Review: Refused – Freedom

1020
46
Share:

Swedish hardcore legends Refused lived and died in a glorious blaze across the better part of the 90’s. The music and legend of their apparent swansong, The Shape of Punk To Come, left a lasting impression on both the political leanings and aesthetic preferences of scores of angry young people who came into an appreciation of heavy music in the new millennium. This was a band that abandoned every hardcore trope they could in a bold, borderline Maoist pursuit of the future of rock music. Refused were deeply polarizing in their final years, managing to get more pop-influenced while also becoming less approachable, therefore considered sellouts on multiple, generally mutually contradictory fronts. However, over time Shape has become a part of rock music canon, and Refused are generally remembered as a brilliant band ahead of their time that burned out before the rest of us caught up.

Their breakup letter to the public from 1998 is hilariously idealistic – the final action they needed to take to solidify their unimpeachable record of fighting “the man” and fiercely opposing capitalism. Seventeen years later, they’ve done what no one wanted them to do and created a new album, Freedom, released in June of this year. If they could pull off a strong 15+ year comeback record, they could join the righteously reborn ranks of Cynic and Gorguts, bands that have proved that their taste and relevance transcend the trends of any given decade. Did they do it? Is the new Refused record the panacea to the miasma of fascist capitalism holding the Western world in a vice grip, or even just a really killer record that stretches the limits of what modern music can sound like?

I am sad to report that Freedom is neither of these things. Freedom is a pretty “OK” rock record with some flashes of brilliance swimming in a confused genre soup.

This review is being printed months after the release date because I kept hoping that my anarchist third eye would be pried open to reveal something masterful. Everyone was confused by Refused in ’98, so maybe they were still ahead of the game and I had to catch up, I thought. However, I’m increasingly convinced that Freedom is a failed experiment that no amount of hindsight will ever fully justify.

In Freedom, Refused continue their tradition of marrying angular hardcore riffs with dance beats and a pop-informed vocal delivery. The strongest moments on the record are those that rely on creative guitar work and go easy on the pop, like album opener “Elektra” and the “New Noise”-reminiscent “Dawkins Christ”.

The record really stumbles when Refused starts to build tracks around lifeless funk grooves and repetitive hip-hop inspired vocals. They just don’t have the sleazy touch of a true trap star to keep those simple, instantly hooky chants from sounding like hopscotch rhymes. Refused had a pretty strong grasp on the compelling intersections of EDM and rock music in the ’90s, but trying to “keep up with the times” just isn’t a good look on these svelte, well-tailored Swedes.

Freedom may have been salvageable if it were condensed into an EP-length release. The moments that are great can be REALLY great, but there isn’t enough strong material here to engage the listener on all 43 minutes of genre-bending silliness.  Consider “366”, which has has an emotive, guitar-driven chorus that compliments Refused’s core aesthetic very well, but otherwise features totally forgettable grooves and a disappointing, anticlimactic final riff. “Thought Is Blood” similarly has a great chorus and super doofy… everything else. The token “quiet, somber final track” on the record, “Useless Europeans”, isn’t a poignant denouement – it’s just fucking boring.

The lyrics are probably the most consistently strong feature of Freedom. Dennis Lyxzén’s hyperliterate diatribes are clever and biting. His words read as both informed and emotionally genuine, and I can only wish that the same were true of the other elements of the record. I am particularly disappointed in David Sandstrom’s drumming – his passionate and unique playing has been a major inspiration for me in the past, but on the bulk of Freedom he sounds bored and painfully lazy.

Only a scant few bands have taken up the banner of progressive dance-hardcore since Nation of Ulysses and Refused spearheaded the aesthetic in the ’90s, so it’s great to hear new music in that vein. Refused are on to something utterly compelling, but unfortunately they just don’t have the taste or passion to pull it off – at least not in this decade.

This hurts me more than it’ll hurt you…

2.5/5 Toilets ov Hell

TOILETSCALE_2-5_of_5
Image VIA

  • “righteously reborn ranks of Cynic”

    🙁

    • feels.jpg

    • HessianHunter

      :'( Yeah, pretty bad timing for that reference.

      • Vote for Jeb

        The pettiness of the Facebook stuff is what bothers me most about that whole thing.

        • KJM

          That’s how band drama unfolds now. Band members find out about being dumped via Twitter or FB instead of getting at least a phone call or a face to face meeting.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    RIP Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon. My day has gotten sadder and it just began.

    • KJM

      WTF? I’m only middle aged and already icons from my childhood and teen years are dropping like flies. Yesterday it was Moses Malone and today this?

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I saw it as soon as I went on Facebook. He will be missed by a lot of people.

        • KJM

          He was only 65 and Malone was only 60. Piper was only 62 but he’s a wrestler so, unfortunately, that’s not surprising.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            It’s so sad. I’m a 76ers fan and the Moses Malone news was very sad. This is also very sad as I love REO Speedwagon.

      • more beer

        It is fucked up. But it could be worse. I know older people than us who when they read the paper it`s to go through the obituary`s before reading anything else. To see which of their friends died the day before.

        • KJM

          I have a friend who’s in his mid 60s that’s like that.

          • InfinityOfThoughts

            My parents still do that.

    • “Don’t stop believin’
      Hold on to that feelin’
      Streetlight people
      Don’t stop believin'”

      -Gary Richrath, REO Speedwagon

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    I dug Freedom, but it is very uneven.
    Oh bother.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    Also, I was hoping this would be good. I wish it wasn’t so uneven.

  • Dagon

    You are most definitely not alone in your opinion. Tbh I haven’t jammed this album yet and it is sitting among my saved albums on Spotify for quite some time… Maybe I’m just a bit afraid to.

  • :'( our first 2.5 record. Good review, Baby Pumpkin, but… Didn’t you cried while writing this?

  • Agree 100% with this review. There are some good moments but much of it falls flat and comes across as boring.

  • xengineofdeathx

    Love this band, but if this was the only album refused had I would never be a fan.

  • Poseur Diposeur

    Freedom is honestly my favorite album in years. Nothing like Shape of Punk to Come but it kicks the ass of any other punk/rock album I’ve heard in a long time. The closing track is totally boring and unnecessary though

  • Guppusmaximus

    This album may have fallen flat but the new Mantric EP kicks some ass. They released a new song “Arrogance & Anxiety”. Can’t find a direct link (it’s not showing up on Soundcloud) but you can listen to it at the site that shouldn’t be named…

  • Mother Shabubu 8

    In terms of classic Swedish hardcore/punk bands (Abhinanda, Refused, Fireside, etc…), I’ve always felt Breach was the best and most criminally underrated. “Kollapse” should have been a seminal cornerstone instead of “The Shape of Punk To Come”.

    So there is no confusion; I love Refused still, but I think there were bands more deserving of that coveted landmark album at the time.

    /rant

    *takes off Breach-colored glasses*