Return to form
Bourgeois beware; Refused are back. War Music is their second album since their reunion in 2014, and fans will be happy to know that it doesn’t take nearly as many risks as their 2015 release, Freedom, which is widely regarded as a misstep. Aside from the fact that it just wasn’t that great of an album, the lukewarm reception it received was expected before it even dropped. That’s what happens when you reunite after releasing one of the most significant punk records of the last 20 years; the bar is set so high that Superman wouldn’t even be able to clear it.
Vocalist Dennis Lyxzén said that War Music would appeal to fans of their magnum opus, Shape of Punk to Come, and they clearly did their best to reproduce that feeling. The results are somewhat mixed, but this is definitely a more realized effort than Freedom. For instance, “Death in Vannas” is textbook Refused. It’s dynamic as hell, has some unpredictable but seamless time signature changes, it’s explosive where it counts, and it plays with tension well. The only real point of criticism when it comes to this song is the vocal melody which sounds uncharacteristic and a little out of place, contrasted against the high energy of everything else.
“Malfire” is another standout track. It’s one of the more subdued cuts on this album, but it doesn’t sacrifice any intensity for the sake of subtlety, and the vaguely eastern sounding riff is what really sets it apart from the other songs. “Turn the Cross” is a straight-up ripper, and it wouldn’t feel out of place next to some of the songs from their early days when they were a more straightforward hardcore band. Track 9, “Infamous Left” might be the all-around strongest cut on the album, it’s criminal that it was placed so late in the tracklist.
Any writer worth his salt will tell you that the opening sentence of any piece of writing is absolutely critical; the same principle can be applied to albums. That’s why it’s curious as to why Refused decided to kick this record off with “Rev 001,” which is one of the weakest tracks on the album. The chorus is clearly supposed to be an anthemic explosive call to action, but it lacks the energy; on top of that, the guitar riff in the verses sound too similar to the “Worms of the Senxes / Faculties of the Skull,” the opening track from The Shape of Punk to Come.
One of the biggest issues a lot of people had with Freedom was the eclectic instrument palate, which didn’t jive with Refused’s vibe. There’s a little bit of that with this album too, specifically on the song “Blood Red.” The acoustic guitars on the track sound awkward and out of place, and they don’t add the texture that they were clearly intended to.
It’s admirable that Refused listened to their fans and tried to give them what they want, but, let’s be honest, fans of Refused won’t be happy with the band unless they drop another Shape of Punk to Come. That being said, even though War Music feels like a bit of a retread, it’s an undeniably solid slice of post-hardcore that is sure to satisfy casual fans.