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Music Review: AC/DC – Black Ice

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Let's go ahead and get this out of the way at the top: yes, it all sounds the same. Are you happy? Now that we've dispensed with that nonsense, let's talk about Black Ice, the first new album from AC/DC in 8 years.

It's unspeakably funny to read critics trash an AC/DC record – without a hint of irony – for being more of the same. They've been writing the same review of every AC/DC record for a quarter century and the band is the problem? What the hell? Of course Black Ice sounds like an AC/DC record. It's supposed to! Do you really want them to change? Do you really want them to evolve? Come on! How many of you are out there thinking, “You know, what would be really great is if AC/DC went Mariachi.” If you are, hit yourself or play in traffic.

Black Ice is an album aimed squarely at the band's fans. They've never evolved, but the flipside is they've never pandered- unless you consider their exclusivity deal with Walmart a pander. I don't like the deal, but it clearly hasn't changed the band or their approach. Brian Johnson's voice doesn't have dynamic shriek, having morphed into a smoother rasp. The Young brothers, Malcolm and Angus, are still bludgeoning listeners with their mastery of the riff. Cliff Williams continues to anonymously hold down the low end on bass, and Phil Rudd's defiantly minimalist powerhouse drumming is still an inspiration and a rock and roll institution.

Say what you will about them, but AC/DC does care about the album as an art form. They're one of a handful of high profile acts who refused to give into iTunes and the digital revolution. Their reason? They refuse to allow their albums to be sold as individual tracks, believing in the integrity of the whole. Personally, I love that. If that's your line in the sand, though, you've got make that real when you deliver a new album. It's not a law that 15 songs is too many on a single album, but years of observation have taught me it most often is. Sometimes less is more.

There's nothing terrible on Black Ice and there are a handful of really strong tracks that bolster a classic catalog of songs. What makes some of these songs filler isn't the songs themselves – although no one would miss another song about rock and roll – but rather the number of them. They just aren't all of them that memorable and after being pounded into submission by 15 of them it's easy to forget where you started. Well, that's not entirely true. "Rock N Roll Train" is a great rocker and will stick with you. After that it's anyone's guess.

Many of the best songs are on the first half of the record. “Skies On Fire” opens with a vintage Rudd count off and then Malcolm Young throws down a tangy riff with a little Southern rock snarl. “Anything Goes” is the type of anthem Sammy Hagar might have written for Van Halen. “Smash 'N' Grab” simmers like “Hell's Bells” without the Grim Reaper imagery. The second half loses a little bit of steam but just as you're about to give up on hearing anything else worthwhile, Angus busts out his slide and invigorates “Stormy May Day,” a song that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The album ends on a high note with the title track, a rockin' boogie with more funk than anything these guys have tried in years.

To some, AC/DC was never a valid band. Others have refused to like anything post Back In Black. If you're in either of those camps, Black Ice has nothing for you. If you're not, you have to be pretty far up yourself to not find something to like here. AC/DC may not have evolved much – if at all – over the years but that's okay because there isn't anyone else out there doing what these guys do. If you want AC/DC music, there's only one place to get it.

They've still got blood if you want it, and c'mon, we all still want it.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I was never anything like a huge fan, but this album represents the sort of kick in the nuts that rock and roll needs right now. Personally, I think its pretty damn solid straight through…and “Anything Goes” is as good a pop song disguised as kick ass rock and roll as anything I’ve heard this year.

    God Bless em for it, and bring on the tour. I’ll still be holding my nose in the WalMart checkout though…

    -Glen

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_music.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    As I said elsewhere, I think on this album, the band sounds less forced, less like a parody of themselves than on anything they’ve released in a long time. AS to the lengthy program – are they cleaning out the riff cupboard before calling it a day? Maybe they should just sign over their entire catalog to the next generation of Ozzie rockers – Airbourne, for instance; some people might not even notice the difference.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    nice review josh. i don’t like the deal either, but i will end up picking up this disc. love these guys.

    gee, they haven’t evolved. friggin’ deal with it.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    They’re one of a handful of high profile acts who refused to give into iTunes and the digital revolution.

    LMAO!!Yet they totally homogenized themselves with this Walmart deal,i.e; clothing,games,useless color changes on 3 different CD covers. What’s the difference between this and making the music available online? Who is gonna go to some white trash, ghetto a$$ Walmart to buy a CD?!

    AC/DC used to be about unadulterated,explicit & in-your-face ROCK. Now it has been watered down to nothing but G-Rated nostalgia & cheap gimmicks!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Who is gonna go to some white trash, ghetto a$$ Walmart to buy a CD?!

    I think it was like 180,000 the first day, with 800,000 projected for the week.

    Next question?

    -Glen

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    with 800,000 projected for the week.

    Compared with iTunes’ 1 Million tracks per day and that was back in 2005…

    Next stupid business venture??

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    They’ve been writing the same review of every AC/DC record for a quarter century…

    Dude, sorry to disagree but “Highway to Hell” got rave reviews because of the songs and due to Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s precise engineering on the board. It was their pinnacle & unfortunately it was their last real killer of a f*cking album…Period

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i like it when they sing about vikings.

    no wait, that was somebody else.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Compared with iTunes’ 1 Million tracks per day and that was back in 2005…

    That’s not 1 million AC/DC (or of any one band’s) tracks, however. The number of tracks the band themselves would sell on Itunes would probably be relatively low. I don’t take the majority of their listeners to be big-time computer/Ipod users, hence the Walmart deal. This won’t limit them in the slightest, and later on they can sign a major digital distribution deal that nets them tons of money. To have distributed this album digitally but not the rest would have watered down the impact of something like that. That’s smart marketing, actually. Once they’ve waited so long, it actually works in their favor to wait a little longer. Hype-building, you know? Notice how long it’s taking the Beatles’ stuff to make it to Itunes? Everyone goes “oh, big deal, I’ve already got those tracks” but when they release remasters with bonuses, etc., and it’s all on Itunes, it’ll be huge. People will be counting the minutes until they’re available to download. Same goes for AC/DC, but on a much smaller scale, obviously.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s one band’s tracks or not. It all has to do with potential sales & lack of overhead which equates to a bigger profit. Especially with this “Green” movement & the amount of natural resources it takes to make CDs (especially ones with the stupid different color arrangement) I don’t see how an exclusivity deal with Walmart benefits anyone else than Walmart.

    Oh, hell…Why do I care? The new album sucks anyways…

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_music.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    I dunno if you can say any AC/DC album sucks – or is great for that matter. They’re just…. inevitable. If you get tired of the ones you have, go buy some others – they’re all pretty much the same, give or take and, depending on your POV – a strength or a weakness – or maybe both simultaneously.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I don’t like exclusivity deals and I don’t defend them. I got an advance of the CD, so I didn’t have to deal with Walmart on this one.

    I don’t know that the three different album covers killed the environment. I don’t know if they pressed a normal run for all three covers or divided a normal run between three different covers. Either way, you only have to buy the album once — or not at all, for that matter — so I’m not bothered by this.

    Critics have been writing “it all sounds the same” reviews going back to Dirty Deeds. That you happen to disagree doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done. That album is almost 30 years old now, though, so we’re talking about the post Back in Black output, which has certainly seen its fair share of “it’s all been done” reviews.

    Black Ice really doesn’t suck. It’s a solid album that runs a bit too long but has some excellent moments.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well I happen to disagree because it’s not true!
    It hasn’t happened for every album, possibly the post Back in Blackera… but I don’t know. I just know it didn’t happen for Highway. That was my point.

    btw, the new album does suck, stop watering down the truth.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Oh, you’re right. My bad. It does suck. Now that you’ve told me I’ll revise my review.

    My point was that it’s happened for a quarter century and since Highway is outside of that, your point has no point.

    The album doesn’t suck. So there.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Josh, I knew you were going to write a comment like that because your probably one of the few AC/DC “fans” that considers anything past Back in Black worth listening to. That’s fine if that’s what you truly believe but don’t try to pass that BS off onto the people who can understand that, unfortunately, AC/DC died with Bon Scott.

    That their worthy material never received reviews of “just the same” and that only their crap after Back… could be viewed as such!

    Yea..This album really does suck. You’re in denial and a little too nostalgic.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I do tend to prefer the Bon Scott era, I don’t dismiss the Brian Johnson era out of hand.

    I’m not trying to pass anything off to anyone, BS or not. Some people are closed off to the possibility that AC/DC can make a good album. Some people are closed off to the idea that Brian Johnson can make a good album with AC/DC. If someone enters the conversation with either of these prejudices, there’s nothing I can say to convince them otherwise.

    On the other hand if someone is open minded, or open minded enough to accept that past experience and personal prejudices can at least sometimes be wrong, now we’ve got something to talk about. I’m speaking to the open minded crowd here, Brian. The album doesn’t suck. I listened to it. You’ve really got to be a contortionist to make openmindedness into denial. Don’t buy the record, dude. We get that you don’t like it. You’ve made yourself very clear.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    My Gawd!! The passive, political correctness on this website amazes me! No wonder why the music industry in this country sucks! Everyone has sent their f*cking balls overseas with all the jobs!

    Spare me the “open minded” retort. It doesn’t take an open mind to see that this new album is a watered down continuation of the garbage that AC/DC has been spewing for the past decade. The great AC/Dc of 30 years ago would’ve never had anything to do with a company that has had such a censorship crusade!

    They are retiring with an unoffensive addition to their discography. Maybe they should give the spotlight to a more deserving band.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    The open minded retort comes out because you’ve made it clear you never gave this album a chance. I don’t give a toss if you like it or not. There are some people who are beyond convincing. If you think it’s a display of balls to presume something bad before you hear it, we disagree on something else.

    Who sells their record speaks to the business practices, not the quality of the music. It’s not 30 years ago. Decoding the logical inconsistencies in your arguments could keep a bank of supercomputers running for another 30 years.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    If you think it’s a display of balls to presume something bad before you hear it, we disagree on something else.

    Do you think just because you received an early copy to review that I haven’t listened to it yet? HA!!
    My logic may be something that you can’t grasp but that’s your problem not a problem for a branch of MIT in Cambridge.

    Who sells their record speaks to the business practices, not the quality of the music. It’s not 30 years ago.

    This definitely proves what’s wrong with the music industry as well as the people who report what is worthy about it. You can go on and keep spouting off about how your open mind brings you to a conclusion of acceptance for an album that will degrade in most serious music lover’s minds in about a day because you wanna save face on a website that allows several poor reviews of the same crappy album.

    BUT, your shallow attempts at masking a personal attack about my intelligence just goes to show why you are writing about music and not playing it. When the money is all spent, no one cares about record sales & 95% of the people will throw in a copy of “Highway” before they ever get around to a second spin of that nauseating shite!

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    because your probably one of the few AC/DC “fans” that considers anything past Back in Black worth listening to. That’s fine if that’s what you truly believe but don’t try to pass that BS off onto the people who can understand that, unfortunately, AC/DC died with Bon Scott.

    so, the millions of people who purchased Back In Black and For Those About To Rock… they did this why? because they were morons? and then all of the Brian Johnson-era concerts, full of people having a great time, listening to stuff like Heatseaker, Fly On The Wall, etc. etc. that was all an illusion? we really thought it sucked but had nothing better to do?

    does it make you feel better to spout unfounded cliches about people?

    bizarre.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    political correctness? what, we’re back to this whole “music has intrinsic merit” crap? sorry, it doesn’t. you may believe it, but it doesn’t.

    political correctness? nah, that wouldn’t stop me from saying that i prefer Brian Johnson-era AC/DC over that pretentious twat Yngwie Malmsteen.

    actually, i don’t think Malmsteen is a pretentious twat, it was just fun to type.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    My logic may be something that you can’t grasp…

    since when does attention-whoring follow logic?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “Intrinsic Merit”?? When did I ever claim such a thing? Talk about attention-whoring…

    How could music ever have anything that doesn’t need to be translated?! Though the instruments and equipment could be intrinsic but I guess it depends on whether you’re talking about philosophy, technology or science.

    so, the millions of people who purchased Back In Black and For Those About To Rock… they did this why? because they were morons?

    A lot of people also purchased Ashlee Simpson’s music as well but I will never be able to explain why. Maybe because their friends did & so on. Kinda like peer pressure. The need to fit in??

    You & Malmsteen…Love,Hate,Love?

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I don’t know whether you listened to it or not, but you have made clear in your comments you weren’t going to like it whether you took the time or not. You were closed off to it. Listening to it for you was a formality, a way of confirming your biases.

    I wasn’t insulting your intelligence, Brian. I wasn’t even accusing you of insulting mine. ;) That your logic is contradictory in multiple instances doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent, just that there are flaws in your logic. The fact that I’m not playing music doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about it any more than having a different opinion than you does. You think you’re right. I think you’re different. That speaks volumes right there.

    I abhor exclusivity deals and said so on numerous occasions. Of course the music industry has problems, but industry problems are not what makes this a good a bad record.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    “Intrinsic Merit”?? When did I ever claim such a thing? Talk about attention-whoring…

    when you say that this record is better than that one, that it’s a fact…then that is when you’re talking about intrinsic merit.

  • http://www.currentobstacle.blogspot.com Darren

    Whenever the pissing contest is over, can some of us weigh in on what we think too? I have a passing interest in AC/DC’s new record because it’s been unfortunately labeled as a “comeback”, in much the same way “Memory Almost Full” was supposed to be a comeback for Paul McCartney, “Endless Wire” for the Who,”Accelerate” for R.E.M. and a host of other eventually disappointing recent albums. What I want to see (and hear) is if someone can actually pull it off. This honest bit from the Boston Globe review might supplant my need to actually listen to the record: “quintessential, if not exactly essential”.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    The pissing contest never ends, Darren, so feel free to weigh in when you’ve listened to the record.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i don’t think it’s a comeback album because i don’t think they went anywhere.

    of course, i also like Endless Wire and Accelerate.

  • http://currentobstacle.blogspot.com Darren

    Hmm, point taken. I’m a big fat non-listening jerk. ;)

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Not a jerk at all, Darren. Get a copy of the album and let us know what you think.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_music.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    Well, now….. I’m casting my vote for it doesn’t suck. It’s much better than Fly or Switch or Ball breaker, all albums with a couple of good tunes and lotsa filler. Guess what? The best ACDC albums, like Highway, Back in Black and, yes indeed, the brand new Black Ice are about half filler anyways.

    Guess what else? Most “good” albums by everyone else are also half filler. And the albums that are pretty good most of the way through are few and far between. Maybe the aforementioned Back in Black and Highway to Hell are as close as ACDC will ever come too making a classic, but Black Ice doesn’t suck – at it’s worst, it just isn’t brilliant, but it does have enough bright spots to keep it from becoming cutout bin clutter.

  • http://www.currrentobstacle.blogspot.com Darren

    Listen 1: So far so (really) good – I’ve heard Rock N’ Roll Train, Skies on Fire, Big Jack, and Anything Goes and liked ‘em all. They seem to have a penchant for really good pop-rockers, wish they’d write more of ‘em. I hear that although lyrics are never a strong suit for these guys, Brian Johnson (age 61!) co-wrote with the Brothers Young for the first time since before Razors Edge. Gotta give them some longevity credits. The production sounds better than many of their 80s efforts, and most of the lame-ass Dandy-Warhol-esque modern rock I’ve heard lately. What’s not to like? Too long? Take out the five songs you like least and make it into a neo-classic.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_music.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    “Take out the five songs you like least and make it into a neo-classic.”

    Ah……. instant revisionist history. Gotta luv the digital age.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    the too many songs issue has been with us for a while. i think that about many modern recordings, and it usually strikes home when i listen to an album i really like that came out in the pre-cd era. much easier to make a concise statement in 40 minutes than 70.

  • JC Mosquito

    And it’s much easier to make a big statement in 70 minutes rather than 40. Better yet – 70 albums.

  • http://www.currentobstacle.blogspot.com Darren

    …and ya gotta love instant hackneyed writing in the digital age. ;)

    Have you never skipped a song in this or any other age? What’s wrong with kindly helping some old rockers who can’t edit themselves?

    Four and a half stars for Glacè Noir. **** 1/2

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I’m with you, Darren. 3-5 songs lighter and the album is stronger overall.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Have you never skipped a song in this or any other age?

    nope.

    not even on a Yoko record.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I don’t believe that, Mark. You’ve skipped songs.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Oh, and no one actually listens to Yoko records! :D

  • JC Mosquito

    Now that I think about it, the most concise statements seem to be between 2:45 – 3:30 minutes long on little flat round things that rotate around a stationary spindle at a speed of 45 rounds per minute.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    I don’t believe that, Mark. You’ve skipped songs.

    nope. i’m more likely to just bail on a record midstream. that…i’ve done a lot.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I’ve done both. I generally try to get through an album, though, even if that means skipping a song or two. There aren’t a lot of artists these days who really make albums. Most albums these days are collections of songs, so I go looking for the good songs. A great album is still the pinnacle, but great is great and a couple of great songs are still worth something.

  • http://www.everhype.com/hyper/mikeborgia?X=S1706 musichyper

    I’m in total agreement that for AC/DC to change would simply be wrong. Some critics need to understand that not everything needs to evolve and AC/DC being one of them!

    I HYPED Black Ice on EverHYPE and scored it 94%, which I think is very accurate.

    If you get on there rate me a 5 on it and request friendship.

  • Bennett

    “rate me a 5 on it and request friendship”

    not going to happen.

  • David

    I’ve been listening to it since it debut … I love the thing.

  • madmatt

    I love the new album ,but i also feel that with about 3-4 songs less it would have appeared to have been stronger.
    However, Black ice has a dark quality/tone that runs thru it,that i haven’t heard since “for those about to Rock”,or “BON”era music.
    I would give it a strong 7 out of 10 for my rating,but i have loved ac/dc since 1978 when I was 10!IT was also so nice to hear some slide guitar and some basic effects within the new album, most fans would like to hear something different on a new album “once in a while”,
    and i feel that they have added to thier mighty
    catalog with this one!

  • Gregg Orange

    Just listened to the new Ac/Dc album, “Black Ice”. There are a couple of good songs, the first one on the album is the best one and the rest of it is filler material. Pretty much the same formula that they have adhered to since “Let There Be Rock” over 25 years ago. There are more recycled riffs on this album than I can possibly count. I suppose it is somewhat ridiculous to condemn Ac/Dc for putting out the same album for 25 years though, that’s just what they do. That would be like criticizing Johnny Ramone for writing songs that were nothing but 4 downward stroked, repetitive bar chords. Similarly, it would be like criticizing Coors for introducing a light beer. It works, it sells and if you don’t like it there are plenty of other options. Here again, this is just what Ac/Dc does. I never honestly expected Ac/Dc to do a “Sgt. Pepper” album anyway. I mean what exactly would they do if they decided to produce some horrible art rock record in the first place? Overdub big a brass section or wheel out some synthesizers? Maybe they would do a collaboration album with John Petrucci of Dream Theater and Brian Johnson could write some introspective, sensitive lyrics about relationships. Right. Gong! I listened to the entire album twice and it has the usual assortment of open A, D, G and E open chord structured tunes that you have come to expect from Angus and Malcolm and it has the standard Brian Johnson lyrical themes about sex, sexual innuendos, the devil, rock and roll and more rock and roll, parties, good times, more sex, chauvinistic sex, etc. There are aspects about this band and its simple, straight ahead rock and roll formula that I still like but, I guess I have just heard the Ac/Dc formula so many times before in the last three decades that they are just starting to sound very undeniably retro and the lyrical content of their songs has gotten just plain silly and stagnant to the point of absurdity. So I guess it’s sort of a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation. I would really like to hear them progress a bit and change it up, do something a bit more different, fresh and innovative. But, then again if they did it would probably be a horrible unlistenable mess. So we are stuck with records like this for better or worse, take it or leave it. It’s Ac/Dc doing the same thing they have done for decades and I wouldn’t expect them to change this formula. It’s what got them where they are. They can retire on it and they most likely will very soon.

  • Tony Brock

    Bon v. Brian – This is like trying to get KIss fans and Rush fans to agree which is the best band – pointless.

    There is some great ACDC material (title track, rock ‘n roll dream) on here and there are some weaker tunes (She likes rock ‘n roll, decibel) and almost funky stuff (black ice).

    One of my favourites is ‘anything goes’ sounding like Jimmy Barnes/Cold Chisel.

    On the whole a good album, just stuffed too full to stop the people who complain about only getting 40 minutes of material on a 79 minute disc.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clarence_yu Clarence Yu

    This is unbelievable! AC/DC rocks, Bon or Brian on vocals. They always kick ass, satisfy their fans and themselves while making tons of money. What is wrong with that? Critics love their albums. What’s there to hate about them, especially now that they’ve proven that at their age, they can still make a record that can raise the hairs off my arm? I’ve been a hard core fan of theirs since the Mutt Lange era till now, and none of their albums suck.

    Black Ice was exactly what I needed to re-invest my faith in rock and roll for the long term. I hope the next release by Aerosmith cements that.

    Great review!

  • J.Lopez

    I was a ACDC fan from Back in Black to Fly to the Wall. After that I changed to other tendencies in music, and ACDC seemde to stick pretty much to the magic tricks that got them in the top. Then I forgot about the band. But some days ago, I was driving somelse´s car and the Black Ice CD was playing. Somehow, I found a new excuse to go back to ACDC, including some of the stuff I did not like. Black Ice is within the legacy they will leave for the future generations by being a trully ACDC album before they reachedhe big audiences.