Release Year: 2015
When seminal punk band Refused announced they were making a return after a 17 year hiatus, it was a big fucking deal. Their previous effort is often hailed has one of the best albums of the 90s and in the alt rock scene, so expectations were pretty high for their newest release. I don’t know about anyone else, but to my ears it seems like they’ve reached those demands and then some. While it doesn’t stick with their punk roots throughout the record, it does manage to be fresh, interesting, and hard as fuck. As soon as it starts you won’t stop moshing, head banging, and dancing until Dennis Lyxzén has sung the final note.
Things kick off with the powerful track “Elektra.” Holding nothing back, the music starts running and jumping at the listener at a breakneck pace not giving them time to think. Steeped in their punk roots, the rushing music gets you pumped for what’s about to come. Lyxzén, who took things easy for his side band INVSN, shows off his vocal prowess on the track when he snarls “The time has come/there’s no escape/There’s no escape.” Right as things get hyped up and borders on chaotic, the song just ends leaving you wanting more. “Old Friends/New War” starts off on a weird note with some effect making the vocals sound low and really deep. It reminds you of the hypemen on rap tracks that use that so deep you can barely make out what they’re saying effect. Luckily, it doesn’t last too long as the intense, pounding rhythm saves the listener from anymore awkwardness. Though it still has the heaviness and intensity of the previous track, this one mixes things up a bit with hard drums, acoustic guitars, and some synth thrown in. Even the vocals express this as it sounds like they’re being pushed to the point of breaking. It’s another fantastic track that shows the band haven’t lost their edge in the time they were gone.
There are so many excellent tracks on the album; there isn’t a dull moment that makes you want to hit the skip button. “Thought is Blood” has an excellent guitar riff that sounds like it’s falling down a void before transforming into some spacey noise until the pace picks up with a punk zeal. The stellar “Destroy the Man” is fierce with music that sounds like it’s dangerous. Lyxzén constantly screams “Destroy the Man! Kill, Kill!” which gets your heart racing and your fists pumping ready for the attack. And “Dawkin’s Christ” has an eerie vibe to it with the soft soaring vocals that open the track while the dark music slowly building up around it. The mood of the song sounds like its foreshadowing the doom and damnation that’s about to come. The song seems to take more from metal than punk, but this just makes it more aggressive and intense.
What makes this album so interesting and what has put critics on edge is how the band moves away from their punk sound. It’s clearly there in a number of songs, but this time Refused took elements and sounds from different genres and fused it with their hard, intense sound. The track that runs with the experimentation the most is “Fraçafrique.” It starts with children singing “Exterminate the brutes! Exterminate all the brutes!” setting up this unsettling mood. A slick guitar follows along with some heavy beats ripped from a hip hop song. Lyxzén comes roaring in by chanting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” but what takes you by the surprise is the groove that comes after; it gets your whole body moving. And just when you thought it couldn’t get funky enough come the blaring horns making for a fun mash up. “Servants of Death” is another track where the band strays away from their punk side. This song also has an intense groove with more of a funk vibe with the clapping rhythm and sleek guitar, and driving riff. The mood is really upbeat and gets you dancing, which is unexpected considering the the song’s title.
“War on the Palaces” is another upbeat track with fun, almost feel good music thanks to the horns featured throughout. What’s weird is with the party vibe of the music, the horns, and the straight up rock and roll sound, the song ends up reminding you of The Hives. Every time I hear it, I picture Howlin’ Pele whipping around the microphone on stage. Still, the song is great and manages to be memorable with the rally cry of “Let’s carry the dead” that’ll stick with you once the song is over.
The album may not be what critics and fans expected, but then again that’s Refused for you. They took their punk roots and flipped them on its head. The album manages to be heavy, intense, and in your face even with funk guitars, groovy bass, and blaring horns. Because of their experimentation, the album is exciting and fresh. There isn’t a dull moment here and every song rings out with a purpose. When most band take such a lengthy absence, they often have issues getting back into the swing of things. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Refused, who came out swinging with bloodied fists just like they did when they first started making music.