Album Review – Refused – Freedom
Here it is, folks. The album I never believed would even be contemplated. After the truly outstanding 1997 swan song The Shape Of Punk To Come, Swedish hardcore newcomers Refused were laid to rest through a mix of frustration, inter-band tension and touring woes. Fast forward to 2012, and the band’s final masterpiece would finally see it’s true reception as the boys return for one final world tour, descimating venues across the world. As someone fortunate enough to have seen Refused twice on this run, I can confidently say the shows were amongst the best I’ve ever seen, if not the absolute best. However, things were not all as they seemed. Through promises of this short stint becoming the band’s true final broadcast, rumours and work were still buzzing, leading to an announcement earlier this year that the band would be returning to release their third album, Freedom. A shock to every fan around the world, the real question on the tip of every one’s tongue was: Will this be the real, furiosity driven Refused we know and love, or will it just be a desperate attempt to continue their meteoric rise beyond any sentiment and hypocrisy? Well, now, I am finally able to put any of your questions straight. So, without further adue, let’s take a look at Freedom.
2. Old Friends/New War
3. Dawkins Christ
5. Thought Is Blood
6. War On The Palaces
7. Destroy The Man
9. Servants Of Death
10. Useless Europeans
) First up on the album is the record’s first single, Elektra. Combining that old Refused bounce with vocalist Lyxzen’s vocals, the song is the perfect first release for the album. Filled with ferocity and drive, the repeated, pained cries of Lyxzen’s lyrics (“They’ve stacked the bodies a thousand high/A carnal monument to touch the sky/They crown the peaks so far estranged/But down in the dirt, nothing has changed”) set any feelings of cash grabbing to rest almost immediately. Catchy and classy, this is Refused all right. However, if Elektra is a perfected exercise in classic Refused, Old Friends/New War is an experiment that only really works in a few places, even if it’s the most succcessful experimental track on the album. Taking an almost hip hop-like approach, the song is flanked by a mix of both acoustic and dirty electric guitars, and this really works. The weak link here, however, are the vocals on the track. A weak chorus that struggles to match it’s strong verse means Old Friends/New War ends up being more of a disappointment than a triumph, despite the interesting approach on it’s intro.
Following it up is (pretty badly titled) Dawkins Christ, starting with a surprisingly strong woman vocal section, giving way to a more contemplative piece compared to the bombastic nature of the previous two pieces. As a whole, the song is a strong effort, and the riff showcased here is one of the best on the album, making this one of the better tracks on an admittedly pretty mediocre first half. Speaking of mediocre, you know one of the worst ways to begin your song? Child choir. Boom, instant no-no. Pair that with the child friendly sing along of “Murder murder” and even a pretty decent, funk inspired riff can’t save Francafrique from it’s own doom. Okay, well maybe it isn’t THAT bad, but for the same band that brought you New Noise and Liberation Frequency, this is a seriously poor track. Onwards and upwards though, right?
Thought Is Blood, a track clearly borrowing from Lyxzen’s side project The International Noise Conspiracy is a little bit better, but not by much. Better lyrics and good use of electronic elements push this into the more competent side of the mediocre first half, and the track is saved by it’s funky second verse and killer riff over the chorus.
Now, when I mentioned Refused partook in a few experiements on Freedom, I’m sure you were just expecting some electronica, maybe some clean guitars and acoustics, the usual ‘branching out’. So, when I say that War On The Palaces, the song that marks the halfway point of the album, features an upbeat, bombastic brass section, I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads in unison, and I’d say I did the same when I first heard the song. Imagine this, if you will, that not only is there a brass section, but the song has an almost Darkness feel to it alongside these Reel Big Fish-esque brass sections, and to add a cherry to this cake, it’s possibly my favourite track on the album? Well, if there’s one song you owe it to yourself to check out from the album, it’s certainly War On The Palaces. I’ve explained it enough.
From brass sections to doo-wop verses, Destroy The Man is yet another interesting piece featuring, yes, female doo-wop backing vocals throughout it’s verses. The song is chaotic, but in such a trademark Refused way that it just works. Dennis’ harsh vocals blend beautifully with the soft female vocals as the band riff and jam behind them both, creating another stand out track for the album. Next up, 366. Once again, another stand out on the record. A riff reminiscent of The Shape Of Punk To Come‘s Liberation Transmission and a catchy chorus create yet another classic Refused song with the lyrics “That’s someone’s sister/That’s someone’s son” sounding just genuine enough to not sound hammy, and it all comes together perfectly to form a song that could easily have been pulled straight from the band’s eponymous debut Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent.
Penultimate track Servants Of Death fuses the more successful funk inspired elements of Freedom with the rap experiments we heard earlier on the record with a great result. A fantastic chorus and catchy bridge make this 3:42 number truly memorable and one of my definite favourites amongst the album’s ten tracks. This brings us neatly to the album’s climax, starting slow with a clear throwback to the band’s seminal (and my personal favourite song), Rather Be Dead. Useless Europeans is a slow, memorably thoughtful closing track that would rather rock you to sleep with it’s gentle vocals, soft acoustic guitars and controversial subject matter before bashing you back to unconsciousness as it spirals towards it’s unpredictable, brooding climax.
So, that’s Refused‘s Freedom. Overall, was the album a disappointment? It’s hard to say. I enjoy the album, and to a certain degree I even enjoy some of the poorer tracks to a certain level where I’d say they’re good. However, it’s important to distinguish the fact that this is the same band who brought us the perfect The Shape Of Punk To Come. Were this any other band, Freedom might have sounded brilliant. The spectre of their previous masterpiece looms large over their contemporary work, which may be unfair. However, Refused have still produced an album that by any standards could not be described as poor or any sort of cash in, and in 2015 that’s a valuable statement that any fan can get behind.