Rumors of Refused's death are greatly exaggerated. The Swedish hardcore punk band wrote their own epitaph in 1998 after breaking up telling the world in a final communique that "Refused are fucking dead." The incendiary leftist group arose from the ashes for a reunion show at Coachella three years ago and toured after the festival. But no new musical manifesto followed. That is, until now. Vocalist Dennis Lyxzén and his co-conspirators returned without warning in April to announce Freedom, their first album in 17 years.
The new work, due out June 30th on Epitaph, follows in the footsteps of a classic. When Refused dissolved, the band had just completed The Shape of Punk to Come, an finely crafted album that bristled with Marxian rebellion. Guitar riffs laid to waste the social alienation that came with the tyranny of boredom. The transitions between tracks were seamless and clever. Lyxzén's calls for revolution resurrected the spirit of 1968 30 years later. It felt as if Rudi Dutschke, a German student leader in those days, reincarnated in rock.
Even with the expert execution of The Shape of Punk to Come, Refused felt no pressure when priming songs for Freedom. The band is far from rusty and feels confident they've grown in ability. "We had material but just hadn't realized it was Refused material," drummer David Sandström tells the Weekly of the summer following their Coachella reunion. "Other people have said they knew it was going to happen but we didn't. We're very slow in certain ways."
Refused's new album is well worth the wait, even one that spanned 17 years. Lyxzén's screams are the same desperate class war cries of his youthful days. The first single "Elektra" shows the band's mastery of sonic manipulation. Distorted power chord riffs trade off with jazzy ride hits before a grinding bass brings everything to a frenzy. And that's just the song's intro. Sounding the call that "nothing has changed" resonates as proof that Refused still matters and are needed now more than ever.
"We've tried to write a sharp and engaging record," the drummer says. The tumultuous times all over the world give Refused no shortage of material to base their renewed cry for freedom. The global crisis of capitalism, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, rampant death in the Congo and the question of political violence all form a creative whirlwind. "It looks intense on the page, but all these issues come together on the record. It makes sense when you hear it."
And when fans listen to new material at shows, it obliterates nostalgia. Looking back, the resurrection of Refused almost felt like an inevitability. This is, after all, the same band that proclaimed the need for new noise and art for the masses.
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"Our mission was similar to most bands, to try for greatness, and it still is. We still read a lot and we're still very curious people and we like to think aloud," Sandström says. "We'll probably broadcast some other quixotic challenge to the world before we're done."
Refused at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com, Mon., 7 p.m., $45. All ages.