Is it easy to come back to your biggest project after you ended it in a funeral fire so big that it defined a movement? This is something I have been pondering since I first heard that Refused where releasing a new album, it has been something that I have been wondering about for a long while which has not gone away since I started to listen to the album as well. But before I start looking at this album a brief-ish history lesson - Refused were from Umeå is Northern Sweden in 1991 and for three albums they were loved by their fans and largerly ignored by the masses which was a true shame as they were defining a genre, mostly with the final album at the time called "The Shape of Punk to Come" which is one of the best albums of any genre ever released. It redefined what a hardcore punk band could be, it influenced a generation of musicians to the point where even the band I was in were under their lofty spell. They split up in misery with rumours of internal conflict and even their last ever show in America (and the rest of the world at that point) was stopped by the police. If there was a band who were down on their luck and generally not deserving of such a shit time, it was Refused in their prime. So after years of people hoping and speculating, in 2012 they reformed and all seemed to be right with the world; but they fired Jon Brännström and started a new album. So how easy is it to reform and try to follow your biggest ever release? Well, lets find out....
Starting off the album is “Elektra” which has a stop/start beginning that settles into a post hardcore riff/groove which changes paced but never pattern or tone. The bass and drums are allowed to fly free and do so on regular intervals, the riff seems strictly regimented no matter which way it is played. It is a fine song to start the album, it certainly picks up where ‘The Shape….’ left off; but it is as if nothing new has been brought to the mix. “Old Friends/New War” is an interesting song; it is very sharp with the main riff/drumming throughout the song and it is difficult to settle on for the first few listens, but this one needs to be repeated as it has a hip-hop groove mixed into the sound in places and once you get that part it all sinks into places. It has so many things happening that it is hard not to stand back and be confused, amazed, not surprised, perplexed and unsure in equal measure. It is probably one of those songs that will define this album in the years to come, but it is a mighty track from this album that takes the listener and the more I listened to the song the more I loved it – it is a real slow burner. With gentle female la’s “Dawkins Christ” has a building drum-beat and progressively building noise that I am sure will look spectacular with a stunning light show at their gigs. It also has a metal feeling to the song which was not expected, it almost goes into Killing Joke post-punk/industrial territory with their own sensibilities mix in as well which gives this song something of a strange feeling. It is performed well and gives the listener a kick in the arse, but as good as it is performed you are aware of the spaces in-between the riffs and it feels like something is missing from the song.
“Françafrique” was the lead single to be released from this album, it once again goes for another direction that mixes their sound with a bit more hip-hop influence and it reminds me of Monster Magnet in places as well. The song is one of those numbers which is very well played, but it just flies past me every time it is on. I can appreciated its performance, but I neither love nor hate it and that is something that a song by Refused should not ever do for a listener. “Thought is Blood” is suffering from the same weight as “Françafrique”; the chorus is a fine chorus and it save this from being another non-plus song, but the verses are a little pedestrian and dull. Granted it is not as dull or backwards as (let’s say) the new Trivium album, but I am not getting the buzz I got from their other works or even from “Old Friends/New War”. I know not every track has to be a stone cold classic, but it has to at least sound as if it is finished and as if everything is gelled together correctly. “War on the Palaces” has a glam rock drum entrance and could easily have been half-lifted from Slade, then comes the brass section to add the band before the main riff comes in and it goes from strange to outright bizarre. Now whilst I have struggled with this track at times, at other times I have understood this one more than other tracks on the record as it is (once again) attempting something different and could almost be described as the Vegas version of Refused (this is meant is the best way, but even when I am writing it I feel it will be took the wrong way). It sounds as if they have got that original spirit of Refused and added some glam and glitter to the style, dressed it up and put it in the lights. It does work and when the mood is right it is a stomper, but at times the horns get on your tits a little as well but not as often as you might think.
“Destroy The Man” just goes all out for being off the beaten path once again, it is all mis-matching drum patterns, off pace backing vocals, strange riffs and various off-shoots into different places. It feels as if they were listening to ‘Weasels Ripped My Flesh’ by his deity Sir Zappa and then tried to slow it down and do it in their own style. I can once again appreciate the work that has gone into this song, but the end result does not work; it does not come together as well as they might have hoped, but a nice nod to Zappa (even if it was not intended). “366” is the chorus riff from “Liberation Frequency” rehashed into a new form that expand the idea, but it does not inspire the imagination. When it feels like it should soar, it does nothing more than remind you of their earlier work – it is just not doing anything different for me than the best percentage of their work, this is becoming too much of a pattern to be ignored at the juncture. The penultimate track is called “Servants of Death” and it is back in the disco for these punks, all swagger and big bass as the guitar chucks over it with a carefree nature. It does not bring anything else to the album apart from another tune that is well played and passing me by like a train that does not stop at my station and I am not caring, I cannot get angry or excited about it – this is not what you would expect from Refused, but it is what we got. The end song is called “Useless Europeans” which is so unlike anything the band have performed on this album as it is fucking fantastic – as dark as Nick Cave in the middle of a midwinter’s night, as harrowing as Tom Waits on a come down and as sinister as a the film ‘Dog Soldiers’. This is the pioneers I have loved for years, it is great and ends the album on a surprising high spot that could be the sign of things to come.
So the answer is no then - it is not easy. I think this is the sound of a band who in their original death rattle released a genre defining number who have come back together, tried to do something different from that giant release and have lost a bit of their own sound in the process. Add that to the fact that they are no longer those angry kids with fuck all to loss as they exited the door, it is also not that much of a surprise that they did not get that spark back on this record as well. I would not have expected them to do ‘The Shape of Punk to Come Pt 2’ and thank the deity they did not take that route as it would have been awful (although they came dangerously close with “366"); but what they have done here is release an album that at times is interesting, at times is needless and (more worryingly) at time is neither good or bad. I mentioned on earlier that a Refused song should never leave a person neither loving nor hating it, I stand by that as Refused were always one or the other; they were never meant to be one of the pack. I admire that they have went with their instincts, I will always have a soft spot for them, I wish they had have done more like “Old Friends/New War” or “Useless Europeans” and I will always check out what they are releasing but this is average – such a shame I cannot find it in myself to make a witty ending apart from this is not the shape of what is to come, but maybe it is the pause before something else.
5.5 out of ten – It could have been a bit better
Top track – Useless Europeans
You can purchase Freedom on Amazon here
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You can stream Freedom on Spotify here
You can stream Freedom on Deezer here
You can stream Freedom on Tidal here