More than 20 years ago, Sweden’s Refused put out one of the most important records of all time, The Shape of Punk To Come. Unfortunately, at the time, it fell upon deaf ears, and was only appreciated years after the band declared “Refused are fucking dead!” But after realizing the massive influence they had in shaping new forms of music, the band rose from the dead, releasing their 2015 album Freedom. I must admit to feeling underwhelmed by Freedom, but only because I was comparing it to Shape, which is a very high bar to reach for a second time. But with the latest album War Music dropping a few weeks ago, I can honestly say Refused are back in a big way, and the world will be a damned fool to ignore them this time around.
What’s most exciting about listening to War Music for the first time is hearing how Refused blends different genres and experiments with their sound. “REV001” opens with Swedish artist Mariam the Believer sweetly singing “One more revolution, my love / One more time through the fire,” as if being spun on a distant record player, before Denis Lyxzén cuts in screaming “Revolution One,” hitting you with a wall of distortion and atomic bomb sirens. It’s rallying cry for action, and David Sandström’s drums provide the beat for protestors pounding the pavement. It’s followed by “Violent Reaction,” which switches between a cool post-punk riff and a hardcore headbanger. Other tracks like “Turn the Cross” and “Damaged III” (a possible follow-up to Black Flag’s “Damaged I” and “II”) have a classic Kristofer Steen guitar riff I so desperately crave. “Death in Vännäs,” probably the most diverse track on the album, introduces a cello (possibly played by bassist Magnus Flagge, who has played the cello in past releases) into the mix, and then, later on, an electro-synth, but it all becomes overpowered once the guitars kick in. The album closes on its heaviest track “Economy of Death,” with Lyxzén hammering the final nail in the coffin: “You’re. So. Fucked!”
Lyxzén’s vocals are more melodic than they’ve ever been, no longer half-spoken, half-sung. They are full of emotion, aided with back-ups, as heard in the choruses of “I Wanna Watch the World Burn” and “Malfire.” Of course, his aggressive vocals dominate (after all, that’s what we came for). Revolution is not soft-spoken, it’s a blood-curdling scream. The lyrics make repeated references to profits being made on our backs, and how the only way we’ll get even with the top 1% is through a bloody, violent uprising. From start to finish, the entire album is a death threat to capitalism and the ruling elite.
For a full experience, I recommend watching the music videos that were put out for each song in order, so you can be both sonically and visually stimulated. Some are of the band performing live or doing a choreographed dance. Others are provocative moving images, like a blood-soaked game of chess, or a teenage girl being doused in gasoline.
By the second or third listen, you’ll notice something different every time, but parts of it will be familiar enough to sing along. War Music is in no way as ground-breaking as Shape was (nor as jazzy), but it’s an expansion of our favourite elements of Shape. It’s the new New Noise that will lead us into the future.
Written by Chris Aitkens
*edited by Danielle Kenedy