Freedom. That's the defining trait of Refused. Whether it's singing songs of revolution or creating 'The Shape Of Punk To Come' an album which took their meaty hardcore template and incorporated jazz, electronica, folk, rock n roll, classical, everything they could into the mix, making for perhaps the most diverse punk album ever. Refused push the spirit of freedom like few other bands and it's the reason people still care about them today despite the fact that they took 14 years out of the game. However, when they returned in 2012, the shows were the most wild and satisfying celebrations of their legacy and last year they put out a new record aptly titled 'Freedom' which, whilst not another game changer, showed they can still rock some killer riffs and display some interesting ideas. Tonight they play Leeds where they truly make everyone feel free.
Kicking off tonight is local metal outfit False Flags who display some crushing riffs that are spaced out with proggy guitar noodling, in a Mastodon esque way, so the impact is really felt when it comes to the punch.
Next up is Anna Von Hausswolff who is like the lovechild of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fever Ray the way this synth dominant music will drone in thick, slow and majestic waves taking time building up to pay off in cinematic climaxes whilst tribal vocals make this ethereal music even more haunting.
Opening with the bombastic 'Elektra' Refused enter amongst flickering strobes where frontman Dennis Lyxzen is instantly doing high kicks, swinging his microphone, spinning around etc whilst the people at the front are immediately forming mosh pits and yelling back 'Nothing has changed.' You can't help but move to David Sandström's relentless drumming and the chunky and fast riffs that help define Refused's sound. 'The Shape Of Punk To Come' is next where the crowd goes even more chaotic to this dance infused punk n roll number and Lyxzen further displays his skilful dancing as he shakes hips and pops n locks.
Admittedly the new songs don't get quite as much as much as a riotous reaction from fans. They just don't have that classic status and haven't been sitting with them for years, like Refused's 90's material. Also since there was a 17 year gap between 'The Shape Of Punk To Come' and 'Freedom' there is a considerable difference between their old songs and new songs, like they're 25% a different band that's sonically more loose rock n roll than battering hardcore. Because of this new and old songs don't flow together so cohesively, but other than that this show is an exhilarating experience that's nothing short of life affirming.
'Rather Be Dead' features people chanting the liberating lines 'rather be dead, than alive by your oppression' and of course in the bridge 'but I'd rather be alive.' Also in the bridge, Lyxzen comes into the crowd to give people the mic, chant along with them and then go up in a disability lift to then jump off the top of the balcony and then crowdsurf back to the stage. The guy's in his 40's but at heart is still just a punk kid in love with the antics that come with the style of music and is truly one of the most entertaining frontmen you could see today.
Refused songs have lots of liberating lines whether they're superficially political or about living life to the full. They resonate in people and it's why the majority of words Lyxzen screams tonight are yelled right back at him.
As well as partying hard Lyxzen also makes the occasional political speech whether it's about feminism or refugees. Now politics been talked about at shows isn't always welcomed by everyone when they just want to have a good time to good music. However, Lyxzen is so passionate in what he says that it's almost as captivating as the music when he speaks of how in 25 years time he wants to look back and be able to say he did something, that he did try. Even the most apolitical person would be inspired to go to the next protest happening in their city.
But back to the dancing. For the bridge of 'Worms Of The Senses / Faculties Of The Skull' without the band even asking, for whatever reason people just start crouching on the floor only to prance into a frenzy of pogoing and moshing once the closing, storming riff drops. It's magical to see music have this effect on people, to see them do something a little out of the ordinary, even for a punk show, without any command from the band.
'New Noise' is even more special. Refused's most iconic song with a minute of build up where tingling palm muted high notes are contrasted by electronic bubbling, to which people make a huge space on the floor only to become perhaps the most colossal and bloody pit Leeds will see all year, as soon as that storming Rage Against The Machine esque riff kicks in. This song's lines call for music to be more inventive and avoid becoming stale and as Lyxzen is on the barrier getting in people's faces people are practically wrestling to get the mic for every word. In 2016 this song is still shows no signs of becoming dated living up to its message.
With 'Freedom', last year Refused proved that they're still a band with much to offer and something to say and tonight they proved they're also still one of the most incredible bands you can see today.