Ac/dc's Black Ice: The Metal Edge Review

METAL EDGE Editor-In-Chief Phil Freeman has heard the new AC/DC. Here's his take...


Even though it's been eight years since Stiff Upper Lip, anticipation wasn't massive for a new AC/DC album. When the news came out that there was one on the way, public response was more along the lines of, "Oh, really? Cool." This is in part because you can hear your favorite AC/DC songs pretty much every day on the radio, and in part because Australia's greatest band (with Radio Birdman coming in a close second) don't really do much to court the masses. They put a record out once in a while, they tour in support of it, then they go on about their business and expect fans to do the same.

I'm getting sidetracked, though. Here are the important things to know: There's a new AC/DC studio album. It's produced by Brendan O'Brien, who's worked with Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, among others. And it's really quite good.

Sure, it's overlong - just under an hour, with 15 tracks of which about 10 are real keepers. But here's the interesting part - it isn't a boring album, and it doesn't sound like AC/DC by the numbers. A lot of people like to say every AC/DC album sounds the same, but that's not really true. Sure, there's a basic formula of big, anthemic hard rock with blues at its base, but each record puts a subtle spin on that core sound. Fly On The Wall was noisy, with vocalist Brian Johnson buried in the mix; it's probably their heaviest, ugliest album. The Razor's Edge was ultra-energized, and featured some of their best songwriting since the late '70s. And Stiff Upper Lip found them exploring raw electric blues-rock in a deeper way than they'd done in years, almost sounding artistically mature.

Black Ice continues that maturation process. Songs like the title track and "Stormy May Day" are built around fierce grooves reminiscent of Physical Graffiti-era Led Zeppelin; the latter also has a touch of the killer late-'80s British rock band the Screaming Blue Messiahs to it. "Decibel" is even more raw, showcasing a riff ZZ Top would have killed for back in 1974. And "Wheels," "Spoilin' For A Fight" and "War Machine" are all classic AC/DC stomps. And maybe the best thing about the record is its efficiency. Yes, 15 songs in 55 or so minutes, but do the math and you'll see that adds up to most songs coming in well under the four-minute mark. Not a track on here overstays its welcome; even the lame ones like "Big Jack" and "She Likes Rock N' Roll" are over too soon to really do damage to the overall listening experience.

Black Ice is a really solid hard rock album that showcases the band's strengths even as it sounds surprisingly down-to-earth. O'Brien's contribution has been to make the band sound like live human beings playing music in a room, rather than gods hurling riffs down from Mount Olympus. If this is gonna be their last studio album (and given their ages, the odds are at least decent that it will be), it's a good way to go out. They've even kinda found a way to age gracefully, something I'm sure almost no one expected.

Copyright (c) 2008 Jacob DelHagen