HardReviews 5
by Martin Popoff

Black Ice (Sony)

Huge anticipation, but no one debates words like "ambition" the way they do around Metallica. No, this is about making people happy for months on end (or not), pure and simple, about gleefully killing brain cells despite the stock market crash. And Black Ice is more than up to the task, thank the rock 'n' roll gods, doing more for the swagger of the world's workers than any bank bailout (or pockets full of Prozac) will. As background, this is a band that is practically retired. Four studio albums in 18 years don't cut it, making these guys more serial reformers than an ongoing act. That said, man, Black Ice sounds vital, reversing the tide on the small-ish, quaint blues permutations of the last two records, a problem plaguing doppelgangers Status Quo as well - since about 1977, I might add. No, AC/DC seemed to be taking solace in a sort of Zen-like origami work of interesting yet subdued southern rock for a while there. That still serves as an anchor here, although first thing one notices is the vibrant recording and the very electric guitars. And the quiet moments often explode into something bigger, as with 'Decibel' and 'Money Made', which both stomp along to malevolent chord structures very red in the neck. And the title track is even better, the guitars managing to sound both dark and jangly, as the band pound away. 'Wheels' shakes things up with a Stonesy feel, Brian cawing along with a discomforting higher yet thinner range. His voice has for years sounded like it's threatening to blow out, but now there's some frequencies missing, just adding a different type of blow-out discomfort. In fact, he's singing better than ever, but it sounds like he just might pop and disappear, if that makes any sense. Love the way the rhythm guitar tracks are pretty sophisticated throughout, how the riffs have more notes than usual. And o'er Malcolm's inspiring crashing and reanimations, Angus is in there soloing violently mid-neck like a Billy Gibbons (who has to - they are a trio), adding to the crunchy texture, rather than being conventional dog whistle overtop strummery. So yeah, one might decry the predictable verse/chorus structure of a whole bunch of these songs (of uniform length) in a row, but man, each on its own is pretty progressive for AC/DC. Indeed, through the weird southern rock-ness of the last two albums, they've arrived at a rarified ribfest place with this new obscure knowledge no one else has picked up on. Once there, they turn the guitars back up, punch up the drums, and Brian does more actual singing than one would expect given those tortured pipes.


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