A Shaky Return
When a band releases an album after almost 20 years, it’s hard to know what to expect. Swedish hardcore punk band Refused have not put out a record since 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, which is considered by many to be a highly influential and even genre defining punk record. Unfortunately, what may have been considered genre defining in the late ’90s has translated into something entirely unremarkable with their new release, Freedom.
While some punk bands can come back after 20 years and the firing of a guitarist (Jon Brännström, in 2013) and manage to keep up with the trends of today, some just don’t hit the mark and end up sounding like they’re trying too hard to fit in with people much younger than them. Refused, sadly, seems to have fallen into the latter category, though Freedom is in the infuriating position of having real potential that ends up being destroyed by faux edginess and failed grasps to update their sound.
Where Freedom shines is in its exciting and catchy instrumentals. This is made apparent in the opening song “Elektra,” which comes raging out of the gate. It is instantly clear this record is going to be full of energy and enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm can’t necessarily save them from themselves. Songs like “Francafrique” exemplify Refused’s desperate attempts to seem edgy and punk alongside their younger peers. A perfectly groovy and dark sounding riff is ruined by a cheesy feeling and “Murder, murder, kill, kill, kill.” This song, like many on the album, has all the potential in the world instrumentally, but the vocals of Dennis Lyxzen don’t quite live up. Alongside songs like “Servants of Death,” this album reeks of Hot Topic brand hardcore. That isn’t to say it’s bad or unnecessary, it just pales in comparison to some of the other punk and hardcore releases of the year. Or of the past 20 years.
The most interesting track on the album comes at the end, with the live “Useless Europeans.” The atmospheric vibe it gives off makes it stand out among the endless drive of the rest of the record, and actually makes for a perfect ending to the album. The success of this song in particular argues maybe the band could have gone in a post punk direction with this new album and done very well with it. The album as a whole arguably succeeds at being a heavy, driving punk record, but the whole thing feels off-putting.
No one thinks Refused is still 23. No one is expecting a record you’d hear from a couple of whiny teenagers putting out their first punk record. Listeners don’t need the band to prove they still are hip or edgy. If Freedom sounded like a truly matured punk record from artists who had grown into their talent and moved with the trends without trying too hard to prove they still “get it,” it’d be a very solid record. Unfortunately, that is not the case.