Alice In Chains – Heaven Beside You- A Harmony of Light and Dark

Heaven Beside You - Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains, the band’s self titled follow up to their reflective Jar Of Flies EP, was released in November of 1995. The original CD was packaged in a purple jewel case with a neon yellow spine and a psychedelic colored cover photo of Jerry Cantrell’s three legged dog Sunshine, whose submissive expression sadly reflects the album’s somber themes of loneliness, drug addiction, anger and mortality. After the release of Jar Of Flies in 1994, Layne Staley began losing another battle to his relentless heroin addiction and once again entered rehab. Alice In Chains cancelled their 1994 tour which left Cantrell, Inez and Kinney free to work on new material. Staley rejoined the band in 1995, but the recording and completion of the songs for the album dragged on torturously as he continued his fatal dance. Cantrell, when asked about the recording sessions, remarkably commented, “It was often depressing, and getting it done felt like pulling hair out, but it was the fucking coolest thing, and I’m glad to have gone through it. I will cherish the memory forever.” Cantrell wrote all of the music and lyrics for “Grind,” “Heaven Beside You” and “Over Now.”

Most striking about the music is Alice In Chains’ uncanny ability to merge the darkness and despair of their gloomy metal approach with overtones of light and hope, shaping Beatlesque melodies that demonstrated Cantrell’s unique flair for his craft. That musical blending of dark and light textures is an essential component of the powerfully charismatic sway of Alice In Chains. It is no better expressed than by Cantrell’s “Heaven Beside You,” a confessional song that describes his breakup with a longtime girlfriend, caused by his inability to resolve the conflict between the demands of that relationship and his lifestyle as a touring musician and all of its trappings and excesses. As Cantrell put it, “Another attempt to reconcile the fact that my life and paths are tearing me apart from the person I love. All the things I write about her are a way for me to maybe speak to her, express things I could never express.” While the song is a vehicle for Cantrell to admit his inability to commit to love, it doesn’t bask in morbid self reprobation. There is a magical melodiousness to the song that buffers the painful subject matter and sheds a curious light that hints at optimism and resolve. Cantrell may have been conceding that he was “a fucking wolf—kill, attack, move on,” however, the song is also imbued with his creative spirit, a force that even transcended his personal relationships. Staley, who wrote most of the lyrics for the album added, “For a long time I let problems and sour relationships rule over me instead of letting the water roll off my back…I thought it was cool that I could write such dark, depressing music. But then instead of being therapeutic, it was starting to drag on and keep hurting. This time I just felt, ‘Fuck it. I can write good music, and if I feel easy and I feel like laughing, I can laugh.’ There’s no huge, deep message in any of the songs. It was just what was going on in my head right then. We had good times, and we had bad times. We recorded a few months of being human.” This reconciliation of opposites, of “good times and bad times,” of grimly atonal overtures colored with infectious harmony, is what made the brilliant offerings of Alice In Chains such an essential listening experience.

“Be what you wanna be ..See what you came to see
Been what you wanna be…I don’t like what I see
Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter will
Heaven beside you… Hell within
And you think you have it still, heaven inside you
So there’s problems in your life
That’s fucked up, and I’m not blind
I’m just see through faded, super jaded and out of my mind
Do what you wanna do..Go out and seek your truth
When I’m down and blue…Rather be me than you

Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter will
Heaven beside you… Hell within
And you wish you had it still, heaven inside you
So there’s problems in your life
That’s fucked up, and I’m not blind
I’m just see through faded, super jaded
And out of my mind
Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter chill
Heaven beside you… Hell within
Like the coldest winter will
Heaven beside you… Hell within
And you know you have it still, heaven inside you
So there’s problems in your life
That’s fucked up, but You’re not blind
You’re just see through faded, overrated
And out of your mind.”