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Refused Are Fucking Dead

“Refused Are Fucking Dead”

So was titled “the last official press release” from Swedish hardcore punk band Refused; their final communiquè - except that it wasn’t; it was merely a 14-year hiatus. In 2012 they reformed and played a series of shows including Coachella, Download, Rock for People and various dates including North American, European and Australian tours, plus a final Scandinavian run, which was supposed to conclude the project.

But earlier this week news was floating around that Refused have recorded a new album for release next year. In a since-deleted Instagram post from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead bassist Autry Fulbright II, it was leaked that frontman Dennis Lyxzén has allegedly been finishing up vocals for such a record.

I think this is a really bad idea – or at the very least inadvisable. This may sound unfair, or even selfish, and to a degree it is, but let me explain.

In 1998, Refused The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts, and it’s widely considered one of the finest punk albums of all time – Kerrang! listed it as #13 on their list of the 50 Most Influential Albums of All Time in 2003, and Rock Sound #1 on a list relating to music that they cover, whilst Germany’s Rock Hard magazine had it at 428 in their 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time.

Prophetically titled, it has influenced a generation of musicians, many of whom would probably not have created the music they have were it not for this record; the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Blink-182Linkin Park, Norma Jean, UnderoathEvery Time I Die, Paramoreletlive.Cancer Bats, The Used, These Arms Are Snakes, Touché Amoré, Defeater, Rise Against, Code Orange - pretty much any modern post-hardcore band really; the list is almost exhaustive, and most will readily admit it. Million Dead were named after a lyric in ”The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax“, and “New Noise” is such a staple that it’s common cover-fodder for bands like The Used and even Anthrax. Refused truly showed us is that punk and hardcore can be laden with hooks and still be hard hitting and vital.

It was released only months before Refused broke up/exploded in a fireball, and with it being so damn good, there’s a definite burned-out-before-they-faded-away quality to it. They said that that was basically it, and they’d be going their separate ways for good, so whilst I get it that things change – especially after almost a decade and a half – the reunion felt a little ‘off’ to many; so firey in their conviction were they that going back on their word, whilst forgivable, tarnishes their legacy. I know that sounds overly romantic, but hear me out.

I saw their London date that summer, after having completely missed them the first time around (I was only 11 when they broke up). I had in my head an idea of what it would be like – I’d imagined the equivalent kineticism of The Tasmanian Devil on speed and the kind of zealous fury normally reserved for TV evangelists and readers of the Daily Mail - but that it was not. Now, I’ll readily admit I was hot, hungover as fuck and more than a little salty about a not-inconsiderable wait for the band to take the stage of the altogether too large venue (more on that in a moment), but I was incredibly underwhelmed. Whilst they weren’t at all bad, there wasn’t anything special about their performance either, and that felt wrong to me.

Legacies are funny things – they’re built over years of hard graft and bodily fluids, but can be destroyed in an instant – not even of anything terrible, but just a moment of mediocrity – and that’s why I think for Refused to release a new record would be a mistake; anything less than perfect would be impermissible.

Re-unions have been something of a fad of late. Another of my heroes, post-hardcore legends At The Drive-In, reunited the same year as Refused. I didn’t get to see them, but I can’t imagine anything they did matched the seething, barely-able-to-look-at-each other intensity of their final years.

By all accounts they were just fine – I’ve seen footage of their Lollapalooza show in 2012 and there was nothing wrong with it – but it was a dangerous move to make, and really, are bands like these big venue bands? bands? You can head down to Wembley to see Foo Fighters or revel in bad-boys Kasabian at Glastonbury and feel like you lost nothing in translation, but the fire and brimstone of these bands dissipates the more space they have to fill.

Conversely, Finch‘s recent second reunion has gone pretty well – the live DVD of What It Is To Burn X is quite good, but the new material on Back To Oblivion, again, ain’t all that. I’ve been listening to it on an off since release, but it hasn’t grabbed me in nearly the same way as Say Hello To Sunshine. Then again, Finch hadn’t been gone so long, and aren’t yet a fundamental listening experience.

So what is it that wakes these giants of old from their self-induced slumber? Is it purely for profit? I’d feel disrespectful suggesting so, even if there’s clearly a market for it. Nostalgia is an important factor in selling these tickets, what if they just can’t match the memories? The passage of time glosses over the cracks and builds legends around them. For those who were lucky enough to see these firecracker bands, it’s something of value for them to hold on to – and it’s somewhat cheapened by a bands’ revival. Isn’t it? I don’t know, this might just be me, but I feel like I’m not alone.

Chris

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