By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Release Date: 6/30/15
The late 90’s were indeed a great time to be into Punk Rock. While acts on the Pop-Punk end of the spectrum (Blink-182, Reel Big Fish, Eve 6) where gaining mainstream attention and a shit ton of airplay, there was something even bigger about to burst from the underground. And it was Swedish Post-Hardcore outfit Refused and their seminal classic, The Shape of Punk to Come, that blew the doors wide open!
The Epitaph Records act had a major hit on their hands in 1998. Led by the success of the single “New Noise,” Refused were poised to be the next big thing and the band to possibly take down Nu Metal before it had the chance to break onto the bastardized Alternative scene of the late 90’s. Unfortunately, it all imploded from there.
Refused called it quits just about a year after the release of The Shape of Punk to Come, leaving a massive void on the emerging Post-Hardcore scene. Although bands like At The Drive-In, Glassjaw, Zao and The Dillinger Escape Plan saw success at the turn of the decade, it wasn’t until the scene’s bastard cousin, “Screamo,” broke through to the masses that a sound pioneered by the band could really be recognized by a mainstream audience, albeit a very watered-down version of it.
However, the impossible happened in 2012, and the all-but-dead Refused returned from out of no where for a triumphant reunion. And after a few years of “will they, won’t they,” in 2015 Refused announced a full-scale second run along with a new album.
On June 30, Refused released Freedom, their first album in 17 years. The hype surrounding the release has been quite circumstantial, given that the band released on of the most influential pieces of music in the last 20 years.
With this being no easy feat, Freedom doesn’t exactly live up to all the expectations. Most lacking on Freedom is the sense of experimentation the band had come to be known for. Any experimentation that is present, feels forced.
Kicking off the album is the semi-lackluster, “Elektra,” leading into the awkward chant-along rocker, “Old Friends/New War.” Following this, the album slowly kicks into gear, with the scorching lead single, “Dawkins Christ;” an almost Faith No More-esque heavy rocker that captures, or recaptures, the band in the artsy-angst that made them legends.
From here, “Francafrique” and “War On the Palaces” come up somewhat flat, sounding as the band is trying to find some balance between a good poppy hook and a blast of Hardcore rage. Luckily, the final four tracks of Freedom really offer up something special.
“Destroy the Man” is a true rocker, boasting the trademark energy fans have come to expect from Refused. And although the following tracks, “366” and “Servants of Death” take on a more electronic-ish danceable role, they boast just as much Punk Rock as they do anything else, proving the band still have some new tricks up their sleeve. Finally, the album concludes with “Useless Europeans.” As the tension builds throughout ” Useless Europeans,” Freedom climbs to a satisfying climax.
All in all, Freedom is not exactly the follow-up to The Shape of Punk to Come. Refused take a step back at moments, several steps actually, allowing melody and hooks have more room than the blast of energy one may expect. However, nearly two decades have passed between the two records, and the band have undeniably grown as songwriters. With so many years missing in between, there’s no telling what baby steps where missed from Shape of Punk to Freedom.
Nonetheless, the record has some very solid tracks. Highlights include “Dawkins Christ,” “Servants of Death” and “Useless Europeans.” Conversely, “366” and “Francafrique” offer terribly catchy hooks that may just have you revisiting them, whether they strike you initially or not.