When it comes to the modern day rock & roll warrior, Sydney, Australia’s very own AC/DC leads the charge of the rock n’ roll army of devoted followers from out the frying pans and into the inferno. For AC/DC, every day is a day of glory. From the long hard highways of hell to the delivering ear shattering thunderous live performances, the band lives on for a good time. With the quintet’s fifteenth release Black Ice, the group delivers some of the old classic sound with some of the new stuff. In their own words “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll!”
For starters, there will be little doubt amongst anyone that this record doesn’t contain enough rock n’ roll. Four of the album’s fourteen tracks include the freewheeling epitaph within its song titles, starting with the ultra catchy first single, “Rock N’ Roll Train.” The first single in eight years since 2000’s “Stiff Upper Lip“, “Rock N’ Roll Train” blows on their old thick chords from their Back In Black era and Brian Johnson still belts it out with the best of intentions. His leathery, high pitched pipes have never sounded better this decade and definitely puts this tune in the “legendary” filing cabinet. The band also gets great help from famed producer Brendan O’Brien (Incubus, Stone Temple Pilots) as his approaches make this a match made in heaven. Lingering with a raucous and raw approach to the recording sessions, Black Ice certainly sounds more at home with AC/DC’s brash serving of rock n’ roll and much rougher around the edges than anything they’ve done since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge.
The next two tunes, “Skies On Fire” and “Big Jack”, follow in line with the same raw attitude the Young brothers have always conceived the band with. “Skies On Fire” possesses nice stop-and-go guitar parts behind Phil Rudd’s drumming and Cliff Williams’ powerful basslines and provides the band with an ace in the hole type of song. The same goes with the singalong “BIg Jack” too, as Angus’ guitar solos never get old on the tune and certainly encourage audience participation.
With the good however come the bad and this record certainly isn’t far from being perfect, but there are a few tunes along the way that don’t work. “Anything Goes” feels like a forced throwaway. Even with some impressive guitar work, its sound is reminiscent of “For Those About To Rock.” After a nice beginning to the album with the 1-2-3 punch it delivers, “Anything Goes” feels just a little bit flat. The feeling is temporary however as the band roars back with one of their heaviest tunes in ages: “War Machine.” Here’s rock n’ roll at its finest and Johnson delivers a great vocal performance here. Angus & Malcolm’s guitars sound crunchy, thick and enforce strong melodies over Williams’ bass. Malcolm’s backup vocals during the chorus feel very gritty, raw and real, much like anything AC/DC aims to do, which is always great.
Afterwards, “Smash N Grab” certainly grabs the attention and Brendan O’Brien’s production values truly shine through on this one. While AC/DC has always been a raw band from their earliest days, O’Brien’s treatment of “Smash N Grab” is by far one of the best representations of the band… ever. Not only is it a great song, but the band sounds at one of their most honest and stripped down performances in their history. It’s certainly a grab alright.
Much like “Anything Goes,” “Spoilin’ For A Fight”, “Wheels”, and “Decibel” have their moments, but fall just a few notches of the other tunes presented here so far. They are good in their own respects, but do sound a bit like their earlier efforts, referring to their Back In Black and For Those About To Rock heydays; it’s a bit rehashed, but then AC/DC is the exception to pretty much every rock n’ roll rule ever created.
On the bluesy tinged tune, “Stormy May Day,” the band takes a brand new approach with Angus sporting some incredibly nasty slide guitar and awesome riffage. It’s a quick pick-me-up to the band’s extravagant catalogue and sounds great. Once again O’Brien hits the nail on the head with this one and makes the band sound like they do best.
While the first ten songs on Black Ice more or less are solid pieces of textbook definition rock n’ roll, the last four songs, “She Likes Rock N Roll,” “Money Made,” “Rock N Roll Dream” and the finale “Rocking All The Way” fall very low and weigh down the album. The last four tunes are a bit slower and low-key than the others, but even with such a contrast, the final four songs don’t flow as well as the first ten. The album would be much more solid if these four were omitted, but alas, they close another chapter in AC/DC’s legacy. To be fair, these selections aren’t bad, but they’re definitely some of the weakest songs they’ve written in their history, especially “Rock N Roll Dream.” While the band does try and approach a new frontier for their musical creations, it doesn’t work on such a caliber as this record aims to be. If the first ten songs represent half a killer six pack of Coca-Cola, the final four songs leave the rest a bit flat, which is a shame.
While AC/DC will never die, Black Ice is a double sided coin of an album. While it contains some of their best written songs in their career (“Rock N’ Roll Train”, “War Machine”, “Skies On Fire” and “Smash N Grab”, respectively) there are quite a few duds along the way, which make this a pretty lopsided album. Whatever the final verdict is, at least the band can take the piss out of it and call it rock n’ roll.