For Fans Of
As someone who loves Refused, and as someone who had their musical perceptions permanently altered after hearing ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come‘ as a teenager, the most frustrating thing about Refused’s fanbase is that many can never let the Swedish punk rock band simply be. As any and all new releases following their seminal 1998 LP are always placed alongside ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come,’ no matter how solid their newer records are. In some ways, I do feel a little bad for Dennis Lyxzén and co., as two decades ago they wrote a record too good for their scene, for their genre, and even for their own band; so much so that they’ll never top it and will, sadly, always have people going “Yeah, this newer album is fine, but it’s no Shape Of Punk To Come.” Yet that’s the thing: Refused’s post-reunion material isn’t trying to be exactly like their classic third full-length, they’re all their own thing.
Even 2015’s ‘Freedom‘ was a damn fine comeback record, a potentially lonely hill that I will always martyr myself upon. Whilst harboring various call-backs to their younger selves – standout ‘Dawkins Christ‘ has a mighty intro build-up that’s remiss of ‘New Noise‘ expect far more ominous in tone, and opener ‘Elektra‘ was the rollicking, angular Refused of old, just re-packaged for the modern era – it was a great album in of itself. One that sadly too many people were far too quick to judge. Because it wasn’t quite the record that had originally defined the legacy of Refused, that somehow automatically made it weaker and lesser in the eyes of many, with people being all too quick to label it as an unnecessary sequel. This is the shadow that the band will always be caught under, and I for one think that that’s complete bullshit. Let’s let Refused be themselves and let them pump-out burning punk rock tunes that are raging with politicals ideas of revolution. Because that’s what they do best; any other sentiment is often just an unfair comparison.
So on their latest revolution-per-minute, ‘War Music,’ Refused keep things simple and direct, dropping down ten blazing rock ‘n’ roll tracks, whose fiery hair-raising riffs and blood-curdling screams keep the flames of resistance alight and a blood-lust for eating the rich 1% absolutely ravenous. As I said, ‘War Music‘ is being its own thing, and it should be treated as such. The band have earned that much from us.
This LP is very much the Refused you’d expect in themes and intent, and it’s not as “experimental” as past records. Powerhouse drummer David Sandström is sticking clear of his jazzier moments and also don’t expect to hear as many synths or samples as beforehand. Outside of the lo-fi female vocals on ‘REV001,’ the darker instrumental moods of ‘Damaged III,’ and the ’80s pop-hooks that guide ‘I Wanna Watch The World Burn‘ forward, this is a clear-cut rock record with far-left, anarchistic political beliefs spearheading the molten-hot charge. Excluding some modulated guitars or the occasional EQ swells, there’s very little other over-production found on this album too. Instead, ‘War Music‘ takes on a more lively feel at times; almost sounding like you’re watching a well-oiled live rock band kick-ass and take names on-stage. (A realm where Refused excel brilliantly, might I add.)
Opener ‘REV001‘ busts out the guillotines and speaks truth to power, encouraging us all to hold accountability to those guilty for the state of our world, armed to the teeth with Kristofer Steen’s off-kilter riffs that cover every nook and cranny of this LP. It reminds me of sentiments expressed on the newest Fit For An Autopsy record; that very few of us would honestly not care if the billionaires of today – your Jeff Bezos’s – just died out. Lead single ‘Blood Red‘ – definitely one of the weaker songs of the album, though still fun and competently written – is the core Refused mission-statement strapped down into a 3:39 tune about not folding on your beliefs, standing up for what’s right, and to never relent against the bastards atop the social pile.
‘Violent Reaction‘ starts out with a radio channel tuning a la the old transition between ‘Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull‘ and ‘Liberation Frequency‘ (shit, even I can’t get away from the comparisons) before a match-striking metal riff swoops in; giving way to a driving, hell-for-leather ’80s metal attack that’s always propelling itself forward. It’s a volatile, heavy metal memento to raise everything to the fucking ground. And one that really sounds like Refused are taking cues from the metal bands they grew up on, but in a natural way that paves over everything in its speeding path. Something that this new LP nails throughout its 30+ minute run-time.
The circular, restrained opening riff ‘Malfire‘ gives way for a chugging march that allows the song’s steady 4/4 groove to settle in hard under Dennis‘ softly foreboding vocals about how the wolves are right outside our doors. ‘Malfire‘ is also a great example of the figurative and literal public unrest Refused aimed to musically capture here. It’s that bubbling-to-the-surface rage this new record exemplifies: a protest slowly brewing until shit hits the fan and a tangled, chaotic hell breaks loose on the very next song, ‘Turn The Cross.’ ‘Turn The Cross‘ is the closest things get to capturing that youthful hardcore-punk sound of Refused’s earlier material, keeping the importance of counter-culture art alive with the songs closing message: “if you hear this, you’re a weapon.” Elsewhere, ‘Death In Vännäs‘ kicks off with a distorted string part that mimics Rage Against The Machine’s approach to riffs, before sweeping across a far more melodic, singing-focused figure that jumps around with the album’s catchiest, best vocal refrain.
The strongest cut arrives in the form of the jagged, groovy, war-ready penultimate number, ‘The Infamous Left‘ – one of my favourite Refused songs to date. It’s a battle-cry for seat-sitting leftists to take in-the-street action and not sit back with snarky replies and hopes that opponents will concede or listen; to remember the paths taken of those that came before. Some may think that’s cringe, but I find such a song endearing. As this is Refused not backing down nor shying away from their politics and what they believe in. Music and art are better, all the more interesting, when artists speak from the heart about their truths and beliefs – even if we may disagree with their positions – and that’s precisely what ‘The Infamous Left‘ is and I support that hard. Then there’s the all-encompassing societal-critique of closer ‘Economy of Death,’ easily the most “metal” song off the entire album, evoking the bands deeper thrash metal shades for the first half, before a brief bridge section of de-tuned, chorus-tinged guitars slide under Dennis‘ eerie croons of “it’s all a mushroom cloud away.”
Speaking of, Dennis‘ voice has aged so well too, with both his singing and screaming sounding as passionate as ever. For instance, when he screams “I have violence coursing through my veins” near the end of ‘Damaged III,’ you really feel that shit; you believe it! And that’s the most important thing with politically-heavy albums such as ‘War Music.’ As these words, these ideas, and these songs, never once felt forced to me. While you could probably argue that the lyrical targets resting in Refused’s iron-sights haven’t changed over the years – capitalism, injustices, etc. – our world is still a shit-show just as much as it was back in ’98. Yet just like how the BS that cripples our world still persists today, so too do Refused. And they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
‘War Music’ isn’t some perfect, new classic for Refused as per ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come,’ yet it was never once pretending to be. It’s simply just Refused sticking straight to their core beliefs and furthering their explosive punk rock songwriting with as much raging fire as ever before. ‘War Music’ is, at its most basic form, just a solid, politically-charged rock album with some metal undertones and off-kilter riffs coming out the wazoo. And you know what? That’s all it needed to be in order to be good. So stop comparing it to you-know-what, throw it on, headbang along, and get pissed at the state of the world today. I implore you to give ‘War Music’ a real chance because it sure as shit has its well-earned moments.
- Violent Reaction
- I Wanna Watch The World Burn
- Blood Red
- Turn the Cross
- Damaged II
- Death in Vännäs
- The Infamous Left
- Economy of Death
‘War Music’ is out now: