Released: 2008, Columbia Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Eight years is a long time and AC/DC diehards have likely been counting the days since the rather lackluster STIFF UPPER LIP didn’t exactly quench fans’ thirsts for the band’s straight-up, no-frills hard rock musings. After an inexplicably long absence, the Aussie veterans return with BLACK ICE, an album that is as predictable as anyone would expect from AC/DC but also with a few surprises, as well. What is immediately evident is that despite the fact AC/DC has remained relatively unchanged for the better part of four decades, these fifteen songs sound fresh but classic and certainly not what one would expect of a bunch of lads pushing sixty. Brian Johnson’s vocals are as hoarse as ever but sound just as strained as they did nearly thirty years ago on BACK IN BLACK. The man never ages! Likewise, the guitar team of Angus and Malcolm Young can still pen a mighty riff, while Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd remain one of the most woefully underrated and powerful rhythm sections in rock and roll. BLACK ICE will please old fans without fail and undoubtedly bring a new generation on board, as well.
“Rock ‘n Roll Train” follows the lead of past album openers like “Thunderstruck,” “Hard As A Rock” and “Hells Bells” by immediately grabbing the listener with a monster guitar hook and big, anthemic chorus. This song alone could rejuvenate AC/DC’s name as well as prove the band remains a viable musical entity nearly 35 years into its career but things are just getting started. “Big Jack,” “Wheels” and “Smash ‘n Grab” thrive on similarly catchy choruses bolstered by Malcolm Young’s intrepid riffs and Angus Young’s timeless solos. Once again exploring their bluesy side, “Money Made” and the excellent “Decibel” crackle with smoky riffs and a classic rock and roll shuffle. Angus breaks out a swampy slide guitar on “Stormy May Day” (don’t miss Johnson’s soulful clean crooning here) and his jangly leads on “Spoilin’ For A Fight” crackle with a rough-and-tumble youthfulness. The dirty riff of the title track bristles and is sure to cause many a sore neck due to its irrefutable groovy stomp. “Anything Goes” is a really different song for AC/DC with actual singing from Johnson (who almost sounds like John Fogerty in places) and one of the best melodies heard since “Thunderstruck.” Even “Rock ‘n Roll Dream,” with its subdued guitars and slower tempo, is a standout. There really isn’t a bad track to be found on BLACK ICE but the weaker moments certainly point toward “Skies On Fire” and “Rocking All The Way,” which both sound a little too tired and underdeveloped (yes, even for AC/DC, you cynics).
While I wouldn’t call myself an AC/DC fanatic, I do know the band’s music very well and have been a fan for well over twenty years. Thereby qualifying that statement, I can fairly state that BLACK ICE is the best album overall that AC/DC has released since 1980’s BACK IN BLACK. Despite clocking in at a rather lengthy 55 minutes (the band’s longest yet), the album never drags and is devoid of any noticeable filler. Some musical experimentation and vocal dynamics (not to mention the slick production—man, this record sounds great cranked up loud!) certainly show the band still has some fire in the furnace even though there is snow on the roof. In a nutshell, BLACK ICE is versatile, fresh and modern but maintains that classic AC/DC vibe. Welcome back, boys.
KILLER KUTS: “Rock ‘n Roll Train,” “Big Jack,” “Anything Goes,” “Spoilin’ For A Fight,” “Decibel,” “She Likes Rock ‘n Roll,” “Money Made,” “Rock ‘n Roll Dream,” “Black Ice”