Refused: Freedom

On their first studio album in 16 years legendary Swedish hardcore band don’t lose a step in their mission to hybridize punk with anything they can.



Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2015-06-29
UK Release Date: 2015-06-29

“Nothing has changed,” cries Refused vocalist Dennis Lyxzén on the first track of the band’s long-awaited comeback record Freedom. It’s a strangely meek statement for a band that hasn’t released an album for over a decade and a half, not to mention one whose 1999 opus was boldly titled The Shape of Punk to Come, a record that perfected the audacious combination of metal, jazz and punk rock. Hailing from Sweden, Refused existed outside the American hardcore movement of the 1980s and 1990s and, based on their music, only had a tangential relationship with early UK punk and European post-punk, so, coming from musicians outside the traditional punk framework, everything about The Shape of Punk to Come seemed like an imaginative, brazen reworking of the infrastructure that was already in place. Refused infamously dissolved at the height of their game as punk rock revisionists, but their stature as influential radicals in the genre has only grown since then, which explains the resounding success of their surprising resurgence over a decade later.

But that quote from “Elektra”, a song teeming with imagery of warfare, genocide and destruction, refers less to the status of the band after all these years and more to the world around it. Refused’s politicized statements have only become more relevant in the time since 1999, a decade and a half that has seen horrific acts of terrorism, mass violence, political corruption, assaults on privacy, and drone warfare. Refused seemed to have picked the worst possible time to disband.

With Freedom, they have a lot to catch up with and a lot to live up to. Fans still expect a progressive ethos both in the band’s musicality and in their politics. For as wrong as it would be to expect something as seemingly revolutionary as The Shape of Punk to Come 16 years later, reunited bands are always subjected to unfair comparisons to their past successes. For Refused, a band who always made a point of tirelessly pushing forward, this is an ironic consequence.

Contrary to that approach, though, Freedom features a surprising amount of nods to their punk roots. “Elektra” is in many ways traditional Refused -- haggard guitar riffs, spastic drums and violent shifts in structure -- but at its most conventional, filtered through modern rock riffs and vocals that unflatteringly resemble the latest Foo Fighters more than anything else. “Dawkins Christ” is a more classic hardcore-metal mashup, almost like an updated Cro-Mags cut, the kind of thing Refused excelled at before The Shape of Punk to Come projected them away from anything so standard. These songs stay well within the Refused wheelhouse, but don’t exactly inspire any confidence that the band has retained their ability to upset punk music standards the way they used to.

There are tracks on Freedom that do just that, of course, but to mixed success. “Françafrique”, with its melodic guitars, funky beat and obtuse hooks (“Murder murder murder / Kill kill kill,” “Just another word for genocide”), comes embarrassingly close to meatheaded nu-metal groove, but it’s luckily upstaged by the following track, the similar but more musically challenging “Thought Is Blood”. Novel instrumental additions such as the horn section on “War of the Palaces” (and sparsely throughout the album) and the acoustic guitars that guide “Old Friends/New War” work as much needed sonic variation, as well.

Thematically, Refused work on a similar channel. Freedom is as politically vital as the band’s early records, but the 16 years of distance between their studio comeback and their classic 1999 album have bred a bland kind of heavy-handedness to it all. The song titles alone paint the returned Refused as a typically stunted political punk act: “Thought is Blood” is painfully insipid, “Destroy the Man” is hilariously trite, and “Useless Europeans” is baldly provocative. As always, Refused imbue a certain sense of irony into their music, but only so many chants of “murder murder murder” or “destroy the man” are tolerable, though, to be fair, Lyxzén’s blunt approach to politics works well enough beside the muscular, brutish stadium rock tropes that the band adopts throughout the record.

In many ways, Refused do justice to their prominent legacy by upsetting the impenetrable status quo of thrash-and-bang hardcore, but while crossover potential is huge with their more conventional, contemporary sound, Freedom is doomed to connect on a far more limited level than their early triumphs, especially with the genre’s diehards. Some of what they experiment with on the record comes out poorly, a lot of it is good, but, importantly, all of it is still interesting. The Shape of Punk to Come revitalized hardcore with artful genre-clashing, and Freedom is a continuation of that idea, but whereas their early classic melded punk with “highbrow” music like jazz, their latest challenges fans and punk purists by putting it in with dumb, generic rock sounds. But that gets to the heart of the Refused identity as, above all else, a band of provocateurs. In that respect, Lyxzén is correct to posit that nothing has changed: the world is still falling apart, and Refused can still mix it up, for better and for worse.





Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.


Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.


Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.


2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.


Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez


Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.


"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.


The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.


Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.


'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.


2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.