Overall Score: 8/10 Creativity: 8/10 Consistency: 7/10 Funk: 9/10 Pros: Same energy, new influences and new approaches to songwriting provide a fresh sound Cons: Sound is a little too different to The Shape of Punk to Come for the purists
August 13, 2012. It was my second night in a row at the London Forum to witness a defining moment in my time as a punk fan, something I thought I’d never see before that point, or ever again afterwards. Refused were back, although they were adamant this was a onetime thing. The band, which had been dead for about 14 years beforehand, played with all the energy and enthusiasm of their heyday and then some. Then after that, there were a few more shows and then they were gone again, and we thought that was that.
But, then rumours of a new album began to surface in late 2014 after the sacking of Jon Brännström and a hastily deleted tweet from Autrey Fulbright II were followed by new show announcements, before eventually in April, we heard the news we were both anticipating and dreading: Refused were recording a new album. With high profile producers Nick Launay and Shellback (who has a lesser-known history in melodeath band Blinded Colony), many were worried about the new direction the band were heading in, and now in July, we find out.
From the first few riffs of opener “Elektra” it’s clear that Refused still have their politicised anger in full, but now they’re taking a slightly more restrained and progressive approach to how they deliver their message. Dennis Lyxzén bellows about how “nothing has changed” but employs a more rhythmic, almost half-sung scream this time, in contrast to the throat-shredding shrieks of old. In reality, although the world may be as messed up as ever in the eyes of Refused, the band has grown up and changed considerably. More progressive and experimental influences have seeped into the band’s songwriting and there is a very clear funk sound in many of the songs (including the catchy foot-stomper “Servants of Death”) through to the more metallic sounding “Dawkins Christ” which harks back to the sound they displayed on Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent back in the mid-90s. Although not as eclectic or aggressive as The Shape of Punk to Come, there are significant differences in each song on the album and always something to keep the listener’s attention, with the dynamics of the album changing at every turn. The band makes use of Dennis’s clean vocals (something he perfected post-Refused with bands such as The (International) Noise Conspiracy and INVSN) as well as backing female vocals and, perhaps most controversially, a children’s choir on Françafrique, to stir things up more. For the most part these extra touches work in Refused’s favour and really help the band to create something that contains their trademarks while at the same time exploring completely new territory and delivering something fresh.
The main problems are, that the band was always going to struggle to keep the fans happy. Change was almost always going to be met with disdain while keeping to the same formula would also bring criticism, with the two tracks Shellback co-wrote, “Elektra” and “366”, drawing particular ire for allegedly sounding like “copy and paste” from the classic album. The children’s choir on Françafrique was another very bold call, given the bad reputation such a move has among rock and metal fans (for example, see the reactions to the Machine Head song “Who We Are”) and the more restrained aggression in favour of funk rhythms will bring about claims of the band “selling out” and going for a more commercial sound to make money, if the cardinal punk sin of daring to reunite and record a new album wasn’t enough. But what the fans have to remember is that this isn’t the same group of angry young punks that graced the 90s to the disdain of the old-school punks and great posthumous acclaim from the new post-hardcore generation. The boys are now men, they have jobs to live with. Dennis plays part time football in the Swedish fifth division. It was always going to happen that they would get older and less aggressive, but it doesn’t mean that the anger has gone. They’ve just found a new voice, a “new noise” if you will. And that voice has still got plenty to say, with many more people willing to listen.
Freedom is out now via Epitaph Records.