyboards. Sometimes, when his other band isn’t doing much, some bloke called Mike McCready pops along to join them on stage (he’s busy at the mo, doing his ‘day’ job  – with Pearl Jam…).  Walking Papers released their self-titled album in October 2012 and are a great start to this evenings gig.


Then comes the ‘blip’ in the Seattle proceedings. Well this band make interesting reading. Ghost. Scandinavian black metal. You want a line-up? Well that may be a tad difficult, the vocalist is know as Papa Emeritus II and appears on stage as a Roman Catholic cardinal, in full regalia with skull face paint and crucifix mace. The rest of the band, ‘nameless ghouls’ wear hooded robes and Darth Vader-like masks. All members are anonymous. Lyrically they choose the dark side; blasphemy and sacrilege be their gospel. And, apparently, they have Black Sabbath similarities.


However, if you are expecting screamy, screamy loud, fast metal rock – you couldn’t be more wrong. Coming onto stage to monastic Gregorian chants, they are a weird mixture of Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, monastic chants and operatic overtones. Ghost sound-wise sit far more commercially acceptable and Euro mainstream rock-pop than expected. They’re big in their home country, Sweden and have two albums out if you want to check them out – ‘Opus Eponymous’ and 2013 outing ‘ Infestissumam’. The good cardinal is polite, refined and engaging. They are entirely different, nothing about Ghost is the norm, or obvious for that matter. Ghost may have been inspired by many differing sources, but the way they have brought this together is indeed different. With only a handful their faithful congregation in the crowded Academy tonight (including a couple with painted faces), by then time they left their stage, they certainly left many more intrigued by their performance. Worth checking out.


So as Ghost disappear from view, we get a half hour break while the stage is set for Alice in Chains. None of the original ‘Seattle scene’ bands had an easy life outside of the (unwanted?) commercial success and AiCs story is another with a poignant sadness. Emerging in the early 90s (managed at the time by Susan Silver, former spouse of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell…) their first three albums gained huge success selling over 25 million worldwide. Jerry Cantrell, Layne Staley, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez (who replaced Mike Starr in ’83) were one of the biggest selling bands of the 90s. But after their ’95 self titled album, Staley desperately lost his way to drug oblivion, eventually succumbing in 2002. (Former bassist Mike Starr, allegedly the last person to see Staley alive, also battled the disease, sometimes publicly, before he too, lost his life in 2010).


Mid 90s onwards, with little choice, AiC went into what seemed a perpetual then permanent hiatus. Then in what only be described as possibly one of rock’s greatest come- backs, William DuVall took on Staley’s legendary vocal duties. It may have been a risk, Staley stood out from the crowd, but once again AiC starting performing. I saw them on a sunny afternoon at Download, they were surprisingly impressive. Then came 2009 album ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’; critically acclaimed and a commercial success, followed by another powerful album this year – ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.’


So onto blackened stage, mike stands bejeweled with plectrums, in full AiC tradition, a powerful, gut-wrenching power-grind starts up. ‘Again’. During the song’s musical interlude the house lights come up – the crowd give the horns to the band – and to DuVall. ‘Check My Brain’ from ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ has that grinding saw-edge start-off riff. And they don’t let up, into ‘Them Bones’, a classic – a song about mortality.


‘Hollow’, a newbie continues with all the vengeful grind and power that you expect; DuVall’s harmonised vocals with Cantrell crawling through the song. ‘Man in the Box’ another classic – DuVall gets the audience to clap – we are indeed a very happy bunch. This is a set of the new and the old. Tracks off the new albums go down well with the packed rock crowd, respected the same as the old stuff, although the classics, as with many groups, do receive that little bit more rapturous applause. AiC are here for the music, there’s little chat, no overblown charades, between each song the set goes black before they appear to deliver the next powerful epic. They are far more than just ‘grunge’, AiC are alternative and heavy, grinding guitars – dark and at times beautifully melodic.

‘Love Hate Love’ is delivered in its spooky, menacing way; in it’s full glory. DuVall gives it his all and delivers. From his own vocals to the harmonisation with Cantrell, DuVall is no longer ‘the replacement.’ Slowly but surely, he’s becoming his own man.


Set is darkened – we’re into encore and before they re-appear we get an electric warrior excerpt off stage by Cantrell.  Then they’re back on to deliver the grinding and haunting ‘Down in a Hole.’ Nirvana’s Cobain may be noted for lyrics, which all too sadly came true – but take Staley and co. The beautifully haunting ‘Down in a Hole’ from ‘92s ‘Dirt’, with the repetitive chorus of “Down in a hole, feelin’ so small, down in a hole, losin’ control…” with the all too sad premonition… “Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved …”

And then two more, to wet our rock appetites even more, the bass beat that gives us ‘Would?’, written as a thought to Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood, one of the first from the Seattle bands to loose his life to drugs.  And finally, Cantrell’s tribute to his father – ‘Rooster’.

There is no doubt of that the memory of Staley permeates through the set – Cantrell acknowledges that. AiC live with the past but move forward at the same time. They are not a tribute act to themselves (as some like to say), AiC are here to deliver and boy do they mean business. Listen to their albums, a musical inspiration to so many. Tonight’s crowd were a mix of fans of the original works, but also their latest two albums have brought more into the AiC fold.

Asked recently if there would be another album, Cantrell reckoned there would be in about three to four years. Judging by the audience response tonight, we can’t wait. So are AiC still a force to be reckoned with? You. Bet. Ya. Again… and again… and again…. and again…

Setlist: Alice in Chains

Check my Brain
Them Bones
Man in the Box
No Excuses
Got Me Wrong
It Ain’t Like That
We Die Young
Love, Hate, Love
Whale and Wasp (excerpt)
Down in a Hole


Walking Papers
Walking Papers [2012]

Opus Eponymous [2010]
Infestissuman [2013]

Alice in Chains
Facelift [1990]
Dirt [1992]
Jar of Flies [EP] [1994]
Alice in Chains [1995]
Black Gives Way to Blue [2009]
The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here [2013]

One Response to “Alice in Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers at the O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK – 13th November 2013”

  1. Alice in Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 13 November 2013 » Musings of a Creative Mind Says:

    […] Review by for Gig Junkies. Photos: Ian Dunn […]

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