Like most bands, Refused started out humble, just being punk kids in Umeå, Sweden with nothing better to do than start a band. However, unlike most bands, Refused went on to completely reinvent their genre and set a new template for what it was to be a hardcore band.
In 2012 they reunited after a long hiatus, finally giving their masterpiece 'Shape Of Punk To Come' the tour it deserved, proving that despite 14 years away from the stage, they could still destroy it with more energy than bands half their age. Now, 17 years after their last record, they've brought out 'Freedom'. Let's see how they do offstage after so long.
We get off to a most promising start with 'Elektra' which opens 'Freedom' with a bang, nay, a stampede of explosive riffs and pummelling rhythms that Rage Against The Machine would be proud to lay claim to. Meanwhile, Refused immediately show that they haven't lost their political consciousness with frontman Dennis Lyxzén repeatedly screaming 'nothing has changed'. And there's such a feeling of confidence to this track; Refused are one of the best bands in the game at kicking up a musical storm, and there's even an element of sophistication in just how sure of themselves they are.
'Old Friends/New War' is initially eyebrow raising with warped opening vocals travelling into commanding drums. It makes an impact, but in a less obvious way than Refused's usual crushing explosions. You can tell that the rest of the album is going to continue a hardcore-tinged rock 'n' roll vibe. 11 years of Lyxzén's post-Refused, rock 'n' roll revivalist band The (International) Noise Conspiracy appears to have bled into this album's sound.
Refused throw a cog in the works with the guitar licks of 'Françafrique' featuring a children's chorus of 'Exterminate the brutes, exterminate all the brutes' sonically juxtaposed with Lyxzén screams of 'kill kill kill', while 'Thought Is Blood' drifts from a pumping dance beat to sombre vocals and then to a suckerpunch of a meaty riff. However, despite the unpredictability, by sixth track 'War On The Palaces' the album starts to run the risk of being a one-trick pony of rock 'n' roll hardcore; the formula sounding particularly tired on 'Servants Of Death'. That being said, different grooves set each track apart, but it doesn't reach the innovative status of 'Shape Of Punk To Come' - even when '366' harks back to that classic sound.
Thankfully, things pick up again for final track 'Useless Europeans'. It's the first to significantly move apart from the album's formula, but it still flows well and makes for a conclusive finish. A morose number with minimal instrumentation and ghostly backing vocals, while Lyxzén's vocals go limp with 'seen all there is to see. been all there is to be' and 'outside your pretty walls, there's an ugly world, there's no skin left for new scars'. It's a contender for being the strongest song on the album and one of the best miserable songs you'll hear all year.
Overall, Refused have once again accomplished greatness. Sonically, it may be worlds apart from their 90s hey-day, but Refused were never about rehashing old ground and the same ethos, spirt and passion is there. Also, while 'Freedom' might not have a flourishing bag of endless tricks up its sleeve like 'The Shape Of Punk To Come' did, it still makes for powerful listening and one of the strongest records of the year thus far.
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