Earlier this year, it was announced that Swedish hardcore pioneers Refused had charged themselves with the seemingly insurmountable task of following up their iconic 1998 release, The Shape of Punk to Come. While the shock factor of such an announcement coming from a band that had proclaimed themselves “dead” seventeen years prior was somewhat diminished by the fact that they’d cropped back up on the radar through a series of reunion tours back in 2012, it was nonetheless met with mixed feelings of hype, anxiousness, and, perhaps most of all, curiosity. While it’s sometimes the case that bands that have died have died for a reason, and should, more often than not, stay dead, there was no doubt a certain amount of warranted speculation amongst fans as to how a modern day Refused record would sound. Now, with the June 29th release of the long-awaited follow-up Freedom, we have our answer. Head on over the jump to see why Freedom is not the glorious resurrection fans had hoped for.
Going into the first-time front-to-back listen of Freedom, it’s probable that most fans vowed to evaluate the music at face-value, and leave behind any predispositions they’d established as a result of a mighty fondness for The Shape of Punk to Come. Any other approach would more than likely result in disappointment, to some degree. However, after the first spin of the album, it becomes apparent that the band’s past achievements are in fact beside the point. The shortcomings of Freedom stem not from the band’s decision to not, as a rule, adhere to their roots – it’s actually quite admirable that Refused have said a big fuck you to expectations, and have gone into this thing looking to perhaps defy expectations, even going so far as to solicit the services of pop music producer Shellback – but rather from the fact that Freedom, as a whole and in its own right, is not overwhelmingly interesting.
That’s not to say that Freedom is not without its moments. On the contrary, there are many things that Freedom does successfully. The album kicks off on a definite high note. Simply put, “Elektra” bangs. It brings the sort of energy that long-time fans were hoping for and expecting while simultaneously exhibiting the capacity to rope in first-time listeners. Even “Francafrique”, whose garish sing-along may at first listen instil a crippling case of secondhand embarrassment proves with time that it is in fact fairly catchy, so much so that a listener may find themselves absentmindedly vocalizing their desire to “exterminate the brutes.” Other stand-out tracks include “Dawkins Christ”, which features a shout-out to the bands past in the form of an eerie intro reminiscent of “New Noise” before plunging off into its own distortion-laden anthem, and “War on Palaces”, which makes effective use of a horn section.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned moments of interest are not the precedent for the entire album, and the rest melds into something of a blur. While Dennis Lyxzén proves he’s still got a firm hold on his vocal prowess, there remains an unabashed air of overproduction throughout. The mishmash of horns and samples works at times (think “War on Palaces”), while at others come across as out of place and unnecessary (“Destroy the Man”). Though the lyrics remain politically-charged, their impact is somewhat lost atop a style of music that is decidedly far less relentless than the sound for which Refused were previously known. In this shift to something that more closely resembles stadium rock, the absence of former guitarist Jon Brännström is definitely felt.
While Freedom is by no stretch of the imagination The Shape of Punk to Come Part II, it’s promising to see the band active once more. Following up one’s magnum opus is never an easy task. Throw a seventeen-year break in the mix and you’ve got your work cut out for you, and Refused are to be commended for even giving it a go. My hope is that, instead of cutting their losses and calling’er a day, Refused choose to move forward and evolve as a band, continuing to create music that stands up to, and perhaps even one day surpasses their legacy.
Refused’s Freedom gets…