Refused has lost their edge. Sure the guitars are well-played and the production is tight, but it doesn’t matter. Ironically the flame is gone from the Swedish post-hardcore band’s new EP The Malignant Fire. That is not say that music is lethargic or slow, instead it manages to be boring and unoriginal in its energetic display of five short songs.
The vocals veer towards the corny and the lyrics don’t help anything. The “wolves at the door” lines in the first track “Malfire” are as cringe-worthy as they are cliché. Refused are post-hardcore legends known for adding other genres to their politically-charged punk rock but these days, with a barrage of intense underground music on the internet, they are starting to sound like the legion of pop punk Warped Tour bands that feign extremity.
The Malignant Fire comes after their second album, titled War Music, since reuniting and they just may want to think about disbanding again. Artistic integrity seems to have gone out the window, or the band just doesn’t have it anymore.
For a short record that is loud, groovy, relatively technical, and crisp, there is a polish that doesn’t lend itself well to the formerly raw and passionate post-hardcore boundary-pushers. An emphasis is still put on utilizing various time signatures but the novelty has worn off. They aren’t breaking ground any longer. Refused sounds like every other accessibly commercial punk outfit at this point. For a band with a track that coined the name of this very music review site with their track New Noise, there is little noise and little new about this release. The irony is simply not ignorable.
One thing that could be said about The Malignant Fire is that it is high-energy. But good drumming and energetic guitar playing don’t equate to emotion, with perhaps the exception of the screamed vocals in Organic Organic Organic (Go Fuck Yourself) there isn’t much to emote the listener. The emotional experience of the EP is shallow, and the political outrage isn’t unique, necessarily earnest, or particularly exciting. In the aftermath of Trump’s America, political messaging in music needs to be more cogent and informed with relevance of the current paradigm. The lyrics on this record could be taken from 1998.
Furthermore the release is quick, which isn’t always a bad thing. In this case, it is a thankful respite from the accessible trash Refused is making these days. Since the band broke up before they broke into the public consciousness and grew unexpectedly for years, it seems that they are on a path like many others in this situation. It recalls the reunion of LCD Soundsystem.
Both were once great bands that should have left their projects where they left off. For bands that are seeping with Fugazi influence, Refused especially should have taken a page from the self-sabotaging post-hardcore legends’ book. The allure of success and the ability to make new music at their will is glaring, and you have to wonder how much money is influencing Refused to continue making lackluster records. It then turns its head on the anti-capitalist political messaging. Art should be made despite financial circumstances, not because of them, and with The Malignant Fire we may be hearing the latter.