The death of a band member can have a profound impact on the band’s sound. Not only does it represent the loss of a talented musician and a dear friend, but it can also bring about changes in the band’s creative direction, dynamics, and overall chemistry. Depending on the role of the departed member in the band, their absence can leave a gaping hole that is difficult to fill.
As a result, the remaining members may need to adjust their playing style, instrumentation, or songwriting approach to compensate for the loss and redefine their sound. In some cases, this process can lead to a new era of creativity and growth; in others, it can result in a decline or even the end of the band.
In AC/DC’s case, Malcolm Young was an essential band member for his contributions to their sound as the band’s rhythm guitarist, backing vocalist, lyricist, and mastermind. Although his brother Angus was often the face of AC/DC, Malcolm was mainly responsible for the band’s sound. So, besides being a massive heartbreak, losing the guitarist was also a game-changer.
Speaking to Guitar Player in 1983, Angus Young admitted that he and Malcolm sometimes shouted each other down. He said that Malcolm inspired him with his high standards and musical mind. Angus recalled that if his brother wanted the solos to rock like thunder, they had to make it rock.
The guitarist also revealed that Malcolm would even ask him to redo his solos if he thought they didn’t suit the song or weren’t rock enough. According to Angus, they gave the utmost importance to the songs, so he found it pointless to sit and spend so many hours coming up with a guitar solo.
In a 1983 interview with Guitar Player, Angus Young revealed whether being brothers influenced the way he and Malcolm play:
“I don’t know about that. I think as brothers, you can shout each other down. You can go, ‘Hey, cut that out!’ So you’ve just got a good rapport. Malcolm does inspire me. He has very high standards in his way of playing and everything. He’s very musical-minded, but he can go to extremes, overindulgence.
If we are in a studio and I have to do these things like solos, he’ll say, ‘I want this to rock like thunder,’ and you’ve got to make it rock. He says something like that, and you know exactly what he means.”
Asked if Malcolm wants him to redo solos, he continued:
“Yeah, if he thinks they’re not happening – if he thinks they do not rock enough or don’t suit the song. It’s mainly the songs that we worry about. I won’t sit there and spend 12 hours on a guitar solo. I couldn’t. That’s pointless. I like to go in and go, bang away at it.”
In many other statements, Angus Young praised his brother’s musical talent and revered him for his remarkable contributions to AC/DC’s sound. It turns out that it was Malcolm who forced Angus to step forward and show the value of his exceptional guitar solos to the audience during shows. Apparently, he also helped Angus to be the face of AC/DC.
The Guitar Player interview took place years before Malcolm Young’s retirement in 2014. Sadly, three years after he had to retire from the band due to dementia, the musician passed away from the effects of the disorder. Following his passing, Angus continued to argue that his brother made AC/DC sound so full and did something more unique than he did.
Even after the death of Malcolm Young, AC/DC continued making music as a band. According to Angus, this was what his brother wanted them to do. As Malcolm’s shoes were impossible to fill, there was a challenging task ahead of the band: keeping AC/DC’s sound the way it was with Malcolm Young.
AC/DC’s first record after Malcolm Young’s death was ‘Power Up,’ the band’s seventeenth album released in 2020. ‘Power Up’ was a tribute to Malcolm and was generally well-received by music critics. Angus was now the last member from the original line-up, and the band’s legacy must be kept alive. In the end, comparisons were inevitable.
The band had no intention of doing something new since the band’s formation— they were always trying to do more of what they had done. In general, ‘Power Up’ was a brilliant album with its apparent simplicity, and it managed to sound like AC/DC. On the other hand, the big responsibility on Angus’ shoulders was apparent, and some argued the album was overproduced to fill the blanks.
In addition, Rolling Stone praised AC/DC for keeping up with their consistency and never slowing their pace, while arguing ‘Power Up’ was Angus’ way of paying tribute to Malcolm the same way ‘Back To Black’ was a eulogy to Bon Scott. NME also pointed out that Malcolm’s spirit looms large on the album, and Angus made it possible by using his brother’s guitar ideas in ‘Power Up.’
So, Malcolm Young’s absence was evident in AC/DC’s ‘Power Up,’ but it seems Angus Young and the remaining band members tried their best to preserve the band’s sound and pay respect to Malcolm’s loss by doing what they do best: focusing on improving what they already had.