Famed heathen Bon Scott once warbled “Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be” and it's been said the Devil has all the best tunes. I don't know why it should be that the forbidden, the dark, and the dangerous should seem so damn alluring but the history of the arts tells us time and again the imaginations of its most brilliant practitioners often dwelled there and patrons were eager to visit.
One of the most chilling, compelling fetes of Alice in Chains' short run in the early '90s was their ability to achieve popular success without glorifying the ghastly, depraved, desperate, lonely places from which their music was born. Alice was inextricably linked to heroin, addiction, death, and gloom before Layne Staley died. The years since his passing have done nothing to weaken that, in part because Jerry Cantrell was the band's sonic architect and many of those same themes and sounds continued in his solo work.
A sick, unsettling feeling grips you within the opening seconds of “Psychotic Break” the first song from Jerry Cantrell’s first post-Alice in Chains solo album, Degradation Trip. The song was written prior to former Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley’s fatal overdose, but it is chilling to hear Cantrell sing of dead friends whose voices ring on. In fact, Cantrell has re-formed Alice in Chains since this was recorded and he could have slid this song on the new record and it would have sounded right at home.
Droning, and overdubbed vocals sing like a chorus of the damned, creating the same eerie, hallucinogenic feeling that “Sickman” and “Hate to Feel” from Alice’s classic Dirt created nearly 20 years ago. An ominous, siren-like guitar line repeats itself throughout the song, playing like a warning destined to be ignored. It didn't take a crystal ball to anticipate Staley's eventual fate, but that doesn't blunt the impact of the loss or the song.