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Monday, December 24, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alice In Chains Forgoes The Excess

Heavy metal, the past decade, has become a genre of music given over to spandex-clad clowns spewing forth mile-a-minute guitar solos owing more to manual dexterity than musical prowess. Lyrics often deal in either excessive sex, pointlessly overwrought science fiction, or, thanks to the power of videos, a central message of, ``Hey! Look at my hair extensions!''

Seattle's Alice in Chains, at a homecoming concert Saturday night at the Moore Theater, look to be one of several eye-catching exceptions to the heavy-metal conventions of wretched excess. Although they share some elements with established hard-rock acts, the group has more in common with Seattle's alternative rock ``grunge'' movement than it does with conventional heavy metal.

They're not the first loud Seattle band to be classified as metal by default. Soundgarden, considered to be one of the seminal bands of the punk/metal grunge movement known as the ``Seattle Sound,'' was nominated for a Grammy last year as a metal band.

What makes Alice in Chains different, however, is its youth. While Soundgarden had to build a following through the college radio market for several years, Alice in Chains have started out its career on CBS, yet already has punk sensibilities fused tightly to a heavy-metal infrastructure.

Alice in Chains pulled off a wildly varying set of moods in its show, from the mournful, Soundgarden reminiscent dirge of ``Love, Hate, Love'' to the white-boy-funk of ``I Got Something'' to a country-punk romp called ``Queen Of The Rodeo.''

Vocalist Layne Staley, who resembled a ghoulish, blond-dreadlocked Robert Plant, made the mood swings convincing, and Jerry Cantrell's guitar playing was intelligent in that his few guitar solos made sense within the context of the music. Heavy-metal guitarists aren't renowned for their humility.

The grunge influences are obvious in their music, and attempts at commercial metal formulas, such as the awkwardly-placed sing-along chorus in ``Sea Of Sorrow,'' or the ballad ``Confusion,'' seemed thrown in as afterthoughts to commercial viability.

The danger of falling to commercial trappings is an inherent one for a metal band, and an impending second album will force ot to further develop an original sound, but for now, classify it with an oxymoron: enjoyable metal.

Ironically enough, Alice in Chains gave a better representation of the Seattle Sound than those that should have: opening band Mookie Blaylock. It features Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who were in another seminal grunge band, Green River. Gossard and Ament were also members of Mother Love Bone, the Seattle band recently thought most likely to succeed before the heroin overdose death of singer Andy Wood earlier this year. However, the music leaned more towards bad '70s country rock (Bad Company comes to mind) than the punk-metal angst of Green River or the flamboyant grooves of Mother Love Bone. Not even a cameo appearance by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron made Blaylock interesting.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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