The Kills experienced -- or should that be survived? -- an eventful five years between 2011's Blood Pressures and Ash & Ice. Alison Mosshart moved to Nashville and worked with the Dead Weather as well as on her career as a visual artist, while Jamie Hince split with wife Kate Moss and suffered an injury to his left hand that required him to learn how to play guitar again. The process of recovering from a broken hand and a broken heart is apparent on the duo's fifth album, the title of which suggests the remnants of a night out -- or a nuclear winter -- and also reflects the trip Hince took on the Trans-Siberian Express in the wake of these events. The results capture the isolation and exhaustion that follow a breakup with remarkable honesty. Instead of melodrama, Mosshart and Hince explore weariness and loss via the sounds that seemed so vibrant on their previous albums. Despite its claws-bared riffs, there's a pall on "Doing It to Death" that announces Ash & Ice is more pensive than festive. Later, "Bitter Fruit" feels like a weary response to Midnight Boom's "Sour Cherry" as Hince sings "I am the seed of a dead age" over stumbling guitars. Just how hard it can be to shake bad habits -- or people -- is one of the Kills' prime fixations, whether it's the way Mosshart makes die-hard commitment sound like a kind of rebellion on "Heart of a Dog" or the defiant confessions of "Hard Habit to Break." The duo does find ways to change and grow in the face of trauma, however. Instead of returning to Key Club Studio, where they made many of their previous albums, they recorded Ash & Ice in a rented house in Los Angeles and New York City's Electric Lady Studios. These new locales led to sounds both familiar and different: at times, the album's glowering vibe recalls the Dead Weather (interestingly, that group's 2015 album, Dodge and Burn, borrowed more than a little of the Kills' usual fire). Elsewhere, the hushed introspection of "Let It Drop" and "Echo Home" evokes the xx, another group that can make guitars and a drum machine speak volumes. Ash & Ice is also the Kills' most confessional set of songs, with "Days of Why and How" and "That Love" making the most of Mosshart's gorgeously raw vocals. Sometimes, the duo's soul-searching is too insular for its own good, and the revved-up finale, "Whirling Eye," feels like it's from a different album, but more often than not the Kills turn what could be seen as weakness into artistic strength. Even if they're lacking some of their expected swagger, it adds truth to Ash & Ice's portraits of what remains after the worst happens.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares