“Rather be forgotten, than remembered for giving in.” With this definitive lyric, the Swedish band Refused almost predicted their 1998 disbandment and disappearance from the front lines of their self-proclaimed revolution.
Their 1998 album, The Shape of Punk to Come, initially garnered little attention or acclaim. Band members fought constantly over the direction of their sound and purpose. But ultimately, these comrades with radical ideas of revolution felt stifled by record executives treating music as a commodity. A passage in their final press release reads, “When we become just another subculture with all the right attributes instead of a real counter-culture, then it is time to die.” Days before the release of their new album, Refused dropped everything and stopped playing for good.
Seventeen years later, The Shape of Punk to Come continues to stand as one of the most influential records of the post-2000 modern rock scene. Popular groups of the era, such as Blink-182, La Dispute, Paramore, and Rise Against, cited Shape as a crucial influence on their sound.
Critics labeled the record as both genre defining, and defying– a rare circumstance. Refused took ’90’s poppy punk rock, and mixed in splashes of techno, modern heavy metal, and sounds now defined as “indie rock.”
In 2015, the long-dormant Refused has not only begun touring again, but has also teamed up with Epitaph records to release their first new album since 1998, titled Freedom. Naturally, fans have been cautiously optimistic. On one hand, they’re getting the follow up record to the band’s magnum opus, something no one would have predicted. On the other, many feel that the project ended on such a high note that releasing new material nearly 20 years later would sully the mythical phenomena of Refused. So it was quite surreal for fans to see Dennis Lyxzén take the stage at the Sinclair to promote Freedom and Refused’s unlikely comeback.
The band took to the darkened stage accompanied by a medley of pop songs relating to freedom– most notably Aretha Franklin’s independent anthem. Refused kicked off the night and reestablished their technical chops with a Tool-esque bass groove in “Elektra,” Freedom‘s opening track. Lyxzén’s furious belting of the song’s hook “Nothing has changed,” made it clear that the hyper-critical, leftist values of Refused would remain in this new era.
The night’s setlist focused on The Shape of Punk to Come. The first few notes of the dancey title track, reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine, ignited the audience and inspired a gigantic circle pit. Lyxzén hungrily fed off of the energy, wildly whipping the microphone through the air like a lasso, catching it perfectly just seconds before his vocals came back in. He danced and pranced with infectious charisma across the stage, not missing a beat the entire performance. David Sandström’s drum beats locked tightly into Magnus Flagge’s bass grooves, serving as an unbreakable rhythmic backbone. It was hard to believe Refused had taken any time off.
Reaching even further back into their discography, the band pulled out “Rather Be Dead”, a hard-hitting, hardcore relic from the album Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. A few sneak peeks at Freedom integrated with older material, evoked a lukewarm reaction from concertgoers.“Françafrique” had a vague, yet powerful message about genocide. Musically, however, it lacked the creative freshness attributed to Shape, its poppier tone didn’t get many heads bobbing. Fortunately, “Dawkin’s Christ” provoked Refused’s ability to still write scathing yet thoughtful hardcore anthems as Lyxzén cried “Praise the lord, God is dead!” Freedom likely won’t be another revolutionary collection of music, but it’s certainly not hopeless.
Refused played nearly every single song off of The Shape of Punk to Come. The band went for a more streamlined version of the songs, abandoning the atmospheric sound clips associated with the album. On tunes like “Liberation Frequency”, the band pulled back, allowing the whole venue to chant the chorus about reclaiming the airwaves. The encore of “New Noise”, Refused’s most popular song, sent the entire floor into a frenzy of mosh pits and raised fists. Lyxzén once again encouraged audience participation as the crowd sang the famous opening lyric “Can I scream? Yeah!”
“When you’re young you just love to scream, have you ever been young before?” Lyxzén probed the audience, hinting at a sense of regret. A few crowd members began booing the frontman before he could even finish, assuming he was about to backpedal on his radical views. Instead, he was bluntly unapologetic for his political rants and essays from the early days, proclaiming, “We sure didn’t know what we were talking about, but we knew something was wrong with the world.” Fans might still be skeptical of the comeback, but for Dennis Lyxzén and Refused, nothing has changed.
- Lyxzen's charm and charisma onstage is unlike any other frontman
- Live interpretations of old songs were equally surprising and refreshing
- Not a single hiccup or mistake, one of the tightest hardcore bands around
- New material is pretty hit-or-miss, doesn't quite measure up to past records