Album Review: Do Refused Win the Battle on War Music?
It’s impossible to talk about Refused without mentioning 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come. That album title perfectly described the music within while also being completely inaccurate in predicting how boring punk would get over the next couple decades. The band wisely broke up for a while after that defining statement. They reunited in 2015, put out Freedom in 2015 to mixed reactions, and now we have album number five. But where does it fall in their vaunted discography?
Whereas Freedom felt like the band playing with modern styles, War Music feels like them relighting the Molotov cocktail they first poured with incendiary anthem “New Noise.” If you wanted Shape part 2, this fits the bill. It’s unfair to expect a band to change the face of music twice like Morbid Angel did, and they don’t do that here. Instead, they do what they do best: raging punk rock with math elements that enhance the rock-out parts. That’s the key to what made Refused so novel back when they first hit. Unlike bands like Botch (who are excellent in their own way), the Swedes made their off-kilter racket accessible. Turns out it’s still very satisfying.
It’s certainly a timely release, considering the rise of fascism around the globe. Not that it’ll do any good or make any difference, but a little leftism is always welcome. Politically-charged hardcore blasts like “Blood Red” and “Damaged III” are as catchy as they are incendiary. The band also throws in some curveballs, like “I Wanna Watch The World Burn,” which recalls vocalist Dennis Lyxzen’s pre-reunion act The (International) Noise Conspiracy. “Malfire” even has some epic metal riffage around the chorus.
As dumb as it may sound, Refused are very, very good at writing punk rock songs. Their biggest problem is that nothing will ever have the same impact as that first time you heard Shape. Whether they try to switch things up like they did on Freedom or stick to what they’re good at like they do here, it’s a lose-lose situation. Some fans will always complain that the band isn’t innovating enough or living up to potential. And that’s fair. But if so, they’re missing out on some great tunes from a band that doesn’t really need to prove itself.