It’s only been eight years since AC/DC put out an album? Jesus, it seems like twenty. Things have changed quite a bit since the glory days of Back In Black. Arena rock’s been homogenized, sounds and styles have been co-opted and xeroxed till the ink is barely legible and the substance is… well, there is no fucking substance.
But still, to this day, nobody does it quite like AC/DC. The snarly, sex-anthem party rock with swagger for miles that we grew up on is a stylistic entity all its own, a timeless symbol of nostalgic rock purity that’s stood the test of time. And while the modern relevance has diminished considerably, the legends’ return is anything but unwelcome.
I wasn’t a huge AC/DC fan as a kid, but I knew their records front to back. Everybody did. Some albums, like Houses Of The Holy or Thriller, were just a part of the foundation. That was the case for Highway To Hell and Back In Black. They were landmark albums from a simpler, happier time, soundtracks to the balls-out carefree youth of the seventies and eighties. Before TRL. Before Lou Pearlman. Before the Mouseketeers grew up and ruined pop music. Before the internet pulled back the curtain and exterminated the mystique of rock n’ roll. Before everything went to shit, basically.
Some of us may still recall the smells and sounds of that long-dead purity, but only a select few bear the mark today. Somehow, though, Black Ice manages to escape nostalgia and doesn’t sound the least bit dated, due in part to the fact that they’ve abandoned the swamp-rock of their last two records and gotten back on their traditional tracks.
Producer Brendan O’Brien did the right thing: he didn’t try to modernize the band’s sound or imprint his signature on this one. He got out of the way when it came to weaving their trademark sonic tapestry, but clearly went to lengths to up the ante on the crisp delivery. Rather than get lost in the rock mud, every one of Phil Rudd’s snare snaps and cymbal crashes, every low-end note of Cliff Williams’s bass, every power-soaked chunk riff from rhythmic guitar heroes Angus and Malcolm Young can be heard with clarity and precision. Just as audible is the fact that Brian Johnson’s voice is, somehow, more fluid and power-charged than memory recalls. Lyrically, we’re not covering any new ground with Black Ice – pretty girls, raging storms, going over the edge, etc. But the pipes are clean and polished.
Angus Young’s snotty six-string antics are in top form on Black Ice, but nowhere better than in Decibel, where his solos are spastic bolts of Aussie jive. It’s hard to say whether Johnson’s singing Decibel or Jezebel, but that’s irrelevant; it’s a great track.
She Likes Rock N’ Roll is a sexy, sizzling piece of rock goodness that’s got a riff as memorable as any AC/DC has ever laid down.
Skies On Fire is stripped riffage on a 4/4 beat with a bluesy solo, but it’s fucking mean.
Two interwoven rhythm guitar parts add an extra armor to Money Made, an average track if not for the awesome breakdown and ride out.
Anything Goes bursts in at a gallop, sounding more like Springsteen than ever before. Solid track from start to finish.
War Machine sports a similar chord progression to Givin’ The Dog A Bone, but with more bite and a solo that simply tears shit up.
Spoilin’ For A Fight slips an eighties Van Halen finger in, with pulsing bass in eighths standing high in the mix. This song could’ve been on Back In Black.
Rocking All The Way locked my conviction that Mark Lanegan would be the perfect guest vocalist to compliment Johnson’s voice.
They saved the title track for last, possibly because it’s the weakest song on the album. The end is fantastic, however, and if that were the last note we ever heard from AC/DC, it wouldn’t be a dishonor.
In short, Black Ice is the perfect album for rock fans who want the good shit with that classic feel, without having to resort to derivatives or records we’ve heard ten thousand times before. It’s a reanimation of testicular fortitude, a breath of wonderfully familiar air in a pungent atmosphere of mediocrity and irrelevance. There’s a reason they’ve sold over 200 million albums.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.