Planet of sound

AC/DC - Black Ice (Columbia)

FOR THE best part of 20 years AC/DC have been a major part of my life and for my money they are second only to The Beatles in terms of greatness.

Considering they have at least five genuine classic albums to their name - High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It ), Highway To Hell, and Back In Black - and a array of classic songs (from 1977’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ to 1990’s ‘Thunderstruck’ ) under their belts, this Scots-Australian band didn’t have to make this album.

Their place in the rock pantheon is assured and they can tour the world as bone fide living rock legends. That they still care enough to create new music by which to spread the gospel of their high voltage rock’n’roll is a credit to them. The question is, is Black Ice a worthy edition to their cannon?

Ballbreaker (1995 ) and Stuff Upper Lip (2000 ) saw AC/DC return to form with a renewed vigour after a number of ho-hum albums. Yet even these two pale in comparison to the vigour, energy, and most importantly the sense of purpose heard to such thrilling effect on Black Ice.

As soon as the first chords of opening track ‘Rock’n’Roll Train’ are struck, the listener gets the same sense of excitement and anticipation as when the opening A5 chord is hit in ‘Highway To Hell’ - yes, it’s that good.

With its gang-terrace/anthemic chorus, and the way the guitars are played in the verses (just listen to how the Young Brothers build the tension and excitement ), ‘Rock’n’Roll Train’ deserves to be regarded as a classic AC/DC song.

There isn’t a bad song here and unlike any AC/DC release since 1981 - no matter how good it was - there is not one song on Black Ice you will skip. On ‘Decibel’ they appear to be just going through the motions, but when Angus unleashes those long, wailing, soulful notes we know he can, it takes the song out of the ‘AC/DC by numbers’ territory and into ‘a key album track’ realm.

Another stand out is ‘Stormy May Day’ featuring a mean slide guitar riff - the only instance of slide by AC/DC ever on record, which is strange for a blues-rock band. Between the Zeppelin-esque slide riff and Brian Johnson singing of threatening rain and storms, there is a darkness and a drive here that makes a blues-epic of a song which barely lasts three minutes.

Most startling of all - and away from AC/DC’s penchant for big, open A, C, G, and D chords - is ‘Rock’n’Roll Dream’. Restrained guitar riffs chime as Johnson ruminates on the “circle sharks all around...this could be the very last time” before Phil Rudd lets rip on his drums before each chorus, and Angus plays a riff not unlike that from ‘Have A Drink On Me’.

Not since ‘What’s Next To The Moon’ have AC/DC done a song like this. For my money it’s another track here that deserves to be genuinely ranked among their best.

Yes, Black Ice is a worthy addition to the AC/DC cannon and it’s no exaggeration to say that it is among their very, very, best work.

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