Not long after the release of their hugely influential third album The Shape of Punk to Come in 1998 Refused split. As legend has it they asked the music press to burn all photos of the band, as Refused were fuckin’ dead and you should not glorify the dead. In 2012 the seemingly impossible happen. Refused reformed. They played festivals, did TV shows and generally got the attention they lacked first time around. Then they split again, only to reunite minus a guitarist in November last year. Now they are attempting the impossible – following up the greatest punk album since London Calling seventeen years later.
The Clash comparison is apt as both bands are known and applauded for their fusion of different genres to their punk rock. With …Punk to Come the fusions were explicit: there was a jazz song, a dance song, one with folk music preface, Freedom‘s style is more subtle. Building on the sound they have previously developed – simplistic catchy, crunchy guitar riffs, start-stop loud-quiet dynamics and Dennis Lyxzén’s trademark screamed vocal – but the band add other components liberally and in an interchangeable manner: a hip-hop breakbeat (‘Françafrique’), an electro bass riff (‘Thought is Blood’), ghostly Motown-inspired “ooo”s (‘Destroy The Man’). The effect to keep the listener interested and more willing to listen to the band’s message – an evolution on “how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice” lyric from ‘New Noise’.
First single ‘Elektra’ is a fitting opening salvo, its twisted math-like riffery building to the incendiary pre-chorus mantra of “Nothing has changed”. Lyxzén spins a tale of failed revolution, a metaphor for their initial run, but a further continuation of their Marxist myth-making – when he shrieks “the time has come” it is clear this is their reformed rallying cry. Whereas previously the focus of their ire had been Capitalism Freedom instead rages mostly at religion: ‘Dawkins Christ’, another previously released track, combines a slow-burning gospel vocal overture with some seriously meaty mid-section riff-age, the title a provocative portmanteau of evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins and person of note Jesus Christ. Highlight ‘Thought is Blood’ continues this train of thought following a spacey synth-led middle eight with the explosive coda of “When we need a God/Without a God”.
As much as Refused of 1998 would much rather be dead, fuckin’ dead and forgotten, the Refused of 2015 are very much alive, and happy to look back at their past. Lyxzén’s mellowly sung “I’m just going to scream now” on ‘Old Friends/New War’ is no doubt a sly wink at ‘New Noise”s beginning line while the opening to towering closer ‘Useless Europeans’ is highly reminiscent of Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent track ‘Rather Be Dead’ with acoustic guitars replacing the revving distorted ones. In their absence they have aged and learnt that brute force is not always the best strategy. As such apart from ‘Elektra’ there are no full-tilt pedal down punk tracks on the album. There is aggression, heaviness and heightened tempos but they are used sparingly for greater effect. You cannot just scream at a wall hoping it is going to fall. Freedom is not The Shape of Punk to Come (it would be unrealistic to expect that) but it does comprise of ten incredibly solid fresh new Refused tracks in a trim 45 minutes. It could be worse, it could be the overreaching muddled Sandinista! Hopefully we will not have to wait seventeen years for Refused’s next album.