It must be strange to go into the studio to make an album knowing that, no matter what happens, the results will never be good enough for a large percentage of listeners. This is the predicament facing Refused who, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, are no longer fuckin’ dead but back with a brand new follow-up to 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, which remains possibly the most influential hardcore punk record of all time. The whole philosophy of The Shape of Punk to Come was spelled out in its most famous song.
Noted punk band breaks up in the wake of its best album, and after repeatedly insisting they'll never reunite, the bandmembers get back together to play a few high-profile shows. After calling it a day following said tour, they decide to make a new album as they learn there's good money to be made playing the festival circuit. Sound familiar? More than a few bands have followed this template, and there's no arguing Refused are one of them, but the smart Swedish punks clearly aren't going through the motions on 2015's Freedom, their first album since 1997's The Shape of Punk to Come as well as their first salvo since returning to action with a 2012 tour.
Refused represented the perfect legacy. The epitome of dying young to save fading away, they were the punk band that never really got the chance to be. Brimming with confidence and deft delivery, even back before the turn of the century, they released what some would go on to call their masterpiece in 1998, but quickly it all disintegrated. Since then, things have changed, but not really.
Seventeen years ago, legendary Swedish hardcore act Refused released their aptly titled album, The Shape of Punk to Come, which would go on to alter the course of heavy music and inspire a number of new bands and subgenres in the years following its release. Their first post-reunion work, Freedom, proves that even after nearly two decades apart, their remarkable energy, songwriting ability and bold political statements have not faded. With Freedom, Refused pay greater attention to melody, employing sticky guitar hooks and clean vocals mixed in with Dennis Lyxzén's signature screams to create a captivating, chaotic medley of sound.
How many lives has punk rock really saved? How many revolutions has it sparked? For those of us who came of age in cramped suburban basements, who worshiped at altars of half-stack amplifiers and were baptized in the sweat and spittle of the Saturday night house show, the answer is probably “fewer than we’d like to admit. ” Eventually, all that sound and fury makes way for the wobbly complexities of adulthood, a time when it becomes much easier to pick out the various pitches of tinnitus and admit that nobody is going to save your life but you. This is not a slight against a scene that continues to shift and grow five decades after its inception.
Refused's 1998 album The Shape of Punk to Come was like Kid A for hardcore kids: It rewrote the rule book with its audacious mix of aggro rock, electronica, free jazz and hip-hop. The Swedish band broke up shortly after the record's release, but 17 years and a Coachella-sparked reunion later, Refused have made an even more adventurous follow-up. Daft Punk-y electro-funk ("Servants of Death"), big-band horns ("War on the Palaces") and cheerleader chant-alongs ("Françafrique") bump up against Black Flag-waving ragers — including two improbably helmed by Taylor Swift producer Shellback, who lets Refused run wild.
So, Refused are f—king alive. But nearly two decades after their implosion-cum-self-righteous suicide, who would’ve thought that their vision of punk’s future would sorta sound like arena rock’s recent past? Over the past few years, the Swedish quartet have given their defining work, The Shape of Punk to Come, the much-deserved (but philosophically uncharacteristic) victory lap that their 1998 breakup prevented the first time around. But nostalgia never really jived with the spirit of those boundary-pushing punk experiments or their constant politicking, so the avant-rock seers proclaimed that their reconciliation was “not a reunion anymore” and set loose Freedom which, if nothing else, sounds more like early-aughts FM rock than anything from the existing Refused canon.
Review Summary: Refused aren't dead, and neither is their ethos.Time can be just as much of a curse as a blessing if you’re a seminal artist. On one hand, you’ve got the comfort of seeing your genius lauded more and more with each passing season; your music slowly turning into more than just music. On the other, there’s the very real fear that any new material will be unfairly measured against the same lofty yardstick which saw you attain seminal status in the first place.
“Nothing has changed,” cries Refused vocalist Dennis Lyxzén on the first track of the band’s long-awaited comeback record Freedom. It’s a strangely meek statement for a band that hasn’t released an album for over a decade and a half, not to mention one whose 1999 opus was boldly titled The Shape of Punk to Come, a record that perfected the audacious combination of metal, jazz and punk rock. Hailing from Sweden, Refused existed outside the American hardcore movement of the 1980s and 1990s and, based on their music, only had a tangential relationship with early UK punk and European post-punk, so, coming from musicians outside the traditional punk framework, everything about The Shape of Punk to Come seemed like an imaginative, brazen reworking of the infrastructure that was already in place.
When Refused's immortal genre-busting barn-burner The Shape of Punk to Come was released in 1998, it felt like an alien craft crash-landing on Earth. The Swedish quartet's opus was profoundly ahead of its time, arriving in the midst of sun-soaked ska (Less Than Jake, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) and bratty, fratty buzz-bin bands like Eve 6. The album's lean towards the skronky, sulky, and socialistic put it at odds with the vibe of the time: it was too serious, too forlorn, too pretentious.
“Nothing has changed,” goes the refrain of Refused's first single in 17 years, “Elektra.” A bold statement, considering the world saw no shortage of crisis, catastrophe, technological change, and social upheaval in the intervening years. That's the point, of course. As intransigent cranks like vocalist Dennis Lyxzén see it, even the more considerable gains made in the name of progress have done little to chip away at the edifice of capitalist normativity.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Refused were essential. They were razor sharp and brutally honest. In their own words, they had a "bone to pick with capitalism and a few to break" - how's about that for a fucking mission statement? They were ringleaders of the liberal socialist cause and proudly so.
Call me romantic, but I quite like the idea of bands going out on a high. Talk Talk landing a devastating one-two punch with Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock before Mark Hollis vanished into thin air springs to mind, as does the sight of James Murphy howling his way through “New York, I Love You…” one last time in front of tens of thousands at Madison Square Garden. Fugazi clocked off with The Argument, which is comfortably up there with their best material, whilst the Pixies’ catalogue was near-untouchable pre-Indie Cindy.
Refused were a Swedish post-hardcore punk group who split up in 1998 after failing to overthrow capitalism. Eventually, they succumbed to temptation and embraced the whole lucrative reformation package. They played a few reunion concerts and lost a key band member in the process. Now they're tasked with producing a sequel to their boundary-pushing cult-classic masterpiece, The Shape of Punk to Come, and anything short of awesome (in the original sense of the word) is destined to disappoint.
Miguel's latest album, "Wildheart." On his third album, "Wildheart" (ByStorm/RCA), Miguel Pimentel turns to Los Angeles as his muse. It's a place where everything seems possible and also a destination where dreams go to die. Miguel's narrators negotiate the space between, in the same way that he's striving to carve out a career in R&B that feeds commercial radio's need for hits and easily digested songs, and his own inclinations toward a deeper synthesis of his influences that is focused on big concepts and cohesive albums.
Sweden’s Refused is rightly held in high regard for 1998’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, an undisputed classic that served as a rallying cry for bands longing to incorporate sounds from outside the walls of aggressive music. But it’s just as easy to forget that, prior to that album’s release, Refused was only ever a middle-of-the-road hardcore band. Releasing its best album, then almost immediately disbanding allowed Refused’s legacy to grow, even if that new shape of punk never actually came.
Twenty-four years after forming, 17 years following prophetic classic The Shape of Punk to Come and a sudden cessation, and three years into a reunion that included a 2012 tour stop at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Refused now adds Freedom to its Lazarus routine. On the Swedes' fourth full-length, Dennis Lyxzén reignites his fire-starter act, the frontman's trebled roar ringing theological crusher "Dawkins Christ" and human-race-baiting "Destroy the Man." Always a melodic mic wielder, the singer sparks peak power with the breathy pre-chorus to "Old Friends/New War." Lyrically, Refused remains a manifesto for anti-control, stomping capitalism, religion, war. Lyxzén's dire urgency even brushes death in seven of the 10 tunes.