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Refused have released new music for the first time in 17 years. What does it all mean?

Dustin Rabin Photography, Refused, Dustin Rabin

When I was first introduced to heavy music, I took in a wide selection. Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Opeth, Mastodon and ISIS provided my early basis, and on that foundation, a healthy career in heavy metal listening was sure to follow.

One band changed that entirely. One band introduced the concept of punk to my life, and more than that, revolutionised the way I’d appreciate music. That band was Refused.

Because of Refused, I never bothered with The Big 4. I glossed over Dream Theater, ignored Iron Maiden and abandoned Black Sabbath. No Judas Priest, no Death and no Anthrax. I am a fully paid-up subscriber to the Refused Party Program, and because of them, a fire was lit in my heart than no mere set of riffs – however awesome – could satisfy.

I’m not the only one. Refused spawned scores of copycats; the influence of their prophetic ‘final’ record The Shape Of Punk To Come is audible in the work of hardcore, metalcore, emo, and screamo bands the world over – sonically, at least, if not idealistically.

Refused hated capitalism, were intent on changing the world through their music, and the album – now 17 years old – had a message:

 

…how can we expect anyone to listen if we are using the same old voice? We need new noise – new art for the real people.

 

These lyrics and this passion are the key behind why I’m so against Refused’s reunion, and their forthcoming new album Freedom, which was announced today.

We knew it was coming: …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead‘s Autry Fulbright II let slip as much last November in a quickly-deleted Instagram post. I wrote about my reservations then, and I’m sure I’m not the only one – in fact, Freedom seems to have been, in part, inspired by the backlash: drummer David Sandström said in the press release that ”nobody wanted us to fuck with the image of the band who makes a great album and splits up…Nobody wanted us to dilute it. That actually provoked us.”

Now, you might wonder why one of my favourite bands releasing a new album is a source of dismay rather than a ray of light in an otherwise shitty year, so let me try and break down this complicated and conflicted set of emotions.

It started when the band first reformed to play a series of shows that turned into a world tour. In hindsight, I was always going to be disappointed: anything less than a set of building-levelling proportions was ever going to match my expectations. I wanted them right in my face, and so a venue with 2299 other people and a massive stage was less than ideal – but they weren’t even half what I expected. They’re only human after all, and no longer the incendiary youths they were when they broke up in 1999, but I was crushed.

The more I thought about it, the more I hated that the sheen had been un-shone. The reverence and notoriety gained over the decade and a half that they were Fucking Dead was a rare thing to behold – the only half-way close example I can think of is SikTh, who got way more popular than they realised whilst they were gone. Refused are on a scale far beyond this.

Along with today’s announcement of Freedom came a new song called “Elektra“. Let’s take a listen, and a look at the lyrics, before we go any further:

They stack the bodies a thousand high;
A carnal monument to touch the sky.
They climb the peaks so far estranged,
But down in the dirt nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!

Nothing!
Nothing!
The time has come; there’s no escape!
Time has come; there’s no escape, there’s no escape!

Into the rabble the panic seeps
One targets hisses; another weeps
They scale the walls; their minds deranged
But down in the dirt nothing has changed.
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!
Nothing has changed!

Nothing!
Not a thing!
The time has come; there’s no escape!
Time has come; there’s no escape, there’s no escape!

According to “Elektra“, “nothing has changed!”. This refrain absolutely dominates the song. To me, it comes across two ways.

The first is that the circumstances that inspired Refused music two decades ago are the same as they ever were. Indeed, the rich seem richer, the poor poorer, and most of us worse off than we feel we should be. The rest of the lyrics support this notion – but there’s another reading.

It’s also the same music. The drum fill from “New Noise” even makes an appearance of sorts, and honestly, I actually think it’s quite a good song – but this is not New Noise. This is not the fulfilment of the Refused Party Program, and that’s a disappointment. Not a massive one – yet – but it’s another hyper-picky stick of dynamite around the base of the pedestal.

You can call me precious, and it’s likely I entirely deserve that – but Refused are more than music. They represent an ideology. I will give Freedom every chance to prove itself, but I know I’m going to be the toughest of tough sells, so you have to forgive my childish petulance and bear with me.

I’d love to hear what you think anyway. Shout at me in the comments.

Chris

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