It’s all here, ready to be ticked off: the AC/DC checklist, including Brian Johnson’s mighty screech, the hurricane notes flying from the lead guitar of 65-year-old school uniform-wearer Angus Young, and lyrics that cover the vocabulary of heavy rock in its entirety, from fire and explosions to wild women and booze. It what must qualify as a major innovation, this is the first time since 1985 that one of their albums doesn’t feature a song with the word “rock” in the title.
It feels strange to claim that you can rely on AC/DC after a spell of unprecedented turmoil for the long-running band, who formed in Sydney in 1973 and went on to see their Back in Black album become the world’s biggest seller after Thriller. The existence of this seventeenth album seemed highly unlikely as recently as 2016.
That year, drummer Phil Rudd was in the middle of eight months of home detention after pleading guilty to drugs charges and “threatening to kill”. AC/DC were finishing their Rock or Bust world tour with Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses on vocals, as Johnson had become too deaf to perform. Then bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement after 40 years in the band. Young’s older brother Malcolm had already been forced to quit due to dementia and died in 2017, less than a month after a third brother, early AC/DC producer George.
But the band have survived impossible odds before, notably by recording Back in Black just after the death of original singer Bon Scott. Rudd, Williams and Johnson are all now back at work, the latter thanks to a miracle experimental hearing aid, and Young has got them to finish up a collection of ideas gathered around the recording of the 2008 album Black Ice – which means the late Malcolm gets co-writing credit on every song.
The band show their age a little on Through the Mists of Time, which looks backwards at youthful memories, though what passes for a slow one is still overpoweringly loud. Otherwise nothing has changed. Shot in the Dark, the single, boasts the greatest riff among many, Demon Fire is as wild and ridiculous as its title suggests, and the bullish intro of No Man’s Land is one of many moments that will make the listener long for the opportunity to see these resurrected rockers play live one more time. Don’t bet against it.