[Album Review] AC/DC | Black Ice

I discovered AC/DC for myself sometime in 1992, just as Kurt Cobain and the Seattle grunge scene was changing rock music forever for about 15 years.  I was there on day one for Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip when there was very little fan fare for both. 

2008 was a different world when Black Ice arrived:

black ice display
Not my photo. My Walmart only had the cardboard display you see in the foreground.

Part of the change I think was PR. AC/DC signed a new deal with Sony, who made Black Ice a Walmart exclusive for a period of time. So you had some synergy with some major corporations behind it. I also think after after 9/11, George W. Bush, and Katrina, most grew tired of the self loathing that infested rock music in the ’90s an were looking for some good time rock ‘n roll again.

Personally, I wasn’t really a fan the Walmart deal, or the different album covers with the only the colour of the logo changed. Was I supposed to collect all of these?  That seemed more like a Kiss thing to do.  Anyway, I looked past it as I chose the blue logo because it felt right. I did not get a free poster like I had with Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip, but I had a pleasant exchange with the cashier about how we were both looking forward to listening some new AC/DC instead. That was refreshing. No eye rolls like when I bought Ballbreaker, lol.

Much like PWR/UP late last year, most were ready to have AC/DC back in their lives. You could feel it. The band built some good momentum that I think started them outdoing The Rolling Stones at “SARS-stock” in Toronto in 2003, to becoming discovered (or rediscovered) with Let There Be Rock being included in the mega successful video game Rock Band 2.

Plus, Rock ‘n Roll Train was a really solid single.

Usually I’d show the gatefold here, but the elaborate artwork does not photograph well. So these are the record sleeves.

I remember when they started playing it on the radio how people picked up on the improvements in Brian Johnson’s voice. I think producer Brendan O’Brien can take credit here for not only put Brian on a strict diet of 1 hour of recording a day, but also found the pocket for his vocals. Try singing along with Brian on Ballbreaker, Stiff Upper Lip, or Hard As a Rock in the same key that he is. It is WAY up there. Any tune from Black Ice is much easier. Even Wheels which might be the hardest one. But it is not just Brian’s voice.

Rock ‘n Roll Train has the most present background vocals on an AC/DC single since Moneytalks. And they are the most melodic since the Highway To Hell album. O’Brien was definitely tapping into the nostalgia by channeling “Mutt” Lange.

He also pushed Angus out of his comfort zone on Stormy May Day by having him play slide. Whaaaa?????

But there is only so much a producer can do. The lion share of the praise goes to Angus and Mal who wrote some solid tunes. For me, there isn’t a dog on the album and a few have become some of my all time favs. Big Jack, Anything Goes, War Machine, Wheels, Rockin’ All the Way… great stuff.

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Apparently during their time off, the Young brothers worked on 70 to 80 ideas for songs and the band recorded 15 of them. The first track list for Black Ice contained 11 tracks for one day. They settled on not cutting any of them.

And that is my only SOFT criticism of this album. We probably didn’t need both Decibel AND Black Ice. Or Big Jack AND Wheels. I know, I know. EVERY AC/DC song is the same (Ha ha) but those pairs do really come in the same flavour. And it is long. A rock album that clocks in at over 55 minutes can easily justify some trimming.

And I’m glad they didn’t.

Because Black Ice is bitter sweet affair as it is the final album we got from the “Back In Black” line up. Who would want cut a note from that?

4.5/5

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35 comments

  1. Great writeup and like that verbal shot at KISS. Watch out for the Snowman coming after you now! lol.
    I need to get this one on vinyl as well. I’m slowly picking away at there stuff on vinyl.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A very positive write-up, man… I wasn’t aware of the Walmart element of this release. And you don’t think that ‘grunge’ has a lasting impact on the music landscape? Or do you mean in the sense that it didn’t completely kill off the dinosaurs?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Neither. Or a little of both. I was just making a joke, lol.

      Just a comment on how dramatic the change was at first, how it seemed like it would last forever (to me at least because I was never a fan of it), but it ran its course before it tapered off like everything else.

      I’m sure the scene will come back into fashion at some point. Probably within the next decade. But as of now, with only a handful of bands still around and making new music from that era, it seems like the impact from it is more subtle than as upfront as it once was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Sorry, man – I clearly don’t come here for jokes – rock n’ roll is a serious business! Ha!

        But aye, I get what you mean in terms of grunge having a stint as mainstream rock. There’s no doubt that radio and suchlike went back to the established rock acts, but I think all the good alternative rockery still has as lasting an impact on music in general.

        I guess it depends on tastes, though. And major labels. And the music press (does that even exist anymore?)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hold on…here I am come…You had to go there huh? Fine…I’m okay with it, because that is a Kiss thing to do to collect every variation of an album. Hell Ace has like 9 on his new album alone. But, thankfully, I am not that crazy to do that…yet!!! Anyway, great review. I have this in my collection and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. It came in the box set to Bonfire that I got from a neighbor. Time to throw that on the CD player!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If colour was the only difference in the cover art, I doubt they meant fans to collect them all, just pick the one they liked. I have it here, of course, and I like it! AC/DC is one big happy pile to me, as you know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure that partly the intent but they know that it would be tap into some people’s OCD and tempt them to buy all the variants. Heck, even I am tempted. Just doesn’t sit well with me but not enough to take anything away from how I feel about the album.

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      1. That’s pretty deep OCD though, just different colours of text. Like, even the Roots’ album Things Fall Apart (which is brilliant, btw) had four different covers but at least they were four completely different cover pictures!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Woah you ranked this album higher than I did. I agree there were some songs that were a bit same old same old, but maybe I was a bit harsh on my review. I love that you went more in-depth about their deal with Sony and the Walmart display because I forgot to cover that in my review. Your brain and research are necessary for great reviews like this and I respect you man! I’ll have to give this album another listen. My only complaint with this review is that red photo of Angus is freaking me out lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m lukewarm on the artwork for the album. I really like the photos inside. Thanks for all the compliments, Lana. It really was just what I remembered at the time when it came out. It was nice to see how people were excited about the band again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oddly enough I remember seeing Martin Popoff talk about AC/DC on Sea of Tranquility for bands with bad album covers. I want the deluxe edition though because it has the song lyrics and a group photo of the guys. Rest in peace Mal! I’m sure it must’ve been an exciting time, especially after the disinterest they faced in the mid-80s to 90s. The band’s audience kept on getting younger and younger.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Highway to Hell, Powerage, and Ballbreaker are my favorite album covers of theirs. Though, I like the Fly on the Wall and Let There Be Rock album covers as well. They were talking about how you shouldn’t put a band on the album cover, but I wish Brian was on an album cover because Bon and the other guys appeared on Highway to Hell.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It looked like they were going to be on the cover of PWR/UP for a bit. I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of SOT. Now I want to watch it. I’m wondering what the reasoning is to not have the band on the cover.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah I thought the band was going to use that pic they had on their social media too. Then again, Cliff looked confused in that pic, so I’m kind of glad they didn’t go with that.

                I know they mentioned it in one of these videos where they talk about great albums with bad cover art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20pbAomWz0A

                I think the reason was cause it’s not a good thing to show you’re age, unless you’re immortal like Kiss haha!

                Like

    1. Thank you, sir. Yeah, that’s true. Back in Black was featured in the first movie. Then they went full on in the 2nd. There was a lot that built up to that album and I didn’t want to try and remember it all, so I just tried to do on sweeping sentence, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Irrelevant-ish story, the last purchase I made in a brick and mortar store was a blu-ray of Jurassic Park 3 and The Transformers: The Movie, as well as Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith. I didn’t get any eye-rolls, but I think a quizzical glance or two might have been in order.

    Liked by 1 person

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