Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Refused


Refused are not-so fucking dead. In fact, they just released their first album since they revolutionized the shape of punk to come 17 years ago. But we'll get to that later. Refused began way back in 1991 in Umeå, Sweden by a group of young gents that had a bone to pick with capitalism. And they certainly didn't keep quiet about it. The early years of Refused can be marked by a revolving door of members that all sought out one thing: unabridged, angry hardcore in the vein of Born Against. This is what you get on their debut album, This Just Might Be... The Truth. Their energy, political agenda and heavy guitars are all present here, though it's only a inkling of what they would later become. Their early stuff is straight-up punk at its core, nothing more. Is this a bad thing? Not in the slightest.


In 1996, Refused finally became Refused. Their second album, Songs To Fan The Flame Of Discontent featured their classic line-up, which just clicks. The production is tighter, the band is tighter, and what you hear is a band that hit its stride. The songs are way more rhythmic, they get a little experimental, and vocalist Dennis Lyxzén began developing his style of screaming that would soon become his main way of singing. The guitars chug out rhythms off of each other, the drums roll like thunder in the back, and the bass is thick. Their songs are much more distinct here, the lyrics a little more well-thought through, and their energy and anger honed. This is kind of like their transitional record, where they enter it a bunch of young hardcore/punk kids, and leave it experienced musicians developing what would become more and more known as "post-hardcore".


Naming an album The Shape Of Punk To Come could have been of the most presumptive and pretentious things a band has ever done. The only problem is, it fucking lived up to its name. Their third album is easily one of the most influential and defining albums both in post-hardcore and punk overall. It is an obvious predecessor to the bands that would carry their torch on throughout the 2000's, such as Thursday, Alexisonfire, and Rise Against (which are by no means unknown bands). This is an album with an agenda, and that is a call to arms for "new noise" to take "the airwaves back". Punk needed a referendum, and this was it. There's a few reasons behind this. For one, The Shape Of Punk To Come is incredibly experimental in nature. Refused pushed things beyond limits that no band before was wiling to go. It's an album full of things that shouldn't work, but somehow do. There's jazz interludes, electronic breaks, dance beats, crowd cheers, samples from speeches, samples from their own live shows, a cello here, an upright bass there, a spoken word bit, and suddenly the distorted guitars and screamed vocals are back. It makes absolutely no sense in theory, but perfect sense in delivery. They merge ideas seamlessly, going from one place to another so fast that they could give the listener whiplash if they're following along close enough. 



This album is scattered with references to other works of art, which are certainly interesting to try and pick up on. What do Ornette Coleman, Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Allen Ginsberg's HowlApocalypse Now, and Nation of Ulysses all have in common? They're all referenced on The Shape Of Punk To Come. Regardless of all that, there's a reason this is one of the most celebrated albums in modern punk rock, and it's not because the genre became dominated by literary jazz-punk (which would have been a fine outcome too). Refused perfected their rhythmic attack here, with the guitars and drums being so in sync throughout these hard-hitting, off-kilter patterns they were coming up with. There was no real straight-forward chugging here, the band just keeps pumping out unique rhythm after unique rhythm, which just adds to the insanity of these songs. There's no real safe, comfortable place to land. It's like a Fugazi song at its extreme, it's got its own kind of funk to it. The guitars are incredibly sharp, and cut through with some complex riffs that are still hard to replicate with the same finesse they did (again, kind of a Fugazi thing). 

But what really made them the godfathers of millennia punk were those few moments where you're reminded why you started listening to extreme/aggressive music in the first places. The goddamn adrenaline. You know how they say everybody remembers their first time? Same thing applies here. I think everybody remembers the first time they heard the explosive climax of "CAN I SCREAM?" and have been hooked ever since. And there are so many moments like that on this album, where Refused redefine what it meant to give it everything you got. They simultaneously mastered what every band had been working up to, and created the template for every band to follow. They perfected what everyone had been working on, and paved the way for everyone after to try and beat. There's a hundred different ways to say the same thing. The Shape of Punk To Come is a milestone album, and one that everybody should experience at some point in their lives.



Sadly, all good things come to an end. In the same year Refused released The Shape Of Punk To Come, they opted to burn out rather than fade away. Their final tour was enough to put them over the edge, as tensions were peaking and members were waning. This was later documented in a film called Refused Are Fucking Dead, made by guitarist Kristofer Steen. Their last show has become a thing of legend, since it was shut down by police, but carried on by a chant of "rather be dead" apparently. They also released a statement about their break-up, which I'd suggest reading. It's interesting, to say the least. 


That was 1998. The band's members went their own ways, and that was that. Until 2012, when they reunited to do a bunch of shows and festivals. By the end of that year, it seemed to be the end of a brief but successful reunion. They remained quiet until late 2014, when rumours about a full-fledged reunion were finally confirmed. However, long-time guitarist Jon Brännström  wouldn't be joining them. According to him he was fired, according to the band he quit, who knows. Regardless, this reunited Refused began playing shows again, and a few months back released their first new single since their breakup years back. And now, that single has been followed by a full album titled Freedom, released by Epitaph Records. 


It's seemed to have garnered a pretty wide ranges of opinions, as most anticipated comeback albums do I suppose. It's definitely Refused, and has got some solid riffs and slight touches of experimentation. Despite that, it's much more straight-forward than the album it's technically following. There's a lot more rock influence, and features a lot more conventional structures and melodies. That's where a lot of its criticisms are coming from, for it being so safe and uninspired in comparison to The Shape Of Punk To Come and the reputation Refused have garnered over the years they've been absent. Personally, I like it and am glad they didn't try to recreate their past music, because that probably would have ended up being a lot worse. Albums like that can't be done again, they come out in a time and place, and those are things that are impossible to recreate. So instead, we get a decent rock album in 2015 under the moniker of Refused. Maybe that's a stain on the legacy of a band so obsessed with their own death to come back and claim "nothing has changed", maybe it's a preservation and continuation of it. Whatever, nevermind. Here's the band's full discography, all their studio albums and other releases in between. Refused Party Program lives on. 

1. Hate Breeds Hate
2. Break
3. Where's The Equality?
4. Soft
5. I Wish

1. Pump The Brakes
2. Perception
3. Strength
4. Who Died

1. Burn It
2. Symbols
3. Sunflower Princess
4. I Am Not Me
5. Everlasting
6. The Real
7. Pretty Face

1. Intro
2. Pump The Brakes
3. Trickbag
4. 5th Freedom
5. Untitled
6. Strength
7. Our Silence
8. Dust
9. Inclination
10. Mark
11. Tide
12. Bottom

1. Rather Be Dead
2. Jag Ater Inte Mina Vänner
3. Circle Pit
4. Lick It Clean
5. Voodoo People

1. Rather Be Dead
2. Coup D'etat
3. Hook Line And Sinker
4. Return To The Closet
5. Life Support Addiction
6. It's Not O.K
7. Crusader Of Hopelessness
8. Worthless Is The Freedom Bought...
9. This Trust Will Kill Again
10. Beauty
11. Last Minute Pointer
12. The Slayer

1. Circle Pit
2. Lick It Clean
3. Jag Ater Inte Mina Vanner
4. Voodoo People (The Prodigy cover)
5. Bullet (Misfits cover)
6. Cheap
7. Burn It
8. Symbols
9. Sunflower Princess
10. I Am Not Me
11. Everlasting
12. The Real
13. Pretty Face
14. Half Mast (Born Against cover)
15. Perception
16. Who Died
17. The New Deal
18. Guilty
19. Hate Breeds Hate
20. Break
21. Where's Equality
22. Soft

1. Re-fused
2. Another One
3. Enough Is Enough
4. Fusible Front
5. Reach Out
6. Fudge
7. Blind
8. Back In Black (AC/DC cover)
9. The New Deal
10. I Wish
11. Where's Equality
12. Who Died?
13. Burn
14. Racial Liberation
15. Hate Breeds Hate
16. I'll Choose My Side
17. The Marlboro Man Is Dead
18. Defeated
19. Live Wire (Motley Crue)
20. Gratitude (Beastie Boys cover)
21. Bonus Track

1. Worms of the Sense / Faculties of the Skull
2. Liberation Frequency
3. The Deadly Rhythm
4. Summerholiday Vs. Punkroutine
5. Bruitist Pome #5
6. New Noise
7. The Refused Party Program
8. Protest Song '68
9. Refused Are Fuckin' Dead
10. The Shape of Punk to Come
11. Tannhäuser / Derivè
12. The Apollo Programme Was A Hoax

1. New Noise
2. Blind Date
3. Poetry Written In Gasoline
4. Refused Are Fucking Dead (Bomba Je Remix, Long Version)

1. Elektra
2. Old Friends / New War
3. Dawkins Christ
4. Françafrique
5. Thought Is Blood
6. War On The Palaces
7. Destroy The Man
8. 366
9. Servants Of Death
10. Useless Europeans

7 comments:

  1. I have more songs with them if you want? Where can i send them?

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  2. Fantastic post - Great explainations and thinking.I'm looking forward to what you have for us next..!
    Dealnity

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  3. thanks for the links and the infos!

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  4. Thanks. Regards from Brazil.

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  5. This is such a great post. This has nothing to do with the links. I have all the albums. It's just a great read. I hope it doesn't break any rules if I post a link to the statement about their breakup-"Refused are F**king Dead"- but people really ought to read it (Here's a Teaser:
    "When every expression, no matter how radical it is, can be transformed into a commodity and be bought or sold like cheap soda, how is it then possible that you are going to be able to take "art" seriously? When every political idea has to become safe and categorized just so that it can be defined by disgusting "journalists" who¥s only aim is the selling of issues and the cashing in of paychecks, how can we then show the seriousness of the situation? When the single purpose of every song written is to accumulate capital for the record companies that will only kill every attempt at spontaneity and creativity, how are we then expected to create? When every show played just becomes another brick in the wall between people, between "fans" and "stars", when we instead of getting communication and interaction are being forced to become nothing but consumers and producers."
    http://www.refusedfan.com/manifest2.html

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  6. Nice post, and thank you for the links.

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