The first sound on Back in Black is the deep, ominous drone of church bells -- or "Hell's Bells," as it were, opening the album and AC/DC's next era with a fanfare while ringing a fond farewell to Bon Scott, their late lead singer who partied himself straight to hell. But this implies that Back in Black is some kind of tribute to Scott, which may be true on a superficial level -- black is a funeral cover, hell's bells certainly signify death -- but this isn't filled with mournful songs about the departed. It's a more fitting tribute, actually, since AC/DC not only carried on without him, but they delivered a record that to the casual ear sounds like the seamless successor to Highway to Hell, right down to how Brian Johnson's screech is a dead ringer for Scott's growl. Most listeners could be forgiven for thinking that Johnson was Scott, but Johnson is different than Bon. He's driven by the same obsessions -- sex and drink and rock & roll, basically -- but there isn't nearly as much malevolence in his words or attitude as there was with Scott. Bon sounded like a criminal, Brian sounds like a rowdy scamp throughout Back in Black, which helps give it a real party atmosphere. Of course, Johnson shouldn't be given all the credit for Back in Black, since Angus and Malcolm carry on with the song-oriented riffing that made Highway to Hell close to divine. Song for song, they deliver not just mammoth riffs but songs that are anthems, from the greasy "Shoot to Thrill" to the pummeling "Back in Black," which pales only next to "You Shook Me All Night Long," the greatest one-night-stand anthem in rock history. That tawdry celebration of sex is what made AC/DC different from all other metal bands -- there was no sword & sorcery, no darkness, just a rowdy party, and they never held a bigger, better party than they did on Back in Black.
Back in Black Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine