A brief, paraphrased history of Swedish hardcore act, Refused: 1991: Refused is born. 1998: The release of seminal The Shape of Punk to Come, followed in the same year by a scornful breakup and press release titled “Refused Are Fucking Dead.” 2012/13: “Alright, we’ll play some reunion shows because ‘New Noise’ was just too damn good to keep from you good people hearing it live. But then that’s it … we’re done.” 2015: “Nevermind, Refused are fucking alive! We’re going to tour with Faith No More, AND we’re releasing new material.”
The Swedes have always had a flair for the dramatic. It’s largely why they’ve been so adorned. Lead man Dennis Lyxzén built a reputation on screaming anti-capitalist rhetoric with the might of a kid in a schoolyard fight … against the whole school. It was an underdog creed with creative explosions that demanded attention and accolades … that came later.
Freedom opens with “Elektra,” a familiar blitz of buzzing guitars and nihilism. The soft cymbals and two heavy, lone chords strike the first seconds with an impact akin to Ozzy’s “War Pigs.” Quickly this rhythm is built upon with rumbling bass and accelerating snares that rise to a 15 second climax before the vocals segue. The firey chorus “Nothing has changed” speaks to the atrocities of wars, and rings ironic as the track feels reminiscent to “New Noise” from The Shape of Punk to Come. As “Old Friends/New War” opens, however, with deep breathing, manipulated vocals, and acoustic chops—there is a new sound developing. Incorporating muffled electronic segements that sounds like they’re recorded in a tiny box, the track explores layers of polished production with lo-fi and unexpected instruments and lazer sounds.
This album is intended to be something that fans won’t expect, “We could have played it safe and made songs based on hardcore tradition, but none of us were interested in doing that,” said Lyxzén in their press release. Shape of Punk has held great influence and is rabidly respected today, but in 98 it was ahead of their time with jazz breakdowns and electronic buildups. On Freedom, they’re challenging listeners as they blaze a new trail that gets into heavy funk on tracks like “War On Palaces.” “Francafrique” uses a chorus backup and anthematic horns that feel a bit misplaced while “Destroy The Man” stirs tension with tip-toeing bass lines and a eerie set of female voices cooing “Oooo, ooo” as Lyxzén screams “We used to crawl but that’s hardly changed, raped our sisters, had our way with them, ruled that we should rule, called ourselves men.” It’s a chilling track.
While I appreciate a band yearning to continue exploring new things, Freedom comes off a bit heavy-handed … but perhaps it’s a few years ahead of me. (Scott Murry)