Refused Move On From The Past With 'Freedom'
Preservation of legacy isn’t a common topic in rock anymore. The mindset of a band tarnishing their past by releasing new material has been left behind by most level-headed music fans. Longevity in musicians has become a more appealing factor to many, and 2015’s golden run of long-awaited comeback albums only proves this.
However, when Swedish hardcore outfit Refused announced in April they would be releasing 'Freedom', (their first album since 1998’s game-changing The Shape of Punk to Come), legacy became a hot topic again.
When the quartet reformed in 2012 to finally tour the record that they split up shortly after releasing, it seemed clear that it would be a one off reunion, that would cap off a perfect career as a punk band. New music raised concern, and the main topic. Will a new release ruin the legacy of a group that released one of the most celebrated punk records of all time?
While comparisons to 'The Shape' will be inevitable, much of 'Freedom’s songwriting recalls the more stripped back rawness of 1996’s Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, as opener "Elektra" is packed with the same instant energy as "Rather Be Dead", although wiser in tone, yet equally as scathing as Dennis Lyxzén yells “They crown the peaks, so far estranged, but down in the dirt, nothing has changed.”
The same energy can be felt from absolute aggression of "Dawkins Christ", as well as the frenetic "Destroy the Man", with Kristofer Steen’s static riffs concentrated to pound through the band’s trademark odd time signatures.
A surprising element with this album is the splashes of Americana that influences certain songs. "Françafrique" revolves around a loose blues rock riff which sounds more inspired by The Black Crowes than Black Flag, while "War On the Palaces" features enough horns and deep vocals to sound like a hybrid of Rocket From the Crypt and Clutch. It’s enjoyable enough, but not what you’d want to hear from a group regarded as one of the most unique heavy bands of their age.
So, if preservation of legacy is a concern, 'Freedom' will leave you with a lot to be desired. The level of ambition and creativity that went into 'The Shape of Punk to Come' isn’t present here and after seventeen years and numerous reunion shows, you’d be excused for expecting something a little bolder.
However, on it’s own, it’s an energetic album which harks back to when Refused were still an excellent hardcore band before discovering experimenting with time signatures and jazzy interludes. Ultimately, the quartet still have something to say, and sound like they’re having a blast while they’re saying it, and once that’s considered, preserving the past doesn’t feel as important as living in the now.
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Words by Andy Davidson